Wilmington company releases ‘next-generation’ web-based virtual reality

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WILMINGTON — TekMountain, the innovative co-working space that occupies the top floor of the CastleBranch building, has been the birthplace of a lot new technology. SIS Digital is one of those companies, and CEO Ty Downing and his team have just announced the birth of a new type of web-based immersive virtual reality.

“SkyNav, our new product, it’s so new we don’t even quite know what to call it,” Downing said. “We’re calling it web VR, or immersive web VR.”

Wilmington-based SIS Digital designed their first SkyNav™ application – a multifaceted web-tour – for St. James Plantation, in Southport (you can experience the tour online). The tour begins, so to speak, with a bird’s eye view of the marina, golf club and community. The web interface lets users travel high above St. James, or descend to ground level and explore as if on foot. The entire tour can be experienced in 3-D virtual reality (Downing demonstrated the virtual reality on an inexpensive pair of cardboard 3-D glasses, but said the system would obviously run on higher end VR goggles).

“A lot of people who might consider moving to St. James are coming from up North, or inland, and they would traditionally have to look through a brochure, or come and visit. This is not the same as being there, but it’s much closer than anything else. If I saw this site, compared to what other similar communities are offering, I’d say ‘wow, we gotta visit there.'”

Downing says SIS Digital’s breakthrough was integrating different web technologies into a single experience.

“There’s a lot of technology that’s been out there, mostly in Europe,” Downing said. “The 360’ views, the virtual walk-throughs. But no one has synthesized them all together. This is next generation.”

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Left to Right: Ty Downing, Morgan Jones, Meg Ahrenberg and Colby Raker.

Downing’s description of his new product downplays his team’s achievement; they’ve also incorporated some cutting edge real-world technology. The aerial photography, for example, was accomplished with a drone – a process that required investments in time and training.

“Well, first we invested pretty heavily in a high-quality drone. But we also had to get licensed by the FAA, it’s a Part 107 license that allows us to fly the drone. No one else has done that.”

Crystal Glass, a member of Downing’s team, underwent a month-long training that allows her to legally supervise the flight of the drone by members of the team.

Morgan Jones, director of business management, told Port City Daily, “it was very difficult, very intense. Crystal was required to learn essentially everything a pilot would – nautical maps, weather science, runway signals at airports. The Part 107 manual is pretty much taken directly from the pilot training manual.”

SkyNav has already attracted some attention, beyond the world of real estate. SIS Digital is producing a digital tour for the Wilmington Convention and Visitors Bureau, although no release details are yet available (check back with Port City Daily for updates). Downing and his team are also in negotiations with an NBA franchise team arena and the surrounding area.

Downing said of the St. James Plantation project, “this is just the beginning. Now we can start to play and see how far we can take things. It will in part depend, of course, on what the client wants.”

Downing also said that his team will also experiment on their own to see what their new web VR system can do.

“Oh yeah,” Downing said, “we’ll have fun.”

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