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MBA students dive into data with augmented and virtual reality

Graduate | Jan 31, 2019 |

A screenshot from the AR/VR Challenge presentation by Jessica Wade and Brendan Gorman, both MBA ’19.

If you’ve spent any time online in the past few months, it’s likely you’ve come across at least one news article touting the future of virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR). You may have read about the potential of these technologies to influence a variety of industries, such as healthcare, entertainment, and education.

Before classes began in January, full-time MBA students tested this potential firsthand through the Gabelli School’s first AR/VR Challenge, designed by Julita Haber, director of the Full-Time MBA program, Ben Cole, former Full-Time MBA program director, and The Glimpse Group, a virtual and augmented reality platform company. The challenge was the first of its kind to be built at a business school, combining three unique AR/VR technologies—six-dimensional graphing functions, hologram-based business presentation, and kinetic voting.

The scenario? In teams of two, students were to imagine they ran a marketing team at an AR/VR firm. Using a program called DataView to analyze data sets, they would choose an athlete to contract for an endorsement offer and then create a “mixed-reality” presentation for their classmates to experience.

Brendan Gorman and Jessica Wade, both MBA ’19, explored the question of which athlete to pick for mixed martial arts (MMA).

Wade says she first learned about AR and VR while interning with The Glimpse Group “as a strategy and product consultant with 10 startup companies in the emerging-technologies space” in September.

“After four months I still feel like a newbie,” she explains, “but I have gained enough conceptual knowledge to help ideate and strategize new product developments.”

The screenshot Gorman and Wade used to present during their green screen filming. In the VR experience, viewers see the graph from the other side.

Though she and Gorman had limited knowledge of both the AR/VR industry and MMA, they knew they wanted to use the DataView software to find an athlete with “great technical skills, a superhuman body, and [who] fought to win,” says Wade. At first, she says, “after trying dozens of combinations and exploring the results in the VR headset, the endless options on the spinning 3D graphs began to feel a bit overwhelming.” But once they simplified their target characteristics and used the graph for comparing aspects including height and width, or “wingspan,” Wade says “the DataView VR visualizations pointed to a clear winner and told a bold narrative.”

“I had never heard of the fighter we selected before this assignment,” Gorman adds, but “we used the data to help us tell a story about who we believed represented what audiences want.”

It turned out that the students weren’t the only ones to choose him.

“When Isreal Adesanya became the clear leader using our metrics, I googled his name and saw an article claiming he was ‘Breakout Star of 2018,’” says Wade. “At that point it became very clear that this was our guy.”

Behind the scenes as MBA students rehearse their mixed-reality presentations.

While the AR/VR Challenge was a project based on a hypothetical situation, Wade and Gorman both point to real-world applications they can see themselves using. In addition to specific areas where the technology can be disruptive, Gorman thinks it will influence industries “everywhere.” He predicts “presentations will take place in the center of a room rather than at the front of a room. AR/VR will enable holographic data visualization and presentation.”

Wade echoes the idea that “emerging technologies are going to transform business operations. When people think of data now, they don’t usually think of 3D charts personified like skyscraper landscapes and forests.”

They also probably don’t think of using it to choose a top MMA fighter, but, as Wade points out, “AR/VR technology is changing and moving incredibly fast, so every week there are new challenges begging innovation and learning.”

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