SARATOGA SPRINGS – For Bobby Carlton, it all began with movies.
“I loved science fiction like ‘Star Wars.’ I was obsessed with spaceships and computers,” he said. “Then I saw ‘Tron’ in 1982 that had real-world actors trapped in a virtual world. I saw beyond that as to what it would be like to live in a virtual world. It changed my views. It fascinated me. It was mind-blowing.”
Carlton raced out to get his own computer, spent “a ton of money,” discovered the virtual text world and began having what he calls “text adventures” — and soon looked at how virtual experiences could grow beyond text and become a visual and audio experience.
Today, Carlton works in the AR/VR industry as the XR/VR content manager at FS Studio, which builds XR solutions for enterprise and industries looking for digital twins, automation, and robotic simulation experiences.“I did my own thing and embraced being a tech nerd,” Carlton said.
By the time he graduated in 1987 from Glens Falls High School, Carlton had his direction and headed to the University at Albany with a major in photojournalism because, as he says, “I loved how impactful a photo can be with storytelling.”
But after three years realizing that college wasn’t providing him what he needed, he left the university to explore life, take photos and capture his own storytelling. For the next decade, he played guitar in a rock band, hanging out and “being a tech nerd on weekends,” and continued his own research on virtual technology.
In 2006, Carlton landed a job he held for 10 years with Skidmore College, running their Apple business program. He also took on side gigs as a consultant for tech companies. In the meantime, as technology evolved, he was looking at how digitally connected we were all becoming and how devices played a role in that.
“I was always trying to figure out how it all worked,” he said.
Then in 2013, Carlton got the Oculus DK1 virtual reality (VR) headset. That was the very first VR headset available to consumers, and it showed how VR would change everything from training to education to entertainment to socializing. Suddenly, what had fascinated Carlton so much about the “Tron” movie, in which a computer programmer was inside a computer in a virtual reality world, took shape in real life.
One could finally step into that virtual text world that was truly a visual and audio experience.
“Why not see the world through your own perspective?” he said.
Carlton began to explore the world of XR, or extended reality, especially as it applies to learning or training, particularly in the industrial world, and its impact on automation, warehousing products and robotics. In 2016 he joined the Masie Center in Saratoga Springs as director of VRLearn, a project created by the center to help enterprise learners in many industries find new ways of learning through immersive technology.
“It was cutting-edge: How could a corporate learner learn to extract information through the virtual world?” Carlton said. “The military was using some of this technology, but no corporate environments. They were still using textbooks and the classroom approaches.”
In 2016, Carlton also began writing for VRScout on the latest trends, news and advancements in virtual reality and augmented reality (AR) technology, and how all this applies to marketing, education, social media, personal lives and consumerism.
VR technology continued to improve, with headsets becoming lighter and faster, and technology such as eye and hand tracking emerging. VR headsets no longer need to be connected to a computer, instead coming with their own processors, batteries, sensors and storage memories. An app allows a wearer to go into a virtual world (or the metaverse) to spend time with friends and family, play games, watch a movie or work together.
“Virtual technology is the fastest growing technology of all technologies,” Carlton said. Last year, he joined FS Studio as XR/VR content manager and head of business development. FS is an XR studio focused on creating digital twins and 3D virtual experiences that can be used in a wide range of industries, from health care to automotive, exploration to travel or real estate. Through the technology, for instance, an engineer based in Uruguay can work with another engineer in Detroit, and even another consultant in Tokyo, on an engine component for a car.
By manipulating VR controllers that you hold, which when looking through a VR headset’s screen look like a digital version of your hands, you can move things around in virtual reality and talk to each other to see if a concept might work. By working remotely through VR and without having to rely on phones or a Zoom call, let alone traveling to be in the same place, time and money are saved.
For FS Studio, Carlton is the only company employee based in New York. Along with emails and video calls, Carlton and the rest of the FS Studio team, who are scattered around the globe, use a VR space to work together, socialize — and even play games when they need a break from work.
According to Carlton, the pandemic did show how a virtual space such as the metaverse can help companies be more collaborative with their remote employees and is partly responsible for the increased use of virtual technology because so many people had to work remotely. That trend continues today and is growing.
FS Studio is primarily focused on digital twinning in enterprise, in which a physical process or structure has a digital version. This is particularly useful in warehouse operations, data manipulation and retail to determine workflow, marketing campaigns and maintenance. It also plays a big role in how robotics are used for enterprise solutions. As more industries move toward automation, companies need ways to implement robotics into their processes for faster and improved workflow. FS Studio creates those XR solutions to connect humans with robots.
Another advantage of digital twinning is how it can actually help organizations predict things, such as equipment maintenance, and help a company uncover things that might cost them time and money.
“A digital twin can help a company uncover something called a hidden factory, which are those tiny little speed bumps in an actual factory that can hold production up or even put an employee in danger,” Carlton said.
The approach can also be used as a training tool for employees.
“Walmart uses virtual reality training for new employees,” he said. The company uses VR to help new employees see what a Christmas rush crowd might look like and experience that in a virtual environment. When employees were actually faced with large crowds during Black Friday sales, they had a much better understanding of what to expect and learned how to navigate the situation, and even spot someone who might be stealing an item.
While most people who get the VR headsets are interested in games or entertainment, or are on Instagram or Snapchat using AR face filters, Carlton is more focused on how XR technology will help with the rapid growth of robotics, digital twinning, interactive 3D and artificial intelligence, and how XR tools impact the workforce. However, he did admit to enjoying games from time to time.
“XR technology, digital twinning, robotic simulation and AI are already a big part of enterprise in almost every industry,” Carlton said. “It will continue to grow and headsets will become cheaper as technology evolves.”
Carlton continues to research the technology to stay up to date and there are always conferences to attend.
“It’s always evolving,” he said. “And I still love sci-fi as a way to break from reality.”
COMPANY: FS Studio
TITLE: XR/VR (extended reality/virtual reality) content manager and head of business development
EDUCATION: University at Albany
BEST LESSON IN BUSINESS: “Be thoughtful of a client’s goals.”
WORDS TO LIVE BY: “Keep an open dialogue.”
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Categories: Life and Arts, Life and Arts, Outlook 2023, Saratoga Springs