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It takes guts to exhibit at a commercial kitchen trade show without a kitchen. But that is what commercial kitchen manufacturer Franke did, with virtual reality (VR) help from BlackBox Realities.
They designed a room scale VR environment to showcase Franke’s new kitchen layouts and de- signs. Using CAD drafts from Franke’s actual manufacturing models, BlackBox created as close to a real world application of the product as possible.
“We help companies bring the real world into a VR environment so you don’t have to bring the real world with you,” says BlackBox founder Lee Kebler. “It was certainly a pioneering idea for the kitchen industry but it has clear implications for the trade show world as a whole.”
Kebler is not a stranger to pioneering efforts. As an aspiring musician with a side hustle in broadcast technologies, Kebler hacked the Xbox Connect Video game controller. In the dark attic of Nashville’s Twelfth and Porter restaurant, he created an early gesture recognition technology for DJ applications. It caught the attention of musician Will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas, who hired Kebler as the chief technology officer for the artist’s music technology endeavors.
Today, Kebler and his team have transposed their VR expertise to create industry-leading VR, as well as augmented and interactive experiences for industrial design, manufacturing, and other business-to-business enterprises. They work closely with partner company PK Pictures to create live events for meetings and conventions.
As Kebler began to build his self-described creative tech solutions company, colleagues urged him to decamp from Nashville and strike out for San Francisco. But Kebler finds Nashville has everything he needs to succeed.
“Nashville is a creative city. New ideas don’t get shot down that easily. They’ll hear you out,” says Kebler. “There’s a lot of emotional support that comes from the Nashville tech scene. It’s an in- credibly collaborative culture.”
He is also unequivocal when it comes to the area’s tech talent pool. “Cash-strapped musicians make great developers,” says Kebler. “They understand there are other ways to be creative beyond your voice or an instrument. I’m one of them. I came to Nashville with a guitar. I founded a VR company and I couldn’t be happier.”