From living room to vacation getaway in seconds - Article Frankfurter Neue Presse

Frankfurt -At first glance, the huge loft looks like a hip playground for adults: A flight simulator stands between yellow and blue-gray sofas, racing simulators and game consoles are on the wall, VR glasses hang from the ceiling everywhere, and there is a small bar next to the entrance. But the appearance is deceptive, says Ingo Söhngen, who has invested in "The Vatrix" for almost two years and has owned the company since January. It's true that he also rents out the roughly 1,500-square-meter, two-story loft for company parties. "But we're actually a research and development center."

The former investment banker, who now owns several real estate companies, leads the way to the back of the room, where one could look out over the Liebfrauen-church were it not for the fact that everyone is busy with a screen showing a hallway with several booths. In the midst of Corona, it's probably the smartest offering the company has up its sleeve right now: virtual trade show tours.

Just like at a normal trade show, users can view products and presentations, i.e. videos, and ask questions, i.e. chat. "However, it also makes things possible that are not possible at an analog trade fair," says Söhngen. For example, talking briefly with a CEO via chat. Thanks to a relatively short programming time, virtual trade shows are ideal for quickly offering a substitute for a real trade fair in an emergency.

Right next door, Söhngen's employees are working on an application for real estate companies. Unlike the virtual trade fair, which can be viewed normally on a screen, everything here runs through VR glasses. "VR" is short for "virtual reality." Thanks to the goggles and controls for the hands, you move around the city center of Frankfurt, 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 pick the color of the kitchen. The building is programmed, and the view was captured with a 360-degree camera for each floor individually. "Good, right?" says Söhngen and grins.

Cooperation with Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences

Three and a half kilometers of cable have been installed in the loft, and the costs for this alone are in the seven-figure range. The 55-year-old also has to pay a lot for the location. A conscious decision. "It has to do with quality," he says. "You don't bring a Dax executive to the industrial park."Professor Wilhelm Weber probably won't either. The dean of the Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences' media campus has come to discuss some projects with Söhngen. The fact that the company and the university have recently started cooperating is a benefit for both sides, he says: The students can do practical research, "The Vatrix" gets the best graduates - and future-oriented ideas.

For example, when it comes to the use of VR for health. A few VR glasses further on, Söhngen shows "The plank," a simulation that at first seems like a party game for drunken bankers: You ride up a high-rise in an elevator, then climb onto a virtual plank that an employee secretly slides under your feet in Frankfurt reality as well - and at the end of the plank you are supposed to jump from the high-rise into the depths. In real terms, that is two centimeters. "For people with a fear of heights, this is an extreme challenge, some even start screaming," says Söhngen. But his employees are used to encouraging people, guiding them or even holding them  at times. "We've gotten almost everyone to jump so far," Söhngen says - an approach to therapy for fear of heights whose effects are still being researched.

Söhngen also hopes for success from another project in cooperation with a clinic in Hesse: tumor patients are to wear VR glasses during chemotherapy and thus be able to return to their favorite vacation spot, for example. It's a concept that can be expanded at will: Elderly people who are no longer able to walk well could travel once again to Lake Garda or walk through Old Sachsenhausen. Those interested in history or nature could walk through areas that are not actually accessible to tourists. "Not everything is available yet, but is progressing rapidly," says Söhngen.

In this way, he says, education can also be thought of in a whole new way. "Kids today don't want to watch black-and-white movies anymore, they want to say: 'Oh awesome!'" 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 wants to equip all Frankfurt schools with learning cases. "This doesn't have the garage romance of Apple," he says. "But we believe that this is where the future begins."

Foto: © Sauda

Article: © Sarah Bernhard – Frankfurter Neue Presse