The company “The Vatrix” develops applications that some people do not even dream of
At first glance, the huge loft looks like a hip playground for adults: between yellow and blue-grey sofas there is a flight simulator, on the wall racing simulators, game consoles, VR glasses hanging from the ceiling everywhere, and next to the entrance there is a small bar. But the sight is deceptive, says Ingo Söhngen, who has been investing in “The Vatrix” for almost two years and has owned the company since January. Although he also rents out the approximately 1500 square meter, two-story loft for company parties. “But actually we are a research and development center.”
The former investment banker, who now owns several real estate companies, leads into the rear part of the room, from which one could look at the Liebfrauenkirche, if not everyone was busy with a screen showing a corridor with several stands. In the middle of Corona, it is probably the cleverest offer the company has up its sleeve right now: virtual tours of the fair.
As at a normal trade fair, users can view products and presentations, i.e. videos, and ask questions, i.e. chat. “But there are also things that are not possible at an analogue trade fair,” says Söhngen. For example, chatting briefly with a CEO. Thanks to a relatively short programming time, virtual trade fairs are ideal for quickly offering a replacement for a real trade fair in an emergency.
Right next to it, Söhngen’s employees are working on an application for real estate companies. In contrast to the virtual trade fair, which can be viewed on the screen as normal, here everything is done through VR glasses. “VR” is the abbreviation for “virtual reality”. Thanks to glasses and controls for your hands, you may be moving around Frankfurt city centre, but to you it looks as if you are in a world generated by computers.
In this case it consists of a nice apartment on the 40th floor of a high-rise building with an incredible view over a jungle. The house doesn’t exist yet, but thanks to VR you can already visit apartments, enjoy the view – and even choose the color of the kitchen. The building is programmed, the view was recorded with a 360-degree camera for each floor individually. “Good, right?” says Söhngen and grins.
Cooperation with the University of Applied Sciences
Three and a half kilometres of cable are installed in the loft, the costs alone are in the seven-digit range. The 55-year-old also has to work hard on the location. A deliberate decision. “It has something to do with quality,” he says. “You can’t bring a Dax board member into an industrial park.
I don’t suppose Professor Wilhelm Weber will either. The Dean of the Media Campus at Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences came to discuss some projects with Söhngen. The fact that the company and the university have recently started cooperating is a win-win situation for both sides: The students can do research with a practical orientation, “The Vatrix” gets the best graduates – and forward-looking ideas.
For example, when it comes to the use of VR for health. A few pairs of VR glasses further on, Söhngen shows “The plank”, a simulation that initially looks like a party game for drunken bankers: You ride up a high-rise building in an elevator, then climb a virtual plank, which an employee secretly pushes under your feet even in Frankfurt reality – and at the end of the plank, you are supposed to jump from the high-rise building into the depths. In real terms, this means two centimeters. “For people who are afraid of heights, this is an extreme challenge; some even start screaming,” says Söhngen. But his employees are used to encouraging people to lead them or even to hold on to them. “So far, we’ve made almost everyone jump,” says Söhngen – an approach to the therapy of vertigo whose effects are still being researched.
Söhngen also hopes that another project in cooperation with a clinic in Hesse will be successful: tumour patients will be able to wear VR glasses during chemotherapy and thus return to their favourite holiday destination. This is a concept that can be expanded at will: Older people who are no longer good walkers could travel to Lake Garda or walk through Alt-Sachsenhausen. Those interested in history or nature can walk through areas that are not really accessible to tourists. “Not everything is available yet, but it’s moving fast,” says Söhngen.
In this way, education can also be thought in a completely new way
“Children today don’t want to watch black-and-white films anymore, they want to say: “Oh cool!” To make this experience possible, “The Vatrix” has developed school kits with which children can explore a beehive or other countries, for example, but also create their own worlds.
In cooperation with the Frankfurt Future Council, a concept adapted to the curriculum is now to be developed; in the long term, Söhngen intends to equip all Frankfurt schools with learning kits. “This one doesn’t have the garage romance of Apple,” he says. “But we believe that this is where the future begins.”