On a Sunday morning, I find myself in Long Beach, California with a cold beer resting in my hand as a race is about to start. Powerful vehicles accelerate through a closed-circuit track as the leader of the pack turns expertly around a corner, shifts into gear, and launches into the air from a dirt road ramp. One car spins out wildly; hitting the wall at a fast rate of speed while the following driver positions herself further into the pack. That person, Collete Davis, a 21 year old professional racer, zooms onto a straight-away through the smoke radiating from the crash. She crosses the finish line as her engine continues to roar.
Along side Collete Davis’s car is the logo of a VR startup accelerator and production studio, River VR. It is a noticeable rallycross vehicle in regards to polish and design. Painted black with red and blue accents, it surely catches my eye; as well as those of the audience nearby.
After the engines quiet down, I walk down the steps from atop the VIP trailer and head towards a tent posted up outside. Several people line up, anxiously waiting to try out the new virtual reality headsets for the very 1st time. The demoers queue up a couple of Gear VR’s and show an experience that walks the users through a day in the life of the River Racing driver, Collete Davis, who just finished her race.
The experience takes a journalistic approach as it tells the story of what it is like to prepare to become a professional driver. Although there are sections of the VR film that put the viewers in the car with Collete Davis as she speeds around a track, it includes much more than that. She guides the users through what it feels like to speak in front of a crowd of spectators and how she trains before starting a race.
Pairing up rallycross racing and virtual reality is a brilliant move by River. Watching their car drive around the track at breakneck speed shows how quick and agile their company is. First, get a ton of money. Second, find an emerging industry to capitalize one. Then, get a racecar, put a 360 camera on, plaster it with the River logo, and see just how fast it can go. It’s the nature of any startup. Prove that your team can speed towards a metaphorical finish line, that your driver / leader can take quick turns, and shake the environment along the way. Show that you can do that, and the sponsorships will flood in as a result. The only difference here is that River took it literally.
Not only is River showing what kind of power they have ready to be released, they are highlighting a segment of the community that is often forgotten about. Looking around at their team, it is easy to see an increased presence of female involvement. River is empowering women in the VR space, starting with their driver. Smart move, River. Smart move.
In addition to bringing in more creative individuals into the medium, River’s accelerator program has positioned themselves to become an active influencer in the VR space. Those interested in partnering up with them gain mentorship, investment funds, office space in San Fransicso, hands-on demo days, and plenty of support.
A couple of VR demos floated around the VIP area during the race.
River events like the racing one at Long Beach are often filled to the brim with a variety of startups who are marking there mark within the VR community. They are truly becoming a powerhouse and a major influence in the industry, one that should be watched closely to see what they do next.
In the near term, expect River VR to release the Collete Davis virtual reality experience soon. For now, visit the Rothenberg website to learn more.