Partner Stories

Bring mobile data to life with SeeSignal from BadVR

SeeSignal, from BadVR, is now live on Magic Leap World!

In November 2018, we launched our Independent Creator Program to help promote cutting edge spatial computing experiences.

The brief was simple: tell us your best development idea and we’ll help make it happen.

We were thrilled to receive over 6,500 entries, from location-based experiences and spatial computing gaming concepts, through to ideas that could revolutionize the future of enterprise. After careful deliberation, we selected those projects that would really benefit from our development support and guidance.

Over the next few weeks, as more finalists publish their experiences to Magic Leap World, we’ll be sharing their thoughts about developing for Magic Leap One.

Next up, SeeSignal from BadVR: the world’s first fully immersive data visualization platform that uses spatial computing to show you the strength of your cellular phone signal, WiFi, or Bluetooth networks. Put on Magic Leap One and the data is brought to life around you.

We chatted to BadVR’s CEO and Co-founder Suzanne Borders to find out about the project.

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What’s your background and how did you get into XR?

In my former life, I was a UX / product designer. I’ve spent the past half a decade or so leading the design of 2D data visualization and analytics tools, specifically those focused on visualizing geospatial data. During this time, I hit every conceivable limitation offered by 2D, especially when designing products for non-technical users. Everything I designed had to pass what I called the ‘Mom test’ – i.e. my mother had to be able to figure out how to use the feature in 10-15 seconds or less. It was quite challenging to take 100, 200, 300 individual data points per building at a nationwide level and design a product with an interface that made that data meaningful and accessible.

When it comes to XR, I’ve been a fan of Star Trek since I was a small kid. I went through a pretty traumatic move from California to the Midwest when I was very young. I escaped into my love of Star Trek, recording Star Trek: TNG episodes onto VHS tapes to watch them repeatedly. This sparked my love for immersive technology and its potential to offer users unlimited access to new experiences and universes.

Somewhere along the way, I realized that if I could add immersion to the data analytics tools I was designing, I’d no longer have to compromise on the scale or level of detail I could offer my people. I’d be able to massively increase the amount of data shown to them, without added complexity, even lowering the cognitive load required to perform the analysis. At the time, XR hardware was still pretty clunky. I felt then – as I still do now – that mobility is an important factor in the general usability of any XR product, and I wanted my immersive data platform to be universally accessible. I waited for the hardware to mature, for it to become untethered, lightweight, easy to set up, and portable.

Eventually, around AWE 2018, the time was right, so I jumped in and started BadVR with my co-founder, Jad. And so it began…

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Why did you decide to develop for Magic Leap One?

I’d been keeping my eye on XR hardware developments, and gotten my hands on a Hololens during the first launch wave. I felt it had a lot of potential. I’d always really liked the idea of holograms on top of the real world, especially for data visualization as it offers a lot of interesting opportunities for contextual data displays. I’d been keeping up with developments at Magic Leap too, and wanted to get a Magic Leap One as soon as it was released.

Once I put the hardware on my head and tried Tonandi, I was absolutely blown away. Here was a product that finally meshed technology and creativity together in a truly innovative way. A product that let me simply reach out and touch holograms that looked viscerally real. For the first time, I felt truly immersed within a new universe. With a much wider field of view, I could poke my hand into a hologram and actually feel a sensation. My brain was so convinced of the realness of the experience that I felt like I was hacking my own nervous system. In short, I fell completely in love with Magic Leap One, with the vision of Magic Leap as a company, and the nascent developer community.

At that moment, I came to the decision that spatial computing had to be integrated into BadVR’s product strategy.

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Why SeeSignal? How did the idea come about? And what are some of the use cases you see?

Once upon a time, I lived in Downtown LA. Back then, there was little to no infrastructure, including cell towers. The condo that I lived in at the time was made of concrete and, though I tried, I just could not get reliable cell coverage anywhere in my unit. I’d miss super important calls or my calls would drop in the middle of a 45min hold; it was unbearable.

I ended up having to get a landline wired into my unit. So many times during this struggle I’d think to myself: “this would be MUCH EASIER if I could just see my coverage.” I’d try imagining my cellular data within my condo and attempted to mentally construct a 3D model of the cellular coverage based on data samples I collected, but it was never enough and always seemed to be in flux.

Several years later, in November of 2018, my co-founder and I attended the AT&T + Magic Leap Hackathon. Since the hackathon was sponsored by AT&T, I thought it would be fun to do something around visualizing cellular data. Immediately, viewing cellular network coverage data came to mind. As a team, we decided to create a rough version of an MVP for this. And so SeeSignal was born. image4

In terms of use cases, there are many, but the one that most often comes to mind is the visualization of RF propagation data to help plan 5G deployments. Visualizing this data will help telecoms, telecom adjacent, and smart city organizations to better plan the rollout of 5G networks and determine the best placement for microcells. Other use cases include using our additional signal layer visualizations to visualize and monitor Wi-Fi network traffic, and for installing networks within new buildings.

What’s the make-up of your team - what type of talents and skill sets came together to create SeeSignal?

Our team is, by design, a mixture of both technical and creative talent. It’s a common misconception that tech companies and teams are purely comprised of technical or engineering talent. Solving the great challenges of our future with technology requires both a technical and a creative mindset. I’ve recruited some truly talented artists and designers to help with the creation of our immersive data analytics platform. We have former actors, neuroscientists, interior (spatial) designers, art history majors, and psychologists, as well as data scientists and engineers. Each and every person brings their own unique set of talents and their own world view. Having the correct mix of left and right brain ensures that we, as a team, create complete products that are both technically powerful and joyful to use. image8

People think that the most valuable person at any company is the one with the most technical or intellectual prowess; I’ve never felt that to be true. To me, the greatest personal skill that anyone can have is empathy: the ability to put themselves in the shoes of the user, and practically build a product that meets that user’s needs. The talent to know what to build, when to build it, and why. That’s an underrated skill set, but one that I’d like to think we’ve cultivated together as a team.

The melding of both creative and technical talent was integral to the creation of SeeSignal. Creative, outside-the-box- thinking pushed us to reimagine what data could look like, and technical talent ensured that this new vision of data was actually built. When designing a new product for a new technology, such as XR, many people are so hampered by their preconceived notions of data—that it must be a dashboard, a chart, a graph, or a map—that they are unable to tear everything down and start from scratch. Cultivated creative thinking allows you to approach immersive data from a truly innovative perspective. Had it not been for creative thinking, we’d still be stuck looking at virtual 2D charts and graphs at a virtual desk. Instead, we imagined a fully immersive world with contextual, interactive data layers, and that’s ultimately what allowed us to conceive of, and build, SeeSignal.

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What’s next for BadVR?

After SeeSignal, we plan to continue developing our other data environments, readying them for our full platform launch. Additionally, we plan to continue to seek out industry partners interested in gaining early access to our technology. We look forward to releasing more information about the work we’ve done, sharing some of the insights we’ve gathered, and hopefully going public with the design of our ‘data environments’ prior to our ultimate product release.

And, of course, we’re continuing our mission to revolutionize data! There’s no rest for the innovative!

Can you talk about what it’s like being a female founder in XR?

Being an entrepreneur isn’t easy, and I feel that the added state of being female—with all the sexism that can come along with that—feels like living life on super-hard mode sometimes. It’s puzzling and challenging, because you don’t know if you’re struggling because of your own weaknesses or shortcomings or if you’re struggling because of other people’s misogyny. That question alone has cost me so many days, weeks, and months of analysis. It’s hard to tell because no one wants to be forthcoming and give you a straight answer. No one wants to say “I didn’t invest in you because I don’t really believe women are great leaders”, or “I didn’t want to mentor you because your gender makes me feel uncomfortable”, so the tendency is to just assume all of the fault and the error lies with you personally. Or, if you’re on the opposite end, assume that all the fault lies with other people. The truth is somewhere in between, and it’s hard to really know where the line exists. The world sends mixed and confusing messages.

The only way I’ve found to get through it all is to learn to listen to my own heart and my own instincts. To surround myself with tried and true friends who I can count on to be real with me. Not kind, or indulgent – but honest. Honesty is the highest form of respect and there is no trait I value more highly in my inner circle than brutal honesty. If I believe in myself, in my own talents and strengths, stay informed of my own weaknesses, and surround myself with people who will keep me pointed in the right direction, I can begin to navigate through the fog.

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What advice would you give to other female founders starting XR companies?

You deeply reflect the people and media with which you choose to surround yourself.

It’s really important that you carefully choose the people and ideas that you ingest. People think that the subconscious mind is this empty blank thing, full of random nonsense. But that’s not true. It’s a huge database that is constantly being filled with more data from your environment. The only way to control what goes into your subconscious mind is to control your environment. So, make sure you surround yourself with the best of the best. The data that goes into your subconscious needs to be high quality, accurate, and good, because this is the data that will drive (in more ways than you imagine) the decisions you make under pressure and under stress. If you want high quality creative output, make sure you feed your mind with high quality creative input. If you want great strategic insights, make sure you gather the data needed to make those sorts of decisions.

Breakthroughs and insights happen in a non-linear fashion. You spend hours and hours brainstorming consciously about a solution. You hit a wall. You take a break, go walking, eat dinner, and BINGO! That’s when the insight or breakthrough hits you, seemingly from nowhere. But it doesn’t actually come from nowhere. It comes from your subconscious. What you put into your subconscious mind will make or break the quality of your insights, your decisions, your creative solutions. It is the single most important creative asset you have. Treat it with the respect it deserves and feed it good data.

Other than this – build a good network. This is so crucial to your success. I know it’s a cliché and everyone says this, but it’s true. Who you know, and the quality of those people, matters a lot.

Lastly, but most importantly, follow your heart. Follow your calling. Life is too short to waste on living anyone’s dream but your own. Pursuing your own dreams, being independent, and living your own life is the biggest gift you can ever give to yourself. And to the world.

You can learn more about Suzanne's experience creating SeeSignal here.

You can learn more about how her team solved some interesting technical challenges here.

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