Sought-after VR Dev is Blind

Virtual reality developer says blindness is an advantage not a barrier

Virtual reality developer says blindness is an advantage not a barrier

original article on STUFF  by CHLOE WINTER

Simon Che de Boer is a legally-blind, albino, VR developer taking the world by storm.

Somewhere out there is footage of a half-naked albino man running across a rooftop in central Auckland, while the house beneath him goes up in flames.

It was after this, the devastation of losing his home, that Simon Che de Boer swapped his drums for a computer and started exploring in the world of virtual reality (VR).

All he wanted was to ‘rebuild’ his house, so that he and his daughter could ‘go home’.

Four years later, the legally-blind man is now one of the most sought-after VR developers in the world.

Che de Boer’s VR journey started in 2014. At the time, music was his life. He was a drummer and singer in a band.

But the stress of losing his home, among other things, led him to explore the world of VR.

One of Che de Boer's first projects involved scanning the coastlines of New Zealand to create a VR experience.
©Che de Boer One of Che de Boer’s first projects involved scanning the coastlines of New Zealand to create a VR experience
“I wanted to see if there was a way for us to recreate our place. I was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of the experience, as anyone would,” he said.

“So I thought, ‘How do I deal with all of this?’, so I got into VR. I wanted to see if I could recreate our place, essentially for us to go home and regain something we lost.

“So basically for two and a half years, I sat in my room just working on this stuff.”

Che de Boer, who grew up in Levin, now spends his time flying around the world scanning sites of cultural significance, which have potential degradation due to environmental factors, or war.

The idea is to preserve what is left for future generations.

While there were other developers doing the same, none were as good as him, he said.

“Not even close.”

Che de Boer says his blindness is not a barrier, but an advantage, as his attention to detail is heightened.

His point of difference was the realism he could capture in his work, he said.

“You can go up to a painting and look at the blobs of oil coming off that painting. There is mountains of detail. You can see every single brush stroke, and see how the light bounces off it.”

Blindness was an advantage, not a barrier, because his attention to detail was greater than most, he said.

“With the techniques I’m using, I’m going out and scanning these sites in the real world, not being able to actually appreciate their true beauty up until the point when I get into VR when I can actually get personal with it.”

While developing VR experiences for global clients, he also worked on a project in New Zealand called Mana VR, which captured New Zealand coastlines.

His latest project took him to Egypt to shoot some ” very highly praised cultural sites”, he said.

Che de Boer visited a number of locations in the Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens, as well as Karnak.

During the next few months, he would be visiting sites in Italy and Canada, he said. He had also been asked to scan caves and tunnels in Iraq.

While he had not released anything for the everyday consumer yet, he had works in the pipeline, he said.

And as for the virtual recreation of his home? Che de Boer said he should be able to complete it within the next few years, once technology caught up.


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