Fidelity Labs employs Oculus Rift for a 3D view of investing

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A 3D view of Fidelity Labs StockCity via Oculus Rift headset

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Fidelity Labs, the R&D think-tank within Boston-based financial services company Fidelity Investments, has unveiled a new way for investors to literally explore the investment landscape. With similarities to the popular SimCity urban planning game, its online StockCity program displays an investment portfolio in the form of a city skyline, with an option to go 3D using an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset.

The program sees neighborhoods made up of stock types (utilities, tech, consumer stocks), while each stock is represented by a building that rises or falls in height depending on market price. Skies turn from sunny to rainy depending on overall market conditions, and birds flying over a building represent positive (green) or negative (red) comments about the stock on social media.

The program is a clear attempt to woo younger investors raised on video games and social media, and those without the patience to wade through a 10-page white paper. According to Hadley Stern, vice president at Fidelity Labs, his group had been keen to incorporate virtual reality in some way, and hit upon the idea for StockCity after a couple team members were gazing at the Boston skyline from their office. With old buildings being razed and new ones built, the visual metaphor was extended to the company’s investment data.

StockCity was released in its experimental form at an active-traders conference in Las Vegas this week, ahead of a potential release by Fidelity Investments in 12 to 18 months. Like the rest of the lab’s products, the time-frame allows for plenty of feedback and tweaking. And that feedback was initial skepticism at the 2D version.

"The program is a lot more useful in Oculus view, and comes alive in a way you don’t get in 2D," says Stern.

There are two options for exploring StockCity: a keyboard and mouse for the 2D view, and with hand gestures using a Leap Motion 3D controller in conjunction with the Oculus Rift headset. Oculus users will have to wait at least until 2015 when Facebook, which purchased the company in July, releases the headset for consumers. And while Stern acknowledges the clunky nature of the headset, comparing them to the brick size Motorola DynaTAC cell phones introduced in the 1980s, he believes sleeker models will appear.

"My take is five years from now, we will have some form of augmented or virtual reality in our daily lives," Stern adds.

For now, most users will have to be content with the online 2D version, choosing between default watch lists of the Dow 30 – the Dow Jones Industrial Average listed 30 companies – and the S&P 100 from Standard & Poor’s. Users can also create their own watch list of up to 100 companies. Ultimately, users will be able to enter their own portfolios, including mutual funds and exchange traded funds, and compare with another investor’s portfolio or stocks they’d like to buy.

A quick walk-through of the program and the Dow 30 watch list shows a small city grid with 30 buildings representing the 30 companies. Stocks of the same type, such as energy, industrials and information technology, are grouped in the same neighborhoods, which can be highlighted at street level in various colors. Users can get a 3D sense of the program by using the mouse to rotate around and above the city.

For today, it looks like the redbirds of unhappy news have left a stain on the roof of the Microsoft and Intel buildings. Clicking on a building, a display pops up with standard investment information: latest stock price, change in dollars and percentage, market capitalization, trading volume for the day, the average volume over 90 days, and shares outstanding. The weather (i.e., the overall investment climate) shows mostly sunny skies with a few wispy clouds, though there is a layer of foggy haze on the horizon.

StockCity is introduced in the video below.

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