Bringing virtual reality to Burning Man


Virtual reality isn't just a technology. It's a movement.

That's how Shannon Norrell describes VR and, as Burning Man kicks off, the software developer is bringing it to the tens of thousands expected to attend the festival.

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Norrell, who works at Hewlett-Packard, raised more than $10,000 on Kickstarter to create what he said will be the first-ever VR camp for the "Burners" gathering in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada.

He also received equipment donations from a number of tech giants including Google, Hewlett-Packard and Nvidia.

"At Burning Man, the sky's the limit for creating art," Norrell said. "Whatever you can imagine, you can build. And that's what VR is about as well."

Norrell says the camp will boast demo stations showcasing the latest VR hardware and software as well as a wide variety of VR content, from animated narrative films to 360-degree music videos.

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A file photo from The Burning Man festival in Blackrock City, Nevada
John Horsley | Photoshot | Getty Images

With this campaign, Norrell is capitalizing on a red-hot technology. A number of tech companies are now investing in VR, including Google, Samsung, Sony and GoPro. Digi-Capital, a tech advisory firm, estimates that VR could be a $30 billion market by 2020.

Private investors are also enthusiastic. In the first quarter of this year, VR and AR (augmented reality) investment activity reached a record high with 22 deals raising $114 million. In total, companies working in this field have now raised $1 billion since 2014, according to CB Insights.

The firm, which tracks and analyzes venture capital, says that the most well-funded VC-backed start-ups include Magic Leap, Movidius and Matterport.

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For Norrell, bringing VR to Burning Man is a way to expose that many more people to the technology, which he is certain will only grow in popularity as it upends and redefines entire industries from gaming to education.

"By the time we talk next year," Norrell said, "this will be a known phenomenon throughout the United States."

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