The responsible development of XR technology requires a diverse community of voices to help build it. To celebrate the limitless number of perspectives in the XR industry, the XR Association sat down with Amy Hedrick, Founder and CEO of Cleanbox Technology. Cleanbox plays a critical role in the XR industry space by providing the health and safety products necessary for businesses to utilize new tech with sustainability as a core focus.
Below is an excerpt of the interview with Hedrick, which has been edited slightly for brevity and clarity.
1. Let’s first talk about your XR story. What sparked your interest in working on XR?
I started in the XR space from the perspective of looking at new technology and thinking about how it would influence consumer behavior in the future. I have been in the XR space for about eight years, so I’ve been involved since quite early on. Of course, not as early as some of the visionaries who have been active for decades. But I started in this space because I recognized the capability of virtual reality and immersive technologies as complete industry disruptors, changing the way we learn, engage and evolve as humans.
An early experience with the first Oculus headset impressed me and I remember asking myself, what more could we do with it? I saw the experiences this technology could clearly provide as having the potential to disrupt education, training, entertainment and beyond.
2. From that, how did Cleanbox come to be, and what was the impact the technology has had?
We recognized from the beginning that in order for XR to scale globally, businesses would have to address hygiene and safety. Headsets and other wearable technologies become very personal hardware because they’re worn on the body, and anything that sits on your face or head has a greater risk of transferring the contagions that make people sick every day. Our team understood that the more engagement you wanted to have globally, the more critical it was to have hygiene and other safety protocols in place.
So we started engineering using UVC LEDs, because we needed to create a hygiene product that didn’t require heat, liquids or chemicals and wouldn’t damage sensitive electronics. It was important to us to build a product with a UVC dosage that was highly effective, reliable and repeatable. It was also important to create a product that anyone could use–over and over again. We started shipping our first patented, commercial-grade products in 2019.
One thing that the COVID-19 pandemic did was really put an exclamation mark on how important it is to think about safety and risk mitigation with items frequently touched, used or shared. In this case, it was COVID-19, and the pandemic showed us how quickly and easily contagions are spread. Most contagions– the things that make us sick – are from the things we touch and then touch our faces.
In the XR industry, for the many amazing experiences and capabilities to be adopted on a global scale, people have to want to use [the technology] over and over and over again. And if you reduce that barrier of entry, you’re really helping the industry grow as a whole. It’s not just about one piece of hardware, one piece of software, or one type of experience. It’s really taking the potential of the tech and thinking about its application and adoption long-term.
3. Cleanbox’s technology is touted as being zero chemicals, zero waste, zero hassle, and zero mistakes. Did you decide to build this type of device with sustainability in mind? How is that made possible?
Yes, absolutely. It’s always been very critical to me personally, and to Cleanbox as a company, to address a problem without creating another one. We wanted to be able to create a product that anybody could use, to reduce that barrier of entry.
I believe that over time we will collectively start to integrate XR technology into our workplaces and daily lives, we’ll need to do it in a way that doesn’t have a negative impact. Being able to provide cleanliness and safe use of shared equipment is vital. It is equally important to do so without producing more waste or other harmful products.
The way we use UVC light–we only use C, not A or B–is effective and safe for products. We don’t use bulbs, we only use LEDs. The reason that matters is that we are able to do a lot more with LEDs than is possible in a traditional bulb. We’re able to create products that don’t have hazardous waste material or disposables that need special handling. Our products don’t use any heat and there is no ozone at the wavelengths that we use. We don’t use any chemicals in our products and that is all very intentional. When you think of hardware, you don’t want to be exposing it to liquid, alcohol, or harsh chemicals. And if you do, you certainly don’t want to be putting that back on your head to breathe in or to let sit on your skin.
4. Is there anything that you think audiences and users should know about immersive technology and sustainability?
When you think about sustainability, you should be thinking about how will the industry grow 10x, 100x, or 1000x from what it is today, to where we want t it to be. And that, I believe, should be the real mindset of any hardware maker, software creator, or developer. You’re solving today’s problems, but also addressing possible future needs. And that’s really where the sustainability concept comes into mind.
5. How do you feel that your background and your identity have shaped your ability to do your job and to be a leader in this industry?
I think as an entrepreneur, you have to be very in tune with shifts in market and product needs, and at the same time, put on rose-colored glasses from time to time. In other words, you have to be able to recognize and address actual problems, but also always maintain a vision for the future.
If someone has a predisposition to be that way, they will probably find themselves more comfortable in an entrepreneurial type of setting, because [that type of attitude] is necessary [for building a company.] You have to keep that end goal in mind throughout all the ups and downs.
In terms of other background skill sets, I would also say having the ability to look at end goals and work backward is critically important. Because Cleanbox is a hardware company at its core, setting benchmarks, meeting goals, and working backward when certifying, testing, manufacturing, and shipping products globally is critical. That’s also a concept I’ve shared many times with my team in terms of [my own] personal goals and I think that’s helped as a business.
6. If you could give a younger person career advice, what would it be?
That’s a very hard one because I could probably go on for days. There are all sorts of things that I wish someone had said to me [when I was starting my career.] But I would say this: when you believe in something, expect that it’s going to be twice as difficult as you think it’s going to be. And when you’re okay with that from the outset, that will actually help sustain you during those times that you forgot how hard it could be.
As for general career advice, and specifically for other females in the space, I would say it’s important to keep focused on your end goal, stay flexible, be willing to pivot “on a dime”, and find people you can trust and rely on.
Also, realize that everything will not be perfect the first time. Business is an iteration. And all companies really, if they’ve started from nothing, and they’ve grown into something, they have gone through multiple iterations. And that’s okay, it’s part of the process.
7. What can the industry do to attract more gender diversity into the talent pipeline?
It’s interesting because thinking about women in business, I actually know a lot of women in the XR industry, which I think is fantastic. There are some amazing women in this space. I think one of the things that women in business can improve on is using their platform to mentor and support other women. Sometimes it can feel quite competitive, and that’s okay, too. But having that understanding that, look, we’re all working toward the same end goal, is a good thing.
The reason we have so many opportunities as women today is because of the choices other women made many, many years before us. Similarly, the opportunities that other women and underserved communities will have in the future will be influenced by the choices we make today. I think that’s critically important and something I try to keep top of mind.
8. At XRA, we like to say the XR industry has a limitless future. What does that mean to you?
I truly believe that the immersive technology space has a limitless future. And what that means to me is that we’re just scratching the surface of technical capability and practical application right now. Even though I’ve been in this for what feels like forever and other people have before me, we still have yet to see that adoption that will literally change the things that we are used to doing. And in that sense, it’s a limitless future. When we tie all of these capabilities together, we can change–for the better– education, healthcare, transportation, automotive, entertainment and beyond. At the same time, that means the entire world would shift on a very measurable scale. And so in that sense, I think the future is indeed limitless.