Jessica Brillhart discusses the power of immersive virtual reality

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Despite graduating with a degree in film and television production from New York University and working extensively at Google as a filmmaker, Jessica Brillhart believed she was capable of accomplishing more. In 2018, she founded Vrai Pictures, an XR content studio based in New York City, with the goal of giving people an immersive virtual reality experience. 

"Traditionally, you know, I make films and documentaries and so on," she told In The Know. "It wasn't that I was unhappy, but it definitely felt like there was more to what my brain wanted to do that was being allowed for in the medium I was in."

While XR or extended reality is an umbrella term that covers augmented reality (AR), virtual reality and mixed reality (MR), Brillhart is constantly pushing its boundaries. Earlier this year at SXSW, for instance, her studio showcased "Traverse," a platform that allows people to map their surroundings through mobile AR technology and enjoy immersive audio experiences by simply walking around a space. 

"I think a lot of what immersive can do is challenge the way that we experience the real world," she said. "We have the capacity to change and shift our relationship with time and space ... We can add layers of context and information in a really beautiful way that re-imagines spaces that we're in at that time."

One of the more interesting endeavors that Brillhart, who is also the director of the MR lab at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies, has undertaken is the LA River AR platform. The project visualizes information taken from the LA River Index, a public resource that compiles everything — from water quality to social equity — as it relates to the Los Angeles River. 

"We created a table that has the topography of the LA River on it," she explained. "So you basically see like an evolution of just the communities, urban development, and then you can actually see LA differently. You know, this is LA based on population, this is LA based on pollution, all based on data that was collected about the river." 

The AR platform is only part of a long list of concepts Brillhart wants to execute, she said. She also wants to build better hardware. 

"One of the things I get really excited about this space ...is that it's almost like evolving technology to remind us what it's like to exists," Brillhart said. "The future is based upon how we deal with that intersection."

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