Perspective Shift - Exploring New Dimensions in the STEM Fields - Episode 2

Perspective Shift - Exploring New Dimensions in the STEM Fields - Episode 2

Show Video

(POIGNANT MUSIC) MAN: I was made to feel different by everyone, basically, in the school. Disability doesn't define someone. It's a part of who they are. It's not all that they are. Accessibility is about making the world a much more friendly place for everyone and a lot easier to navigate, and I think attitude is definitely where it starts. (DRAMATIC STRING MUSIC) To do anything unique that's never been done before, there's always an inherent risk involved.

Being an entrepreneur, you equate the risk and reward quite closely, so the more risk there is, the potential reward is greater. When you're birthing something new into the world, it's never a straightforward plan. You need to be willing to ride the roller-coaster. I was born two months premature and I died twice at birth and had to be resuscitated. I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy after about 12 months 'cause I wasn't hitting the typical developmental milestones.

He was a gorgeous baby. Absolutely gorgeous. We were told that he had cerebral palsy. We really had no idea what that meant. MUM: Because cerebral palsy affects so many young children in so many different ways, I did kind of wonder, you know, where this would take us, you know? (FILM PROJECTOR WHIRRS) OLIVER: It wasn't until I was five or six that I was able to start speaking.

Because I wasn't able to take enough breath, I wasn't able to utter the words to communicate. So I would use physical gestures to communicate. The eyebrows would go up 'yes' and down to 'no' and what have you. I must say, you had a very full life, even from, you know, a very, very young age. We did so many things.

DAD: How do you feel about seeing pictures of yourself at that age? Very old. (MUM LAUGHS) Very old?! (DAD LAUGHS) My parents were instrumental in the advocacy of mainstream education for students with a disability back in the mid '80s, where integrated schooling was not a thing at all. He learned to read very quickly.

He was...four. -And to type very quickly! -(LAUGHS) Yes! DAD: He was four by the time he was reading fluently. And we began to think that maybe the real place for him was in the local public school rather than in special school. And after a great deal of hoo-ha, for about 12 months, Oliver was accepted into our local primary school. The needs were supplied mostly by the Department of Special Education, which was ramps, you know, and special table heights and things like that. (GENTLE PIANO MUSIC) OLIVER: But unfortunately, the headmistress was quite old-school and didn't really want me there and didn't want the responsibility.

The directive was that I needed a teacher's aide, which was really not the case at all. But I wouldn't be able to go to school if that teacher's aide was sick or off for some reason. So my parents would often get a call to tell them that Oliver couldn't come to school that day. MUM: The much more difficult problem is attitude.

(LAUGHS) He was just another little boy except that he had his own wheels. OLIVER: I was always made to feel quite different. I was subject to quite a lot of bullying at school and I remember one student used to line a ramp that was built for me with thumbtacks so I would pop my tyres. That period was really the time that I built my resilience.

I was very grateful that I did have a supportive environment outside of the school. That's what really helped me to be able to wade through it. (HOPEFUL GUITAR MUSIC) I joined the Cub Scouts in 1988 when I was nine. When I joined the Scouts later, I became one of the first patrol leaders with a disability of an able-bodied Scout troop in Australia. When it was announced that I would become a patrol leader, there was a belief there that I was just given the role because of, like, a tokenism. So it was a little bit of working and educating through that.

A patrol leader leads a team of around about five Scouts. We would often have to plan the trips - so plan inventory and the activity that we would be doing. I assumed a role of more like a project manager. So that's probably where I started getting those skills from.

(WOMAN VOCALISES WORDLESSLY) At one stage in Cub Scouts, I decided to go and try and get my swim badge. (MAGPIE WARBLES) DAD: For a Cub Scout to get their swimming badge, they had to be able to swim - I think it was, then - six lengths of the pool. My Cub Scout leader automatically thought that they would have to change the rules for me to be able to obtain this badge. But I didn't really want to be subject to different rules.

If someone tells me I can't do something, that's the impetus for me to double my efforts to change that opinion or attitude. So that's kind of what I did. (INSPIRING MUSIC) I swam quite a lot of laps in a pool. He did the six and he got his badge and could say that he'd rightfully earned it. OLIVER: I've always been a firm believer that my disability isn't a barrier to achieving the goals and aspirations of people without disability and not only has that allowed me to command the respect of everyone around me, but it's also allowed me to achieve more than, really, I could possibly imagine. Do you remember when you were doing your Duke of Edinburgh Award? -Yeah. -The Gold Award?

Some of the things that you did were absolutely hair-raising. -Whitewater rafting and abseiling. -(MUM GASPS) OLIVER: I almost took my head off on a low-hanging branch while I was whitewater rafting.

-MUM: I'm glad I wasn't there. -Were you scared? OLIVER: No, it was just quite taxing. MUM: Some sort of safety harness on - dare I ask? -Yeah, yeah. Of course. -(MUM LAUGHS) (WARM GUITAR MUSIC) In Year 12, I decided to go and get my Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award. As part of that award, I had to do a certain amount of community service.

I decided to form the association for disabled students in mainstream schools, which was a support network for students primarily in NSW that had a disability but were integrated into mainstream schooling. As a result of founding the association, I was nominated for the 1997 Young Australian of the Year. I decided that I wanted to pursue a career in graphic design, so I picked up art in Year 11 in order to pursue that.

My Year 11 art teacher recommended to my parents that graphic designers weren't very well paid, for a start, and I wasn't particularly good at that either. They should be pushing me to pursue a career in computing. Obviously my relationship with that particular teacher, uh, soured a bit at the time, but it was the fuel that I needed to be able to apply myself even more.

I ended up getting top 500 in the state and preselected for ARTEXPRESS. That really helped me to decide to pursue what I was passionate about rather than what would be a good financial decision. When I went to uni, I started studying a Bachelor of Business majoring in marketing and doing a sub-major in entrepreneurship.

I made a really great bunch of friends at university, quite a few that I still keep in touch with now and, in fact, I would come to work with later. Yeah, I don't remember exactly how I met you, but I guess maybe it was doing a university project. I think that might have been it. 'Cause you had, like, group projects, right? I don't remember what one it was, but, um, we pulled a few all-nighters there.

OLIVER: My résumé obviously featured the awards that I had won and the fairly good marks that I'd received both at university and school and in my humble opinion, my résumé was pretty good! (SPRIGHTLY MUSIC) So my first junior marketing interview was at a trucking company. I didn't tell them on my CV that I had a disability. The interviewer was taken a little bit aback by me. The interview went...OK,

but then at the end of the interview, he ended up giving me a toy truck. I immediately knew I didn't get that job. Probably 12 months seeking a career in marketing.

I would often disclose my disability on the résumé and not get a first interview. And other times, I would not put it on there and I would get a first interview but then, yeah, I wasn't invited back for a second interview. This was in the day, in the early 2000s, when really, 'equal opportunity' was rhetoric and not really practised. Often it was a shut door even before we got to that.

(DRAMATIC PIANO MUSIC) After some time of looking for work in the private sector, an idea was suggested to me to potentially look at government work, because they were far more likely to be equal-opportunity employers. But that didn't really fill me with much...much interest. Saying no to government jobs was really the first time that I knew I was taking a risk to continue looking for my so-called dream job. That was when I kind of came up with the plan to look at it from a different angle.

During that time that I was looking for a more corporate career, I was doing graphic design work as a side hustle. I ended up beginning to see that I could make this a career and instead of going to work for someone else, I could actually be the master of my own destiny. (PLAYFUL MUSIC) While I was formalising my graphic design business is when I met The Wiggles. I went for a job interview at The Wiggles and I was asked directly if I was able to build online games.

Really not wanting to pass up this opportunity, I said yes without having a clue how to build games. So off the back of that, I got the gig at The Wiggles and I had to go home and learn how to build six games for their website. WIGGLES: Wake up, Jeff! OLIVER: In 2009, a colleague at The Wiggles gave me a book to read called 'The Last Lecture'.

It was about a man who was dying of pancreatic cancer. And he really went back to his childhood dreams to work out what he was most passionate about and how he really wanted to live out the rest of his life. And that got me thinking about really what I was like as a child, and that was really about being creative and art and being at the cutting edge of creativity and technology. After about seven years of working at The Wiggles, I got sick of looking at primary colours all day.

I realised I needed a new challenge. (STEADY PIANO MUSIC) At the age of...I think I was 30, I went back and studied for two years. I studied a Diploma in Animation and Visual Effects.

Once again, I made the risk to go back at that age and study full-time. I was horrified! I thought, "Here he is, he has a stable job, regular money. "And here we go, back to this business again "where he's gonna have no job. "He might well go and study "and then we're gonna go through the whole process again." I was wrong.

For him to decide to make a start in another direction, it was just another risk he took, another challenge. OLIVER: During my time studying, I came to realise what it would be like to work in the visual effects industry. I was confronted with the problem that my fellow students were having, which was to, you know, get a foothold. A junior artist in an industry where a showreel is really important. So I basically put up the money to make that happen.

So we moved into a studio in Newtown and bought quite a lot of equipment to make it happen. We collectively got together to make the 'Little Darling' fully animated music video. (CLOCK CHIMES) (WOMAN VOCALISES WORDLESSLY) SONG: ♪ Bom-ba, bom-ba, bom-ba, bom-ba... ♪ OLIVER: And off the back of that, we founded Big Cookie Studios, which was a 3D animation studio. And the idea behind it was to employ senior professionals in the lead roles to mentor the junior artists. I was hired as a visual effects supervisor.

So he brought me on board to help him complete that project. I think the most enjoyable part was definitely when I saw these graduates, the young people we had working on it, how they sort of developed their skills. I saw them from knowing nothing, and then suddenly they're producing, like, some amazing-looking shots. And I think that was incredibly satisfying. OLIVER: Some friendships were tested over that time, because it was meant to be a 6-month project which ended up becoming a 2-year project.

So in order for me to get the project completed, I had to put more money into it. Even though that everyone knew what the end result would be, that was a very testing time. (SUBTLE MUSIC) And we ended up winning quite a number of awards both in Australia and internationally for it, including the LA Movie Awards Best Music Video in 2015. I think it was gonna be very hard to top that one. (CHUCKLES) During Anshul's second engagement with the studio, we got talking and really wanted to go into business together and shifting our emphasis of work onto virtual reality. I said, "Look, you know, I think virtual reality is the way to go.

"There's new opportunities in this space, "and we should team up again and see if we can get some work." OLIVER: We rebranded Big Cookie Studios to pic4. At the time, VR was still very much in its infancy. There was a lot more apprehension about adoption of the technology. We spent quite a long time convincing potential clients of the benefit of immersive VR.

We were only making money, basically, when we were sitting on a box, doing work. I had a conversation with my family. I was probably gonna close the studio within, you know, two months unless more work came in. One day, I was working on a project and it was getting very close to deadline and we were running out of time and I started getting heart palpitations. (HEARTBEAT THUMPS) At one point, I did feel like I was having a heart attack and I ended up getting admitted to hospital for a stress-related illness. (HEARTBEAT THUMPS) It was a wake-up call for me that this kind of business wasn't sustainable for my own health.

(HEARTBEAT THUMPS) (SILENCE) When I first heard Oliver speaking about VR across a crowded room, I was looking for collaborators. And I just picked it up and I just went, "Excuse me, I'm sorry to bother you, but were you talking about VR?" And he goes, "Yeah, I have a VR animation studio here in Newtown." And I, you know, went, "Bing!" OLIVER: I met Rohan O'Reilly, who was a rehabilitation therapist that had been sort of pioneering VR for rehab for the last five years, and he was actually looking for a VR content producer to produce custom VR software for his new technology that he was building. There is a word called 'serendipitous', and it can be overused, but it is 100% descriptive of how that happened.

ANSHUL: After meeting Rohie, Ollie came back in the morning and said, "I've met this guy, and that could be the way for us to... " know, transition to that... "..the product-based business we've always talked about." And that was the beginning. OLIVER: Rohan had just been featured on ABC 'Catalyst' about his pioneering work, so I think, you know, that was testament to the fact that he was working on something pretty special.

Within 3-6 months, we were in business together. That business became Neuromersiv. (ACTIVE STRING MUSIC) Hey, Steph, come on in. Looking forward to testing this with you.

-STEPH: Oh, can't wait! -Yeah. -Look forward to your feedback. -OK. You should have the menu in front of you now. Yep. Yeah, this is incredible!

I've not seen this yet. Um... It takes two seconds before you're so immersed that you kind of... forget that's not real. And that's why I'm still cleaning the basin! (LAUGHS) ANSHUL: Is your arm getting a good work-out with this? -Yeah, really! I'm really tired. -That's the idea. Half of the entire battle in rehabilitation is people get bored. I don't know if you've ever been to a physiotherapist and they've said, "Go home and do this 400 times. "And in the middle of the night, wake up and do another 400."

Engagement is massively problematic. What we're building is essentially a way of making rehabilitation fun and engaging by immersing the user in a whole new fun and gamified environment. -So you found the hair dryer? -STEPH: I found it.

-On the right-hand side. -The hand dryer. ANSHUL: You're probably sitting right next to it. (LAUGHS) Oh, yeah. I am! ROHAN: The way that the system worked was really secondary to the person's perception of their experience and the perception of the experience was "I'm really enjoying this. "This is really novel, and I wanna try harder."

It's more realistic than the last time I tried this. In terms of upper limb rehabilitation, which is what we're targeting, there really hasn't been anything really significant in about 30 years that you could say is close to what we're doing. OLIVER: As our business grows and we get closer to a commercial product, so too has the technology of virtual reality. I think people are now starting to really see the actual use case of VR in a clinical setting.

Attitude adjustment in a vertical direction. (OLIVER LAUGHS) ROHAN: When it comes to generating money and opportunity, that would be something I'd say is Oliver's key skill set. We're tremendously lucky that he's on board because he makes things happen. Grant writing is an art. ROHAN: It's a black art.

(LAUGHS) ROHAN: So each time we get a grant, it is a big deal. I would say that the type of grants that we can get access to are mostly because of the work that O's done in knowing how to master the art of grant writing. But you never take it for granted and it is always an amazing thing when it comes off. (WARM GUITAR MUSIC) So most recently, we received a $1 million grant from the BioMedTech Horizons program. So that will help us complete product development of our unique wearable device that will allow you to feel objects during a VR therapy session.

I didn't think that this journey that we're on would happen the way it has. I thought, "You're just gonna battle it out, "and if you're still standing at some point down the track, "you may have a chance of succeeding." But I never saw things like million-dollar grants happening. That was just...out of the ballpark. And I know for a fact if it wasn't for Oliver, that would not be happening like that.

OLIVER: Australia's actually had quite a few highly successful - particularly medical - innovators. We, you know, obviously have the dream to be held in that esteem. The icing on the cake, really, to know that your technology and the hard work and the sweat and the tears were all worth it and what we are doing is really helping millions of people and helping to improve their lives.

With this technology, we can actually really improve people's lives who haven't had, you know, the opportunity until now to have access to this incredible technology. For me, success is much more than just making money. It's really about making a difference and being able to not only make a difference in the world, but to actually really be able to change people's attitudes about what is possible for a person with my level of disability. I'm just a firm believer in actions speaking louder than words. And by me just involving myself with as much as possible, with as many people as possible that don't have an experience of a disability, that's been the best way to really change people's attitudes, because attitudes are really the major barrier.

(MAGPIE WARBLES) I can see a light-bulb moment in people when they finally twig that I am the real deal and I am doing what I'm doing and really, you know, bringing that education around how people with varying abilities can make a change in the world. (HOPEFUL GUITAR MUSIC)

2022-06-21 05:14

Show Video

Other news