Over the past 12 months, there’s been no shortage of accomplished and enthusiastic developers engaging with Samsung, the Galaxy app store and our various events and meet-ups. Leading up to SDC 2016, we realized that many of these devs are more than just users of Samsung products and resources — they’re also experts and leaders with our emerging technology. So at SDC 2016, we officially launched the Samsung Champions Program and introduced our Champs to the world.
This exclusive group of people was selected to serve as developer advocates and liaisons between Samsung and our developer communities. This year, they attended SDC as our honored guests, and were given the opportunity to host sessions, meet with internal teams and network with other developers and industry enthusiasts.
Like other industry champion programs, Champs are offered direct engagement with Samsung to keep up-to-date on the latest products and technology in lieu of monetary compensation. From there, Champs can draw upon their expert knowledge to share tips, tricks and best practices with developers around the world.
We want you to get to know the Champs, so we’ve invited them to introduce themselves and give other developers advice on their technological areas of expertise.
Our first spotlight feature is on Alex Chu of Vicarious, an early leader in VR development.
Tell us about your experience in developing VR apps. How long have you been working with the technology, and what are you/your company currently working on?
I’m currently the cofounder and head of product at Vicarious, a social app for creating and sharing VR stories. Our purpose is to empower regular people to experiment with VR creation by focusing on user-generated content that is both personal and accessible.
My experience with VR started in 2012, when I gained about four years of direct, hands-on experience at Samsung before leaving to start Vicarious. I was lucky to have gotten involved at the dawn of commercial VR in a place like Samsung Research where I had access to great tech and smart people. Around this time, I was also given an Oculus DK1 to use for a Master’s project at Southern Methodist University, where I leveraged my previous skills as an architect to design and build a virtual art museum.
What application or project are you most proud of, and why?
I have to say that my proudest moment was taking the leap of faith and leaving the stability of my steady job to move to San Francisco and build a startup with my good friend JM Yujuico. Creating Vicarious is a decision that I can’t regret because it has given me the satisfaction of finding a lifelong career.
Vicarious empowers regular users to invest themselves in VR through their own stories, and it’s so compelling because the results are greater than what we put into it. With a game or a film, there’s a beginning and an end, an experience that is shaped by its creators. With Vicarious, we give people the tools and framework to provide a wellspring of experiences. You know you’ve done it right when people start creating things you never could’ve imagined.
What do you find most exciting about working with VR?
The best thing about working with VR is that it’s new. There are no conventions yet. For some this can be a daunting predicament, but for the inspired, curious and creative it’s an opportunity to build something truly special.
In my twenties, I trained and practiced as an architect, a profession that indulged my curiosity about space and the way we interact with the built environment. Eventually, however, my interest turned to technology as the next great space for interaction. VR is the culmination of this pursuit, and for those who wish to shape the future, there’s no better place to get started.
What do you see as the biggest challenge that developers who work in VR face?
The biggest challenge in VR is the same thing that makes it so exciting. VR is a technology that is changing at breakneck speed. Developing a product in a field with unknown technical and market goalposts can feel like shooting at a moving target. On the one hand, you have to convince investors that there will be a future for commercial VR, and on the other, you need to keep pace with a technology that’s changing on a weekly basis.
How do you build a product that will take X amount of time when you don’t know where the market or technology will be by the time you finish? If you can answer that question, you’ve got the secret sauce and will be very rich. For the rest of us, it involves a lot of hard work and being flexible enough to accommodate the changing landscape.
What’s your advice for handling these challenges?
The best advice I can give is to aim for the future but build for today. At Vicarious we have big ambitions, but we can deliver on the pieces of that vision that are relevant right now. We do this by setting near-term goals that hedge against dramatic changes in the technology but still take us closer to our long-term goals.
Look into your crystal ball to five years in the future. What does the VR experience look like?
Five years from now, I see a future where the line between built and digital environments begins to blur. Trends point to more interconnectivity and more customization. Both VR/AR and wearables will be nodes in a network that touches upon multiple other emerging technologies such as robotics, connected devices, artificial intelligence and much more. Each connection between our real and digital lives creates a data point that can fuel evermore customized products and experiences, eventually synthesizing the unpredictable. I like to think that VR/AR and wearables will likely be the lens through which we see our way through this primordial soup of digital information.