Mixed reality trailblazer Finger Food Studios offers a glimpse of manufacturing’s future

At its Holodeck in Port Coquitlam, Finger Food develops applications that help corporate giants save time and money on product design

Credit: Adam Blasberg

Ryan Peterson sports Microsoft HoloLens glasses, for which his company creates applications

At its Holodeck in Port Coquitlam, Finger Food develops applications that help corporate giants save time and money on product design

Apart from the gleaming tractor unit in the middle of the room, the Holodeck looks like a big empty warehouse. Have I come to the right place? I slip on a pair of Microsoft HoloLens glasses, tightening the band against the back of my skull. Turning to the truck, I see that it has a new holographic hood; by reaching out and pinching a menu hovering in front of me, I can choose from several other styles. Beside the vehicle is a 3D scale model with a trailer attached; shooting along its body and that of the real truck are green trails that I later learn represent airflow.  

When I change glasses and walk toward a nearby wall, the blank space becomes a kitchen showroom where I can switch appliances, door handles—even counter height. After putting on a third pair, I’m taken to a square of light floating on the floor. “Build,” I command, and a highrise springs up. “Zoom in”: now I’m standing in the lobby.

The 25,000-square-foot Holodeck, which opened late last year on a quiet street in Port Coquitlam, is the newest addition to Finger Food Studios Inc. The company aims high: to change the way industry works. Finger Food, founded in 2009 by chief technology officer Trent Shumay, started off in video games and app design. In 2016, after working for Microsoft Corp., it became the first Canadian agency partner for the HoloLens program, which is creating new applications for so-called mixed reality. The 120-employee company’s clients include U.S. giants such as truckmaker Paccar Inc. and home improvement chain Lowe’s Cos. Inc.

For much of the 2000s, CEO Ryan Peterson worked in Silicon Valley, where he says the success of Apple and Facebook showed him the importance of being first to establish yourself. Peterson also noticed that nobody was going after the services market. “In the Gold Rush, the people that actually made money were the people who sold services—sold the picks and shovels,” he says.

When Peterson joined Finger Food in 2011, he and Shumay set out to tackle that market by integrating new technology into businesses. As he points out, mass manufacturing still has remnants of the Industrial Revolution embedded in its workflow. Take automobile design: in the 1920s, General Motors Co. began drafting 3D models on paper and building clay replicas. Nothing changed until the 1980s, when carmakers started using AutoCAD—but they kept the clay model. “That process didn’t change until last year, when this company called Finger Food and our partner Paccar went from AutoCAD to a full hologram,” Peterson says.

Finger Food has shortened the time it takes to build a model from six months to three days, he adds: “We get the data from AutoCAD, and then we massage it and we can put it into a mixed-reality scene.” For carmakers, the other benefit is being able to create many different versions of the same model. “We save probably about 10 per cent of the time on the development of a new vehicle,” Peterson says of Paccar. “Saving 10 per cent in an advanced manufacturing process that’s been going on for almost 100 years is transformational for a business like that.”

Finger Food is creating a new business, says Edoardo De Martin, director of Microsoft Vancouver. “They’re on the leading front of mixed-world computing.”  

As the technology becomes cheaper, small and-medium-sized companies will adopt it, Peterson predicts. He cites infrastructure—want to know what the Site C dam will look like at scale?—as one of many other industrial applications. “One of our big innovations is we focus on holograms from 15 feet to infinity,” Peterson says. “Anything large-scale, that’s where we see an incredible ROI, and you can transform business processes.”