Instead of refreshing digits on a complex dashboard or staring at flat, uninspiring charts, what if you could actually step into your data, manipulate it with your hands and uncover new insights or performance analytics? BadVR’s founders Suzanne Borders and Jad Meouchy want to help decision makers achieve just that, without the need for any particular expertise.
Businesses are creating more data than ever before. But according to a recent report only 32% of it actually gets put to work. BadVR closes this gap, deconstructing the black box of enterprise datasets to help teams make sense of what they’ve got. If data is the new oil, BadVR is a refinery.
The company has two apps: AROC and SeeSignal. AROC is an augmented reality operations center or, as Borders puts it, “an immersive workplace environment” which can display virtually any dataset you can think of using specific modules to bring the information to life.
Picture the kind of multi-million-dollar set up you’ve seen in blockbuster movies where important-looking people walk into a command center with dozens of screens and start shouting orders. Only in a headset and at a fraction of the cost.
SeeSignal is slightly more down to earth, if still somewhat sci-fi. It grants users a kind of X-ray vision, allowing them to see Wi-Fi, cellular, or Bluetooth networks in mixed reality, making troubleshooting quicker and easier.
Both share a common goal: “We want to democratize insights,” says Borders. “Using VR and AR, we can take millions of data points and boil them all down to one single decision. We can open up accessibility to people who wouldn’t otherwise be involved.”
What goes into building a seamless, experiential world of data? Set down that pie chart, because it starts with looking beyond a single slice of data.
Having worked in the UX/UI field for over a decade, the pain points of expressing data visualizations in 2D is all too familiar to Borders. “Making this data usable on an interface for people who really didn't know a lot about technology and data in general was always a struggle,” she recalls. “There was this bandwidth issue – we had all of this data on one side and a very limited way that people can really interact with it.”
She likens the 2D screen to squinting at a tiny fraction of a large painting in an art gallery. “You're only able to look at one-by-one-inch squares individually,” Borders says. Compromises are made at every level when it comes to 2D presentations. “When you drill down into the details, you lose the greater context, and when you zoom out, you lose the details,” she adds.
Given that the geo-spatial datasets she previously worked with – up to 250 individual data points per property around the globe – were inherently multi-dimensional and crucial for performance analytics, Borders has long felt it was a no-brainer to have them in 3D.
However, the hardware was still very difficult to use then. “If I want to build a company with universally accessible software, then the hardware that delivers that experience also needs to be accessible,” Borders rationalizes. The turning point came when spatial computing untethered itself from computers towards the end of 2017.
“The clincher for us was mobility,” Meouchy says. “The other big hardware milestone was the ability to use your hands as a controller.” Early adopters of virtual reality will recall that the Oculus Rift actually launched in 2016 with an Xbox One controller in the box. Since then, controllers like the Meta Quest Touch Pro have added more precision and eliminated tracking dead zones.
Both BadVR founders believe that reaching out to touch your data with your own hands is a human reflex that’s crucial to democratizing the data visualization experience. “Everything just becomes so much more powerful and it's a really fun experience to see,” is how Borders puts it.
Every piece of data tells a story. But when you have millions of data points and millions of stories, how do you know which is the right one? And who gets to decide?
These were the questions facing one of BadVR’s earliest clients, Zest AI, a FinTech startup that used sophisticated algorithms to make lending decisions. The company wanted to explain how it worked, but was lost in a maze of complex AI and machine learning datasets.
As Meouchy explains: “Sometimes data is three-dimensional and very easy, but a lot of times it’s four, five or 100-dimensional, and you could look at anything. That makes it challenging to navigate.”
BadVR helped Zest AI get started by mapping the mental model of a team member who was deeply familiar with the data. “What does it look like in your mind when you imagine this data? What do you see?” Meouchy would ask them.
Both Meouchy and Borders have psychology backgrounds, which gives BadVR an edge when designing an intuitive environment. “We start from this blank slate and come up with ways to visualize and present the information that best utilizes the three-dimensional space,” Meouchy explains. “You have to think a lot about where you place items in space and the user’s physical impact from interaction.”
The experience is rather gratifying when the data story is done right. “That little magic happens when someone else comes into it and they say, ‘Oh, I see it like this too, I just could never express it,” Meouchy says.
In this escalating climate crisis, BadVR bridges communication gaps between global leaders. Canadian wildfires burnt a record-breaking 18.4 million hectares, while Beijing’s heaviest rainfall in 140 years left 20 dead this year alone. Instead of relying on the usual presentation slides, Borders and Meouchy wanted a more impactful way to communicate the realities of climate change across cultures for the United Nations.
“The European Space Agency gave us a lot of data sets and typically they've been looking at pie charts, graphs and slides. Let's have them experience it,” says Meouchy. Drawing on AROC, BadVR created a multi-dimensional experience that transcended language barriers.
“We built an immersive presentation of the internal migration patterns of rainfall and surface temperatures, taking complex technical information and making it experiential,” Meouchy elaborates. It was an epiphany for the team. “When you see people from different backgrounds and technical levels all come to the same understanding at the same time, you realize this form of computing is more inclusive and impactful than anything else.”
Borders’s struggles as a female founder within the male-dominated tech sector has largely cemented her desire to democratize data. “We want the most diverse people to be able to use our application,” she says. Thoughtful features include adjustable distances within the headset display to prevent motion sickness and color spectrum alternatives for color blindness.
She further emphasizes the importance of meticulously designed interfaces when working with millions of data points. “We enable users to manipulate, filter, and interact with the data in such a capacity that they're able to find meaningful insights quickly and easily, and then communicate those insights to others.”
Virtual reality developments may have been largely driven by the gaming industry, but it is shaping the future of work today. “We are working together with Meta to show what is possible with this hardware. VR may have a consumer lineage, but it’s really for everyone, for work, play, and productivity,” says Borders.
BadVR’s AROC proves that you don’t need a data analytics degree to harness the power of data. “AROC shows data in ways that are intuitive to executives,” says Borders. “Overlaying live sensor feeds into a mixed reality digital twin simplifies monitoring, speeds up emergency response, and increases confidence in proposed decisions. And easy scenario-based replays empower non-technical users to conduct rehearsals that improve their operational readiness.”
What’s next for BadVR? “We're really going to be embracing the mixed reality capabilities built into the Meta equipment,” Meouchy replies. “AR and VR are converging in this unified experience. People should familiarize themselves with a future where computing becomes spatialized and open their minds in terms of the way that this technology can be applied.”
BadVR is leading the way in virtual reality's transformative role in data interaction, offering immersive digital experiences beyond conventional analysis. Step into your data, engage with it dynamically, and uncover unprecedented insights. Learn how, and why Meta for Work can do the same for your data visualization.