ViatorVR wins 48 Hour Launch with immersive language learning
A few months ago, I wrote about a pair of MIT grad students in Gig Tank developing a company to make virtual reality experiences available to elderly people living in long-term care communities. This column is an unplanned sequel: the winner of CoLab’s latest 48 Hour Launch this month was a pair of Chattanoogans developing a VR product to teach languages.
“ViatorVR is an immersive, interactive language-learning experience that utilizes virtual reality to submerge users into engaging environments,” says cofounder Forrest Pruitt. “The project’s main goal is to provide intermediate to advanced language-learning experience, with a focus on listening, speaking, and cultural exchange.”
Pruitt and cofounder Nicole Prebula both graduated from Chattanooga’s Center for Creative Arts, then pivoted from arts (music performance for him, technical theater for her) to computer science at UTC. She’s finishing up at UTC, while he graduated in 2014, spent two years as a developer for Chattanooga-based moving startup Bellhops and just started working remotely for a StudioNow, a global video production platform headquartered in Nashville.
Language study for adults learning a second language is typically far less immersive than for a child learning its first. Compared to what a toddler experiences—knowing no language, surrounded by people constantly talking about and touching things—listening to audio, reading text, and responding to “repeat after me, class” are like a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy: there’s still something there, but most of the good stuff is gone.
“In a ViatorVR environment, you can point to, pick up, and hear or see the names of objects,” says Pruitt. “You can have conversations with fellow language learners, or have a private lesson with an instructor.”
Software development for the single-learner version is complete, and now Pruitt and Prebula are working on the multi-user experience.
“Users will be able to choose the language they wish to learn and the environment they wish to visit, like an airport, restaurant, hotel, etc.,” says Pruitt. “They can choose to be placed into a public space with other language learners, or to enter a private session by themselves—it’s up to the user and what they feel comfortable with. There will also be functionality to enable one-on-one sessions with registered instructors or peers.”
Pruitt and Prebula earned a place in GigTank 365 by winning the 48 Hour Launch competition, but they plan to develop ViatorVR’s software a bit more first.
“We have decided to postpone our entry into GigTank 365 while we work on our core product and get to a place where we are ready to build our brand and message,” says Pruitt. “In the next three to six months, we are looking to open a VR lab in Chattanooga, so we can have a place other than home for project development and user testing.”
Initially they plan to market to university language departments, as a tool for intermediate-to-advanced language learners.
“The base platform will be free and open source for anyone who wants to download it,” says Pruitt. “Our current plan is to market setup and support to universities, as well as custom content creation and premium content packs to all customers.
Billions of dollars are changing hands in the VR startup space. Facebook recently paid $2 billion for the hottest VR hardware company, OculusVR, and a newer VR tech company, Magic Leap, drew $1.4 billion in funding before releasing a beta version.
Competing VR language-learning products are few, and none offer everything that ViatorVR will include, according to Pruitt.
Sounds like the future’s so bright, we’ll all be wearing VR headsets soon.
Rich Bailey is a professional writer, editor and (sometimes) PR consultant. He led a project to create Chattanooga’s first civic website in 1995 before even owning a modem. Now he covers Chattanooga technology for The Pulse and blogs about it at CircleChattanooga.com