A toy gifted by his grandfather would transport Scott to different parts of the world at age 3. The start of what would be an impressive innovation journey for Scott O’ Brien, Co-founder and CEO of Humense. From the balcony of his sunny Sydney apartment overlooking the harbour, Scott shares his story with us, right after returning from a morning ride on his Amsterdam+ e-Bike.
Scott O’Brien uses Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) technology to create a world in which we can truly transport ourselves. Imagine talking to a perfect holographic of a person who is half-way across the globe, but who appears to be sitting in a chair right in front of you, a reality of the not-too-distant future, according to Scott. “AR/VR is like dreaming awake. It’s a real experience. The brain accepts it.” It has been a long journey of self-experimentation, resilience as well as a huge passion for life and humanity.
For Scott, innovation comes from his family’s heritage and hard work to grow the creative muscle. It was his grandfather who inspired Scott through his trips to see the world with his own eyes. At the age of 3, he inherited a viewfinder, a device that would allow him to be part of his grandfather’s adventures, whilst living with his parents in regional New South Wales. Scott would hold the device up to his eyes, where he would be immersed in the pictures, allowing him to be part of his grandfather’s travels around the world. The device was an analogue virtual reality device before the digital ones were invented. By holding the viewfinder close to his eyes, the regular photos engrossed his brain. He mentions that his cultural sense of place was limited because he was living in the countryside, but being immersed in those pictures ignited his desire to learn other languages and experience other cultures. Unbeknown to him, this would be the start of his incredible journey. “It sparked the idea that even if you’re not physically in a place, you can travel and immerse yourself.”
His biggest innovation catalyst however, came from watching the sci-fi thriller, The Matrix. Whilst living in Oslo, Norway as a professional Floorball athlete, he watched The Matrix, a movie made back home in Sydney. Contrasting the viewfinder that took Scott around the world (virtually), the movie brought him home again and watching it re-ignited his passion for VR and AR technology. From that moment onwards, he sunk his teeth into his newfound passion, self-taught with digital tools and getting on Twitter early to fully immerse himself into the early stages of the new technology. In time this also led to the birth of Humense, Scott’s latest start-up, intending to bring fans and spectators -virtually-on the field, allowing them to become an immersive part of the game, rather than being passive spectators behind a screen or watching the game from the stands.
Belongingness has been an inspiration for Scott. “A large part of my life passion has been movement and sports, and that sense of community that comes with it.” He was the first-ever captain of the Australian Floorball team to attend the World Championships in Prague, 1998. An adventure that started with him injured when playing field hockey, having to pause his Olympic dream. Years later, he found himself captivated by watching Finnish and Swedish teams playing “something that looked like Ice Hockey and Football.” They invited him on the court, and he fell in love with the unknown sport of Floorball straight away. He loved it so much that back in Australia, he started the first-ever Australian Floorball National Team. Six months later, “I am touring Finland, sponsored by Qantas and PlayStation. We had thousands of fans coming to watch our matches. No one from Scandinavia expected Aussies to play Floorball and actually be good at it”.
He applies the foundations of team building that he learned from sports in technology. For him, new technologies are a way to become more human. “Instead of making humans computer literate, we are making computers literate, so we can lead more balanced lives, recognizing what it means to be human.” Scott mentions that the key feature for human interaction is the “white eye connection”. When you see another person’s eyes, you get an instant connection. You immerse yourself in what the other person is saying so you can put yourself in their shoes, an emotional connection that we don’t get from an extra like on our most recent Instagram or Facebook post.
The “white eye connection” is a very important part of Scott’s mission. By enabling a virtual presence, Scott wishes to create a bigger sense of community, allowing people to connect and mutually educate each other as if they were face to face. By sharing that personal space, people can build mutual respect and consideration. “If we can start to re-architect our world by sharing more space and time with people outside our billion cohorts, we can develop more sense of meaning in life.” With holographic telepresence, Scott wants to have a virtual solution, building an even more interconnected and related society, leading to more powerful connections between all demographics across the world.
Scott spoke at the Everything IoT Global Leadership Summit, sharing his views on the future of AR and VR technology and the relation between exercise and brain stimulation. He outlines that movement is what allows the brain to function at its highest capacity.
The movement is critical. It affords you a higher capacity to listen and learn. “I love getting on my e-Bike and restoring all those brain cells. There is a wind effect that mocks the phenomenon that happens when you shower. The drops getting on your head activate you. The cycling sets the flow, the movement, and the brain is getting enriched with the blood flowing. I cycle 25 minutes into Bondi, and it’s such an enjoyable experience. I get to sense probably six different environments in between. The parks, Sydney’s architecture, leafy streets, golf courses, beaches and then, of course, the coffee on top.” These series of events on his commute, paired with the essential dose of caffeine in the morning, propel Scott towards successfully making VR part of our everyday life. In that sense, Scott recalls Steve Jobs’ analogies of machines being bicycles for the mind. For Scott, the bike is “an innovation machine and an innovation bridge. It works as an innovation tool.”
In The Matrix, Morpheus, the rebel leader, offers Neo Keanu Reeves’ character, a blue pill or a red pill. By taking the blue pill, the story ends, and he would continue to live in the simulated reality of The Matrix, whilst with the red pill, he would see the truth in the real world. In today’s digital and hyper-connected world, he mentions we sometimes forget to be human and experience the world around us. Scott’s electric bike brings him precisely that, which makes him so excited to be a part of the LEKKER community. Scott reminds us that in reality, in its many forms, no matter if we choose the blue or red pill, we get a chance every day to understand the world better and be human. With our voices, sense of community, technology and, with our electric bikes, we all build a better future.