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Home > Biographies > Alex Landa, Co-Founder & CEO of Akiva Metaverse

Alex Landa, Co-Founder & CEO of Akiva Metaverse

We know first-hand how the power of love for one’s child can make a parent do amazing things.  Alex Landa is a great example of that.  He refused to settle for what doctors and specialists told him to accept and changed the world… or rather, created a world… to help his autistic son and others like him become the greatest version of themselves. 

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At the forefront of technology, using Virtual Reality within the Oculus Quest 2 platform, Alex was able to create an engaging and immersive method of teaching people touched by autism in the highly visual way of learning they tend to excel at.  Wisely choosing a platform that allows users to control the software without the use of controllers, the Akiva Metaverse, named after Alex’s autistic son, is open to people with a wide variety of behaviours and capabilities.  And coupled with the companion app, parents, therapists and aides can assist the users progression while watching them in real-time. 

 

The Akiva Metaverse has programs designed for younger kids and older kids and is constantly creating new modules to allow the user to progress at their own pace, In their own time. Check out the I Am Akiva Trailer here or better yet, take advantage of the Limited Time 50% discount offered exclusively through Autism Today. 

 

Akiva – Alex Landa Interview 20220428 

Thu, 4/28 8:32PM • 28:07 

SPEAKERS 

Karen Simmons, Vincent Dela Luna, Alex Landa 

 

Karen Simmons   

Hello, I’d like to welcome Alex lander the CEO, Akiva Metaverse to our platform Autism Today. And welcome Alex. It’s really a pleasure to have you here. 

 

Alex Landa   

Karen, thank you so much for having me on. I appreciate the chance to speak with you and with your audience today. Thank you so much for having me. 

 

Karen Simmons   

It’s so nice to have you here. And I wonder what got you started down this path? Like? Can you tell us a little bit about tell the audience a little bit about what got you here? 

 

Alex Landa   

Yes, absolutely. So about eight and a half years ago, almost nine years ago, my older son whose name is Akiva was diagnosed with severe autism. We went to two best specialists that we can find in Los Angeles, and independently, each one of them told us that, look, you know, your your kid will never communicate to you, He will always going to need 100% help, you know, basically, they gave us what, you know, been labeled as very severe autism. Right. And, you know, given you know, my my roots and my upbringing, I just couldn’t take that at face value. And so my response to that was, while I appreciate you know, your pedigree and your your astute education, you know, I firmly believe that my son will communicate to me, he will play basketball with me, he will do things that, you know, you tell me right now, are impossible, and we sort of stormed out of the office. That’s what, that’s what got us our journey.  This is… 

 

Karen Simmons   

How old was he? 

 

Alex Landa   

So he was a little bit over two. But fast forward.  Akiva is 11 years old right now. He is he just started in middle school. He goes in the mainstream schools. So this is the first year where he does not have shadow. He used to have shadow in his, you know, elementary school. He has a best friend whose name is Ethan. And, you know, this is another thing that specialist said that he will never have friends. Right. He is bilingual. He speaks two languages. He’s an avid reader, you know, during the summertime, he read all of my, you know, our professional books around leadership, right? And that’s about thirty-four of them. So, so he’s a great athlete. So in other words, you know, it’s been it’s been an amazing journey so far, he’s done. So great, because he wanted to progress and he wanted to, you know, be the best version of Akiva that he can be right. And, you know, it’s it’s amazing what has happened, but then, you know what, what got me thinking is that how many other parents are going to listen to the diagnosis, they can succumb to that, for many different reasons, you know, I’ve been fortunate that I had resources to put behind and invest into my son. Right. You know, I’ve been fortunate that we have mobilized our entire family to help him through this, right. But a lot of a lot of families do not have those resources.  

 

Alex Landa   

And, you know, and there are other methodologies that do exist, right? In the world, but they’re, they’re unavailable to most for many different reasons, right? Just because it’s difficult to scale or because, you know, there there could be too resource intensive. Right. And so, and so my, you know, my original thought being a technology executive for over 20 years, is how can they use my training, my knowledge, you know, my professional success of building resilient, and systems that scale that perform that delight my customers, right? How can they do this for, you know, my kid and for many other children in the world? And how can I democratize this methodology that worked for my son, right, and, and bring it to, you know, the homes and different facilities all around the world, right. So naturally, you would think that, oh, you know, you just create an app, you know, in put it in App Store, and it’s gonna work, the challenge is, you know, with with with neurodivergent individuals is that, you know, you gotta in order in order to effectively learn, they have to self explore, and they have to, you have to get the feedback from them, so that you could help them get to the next level, if you will, right. Next level of progression. 

 

Alex Landa   

And so over the years I’ve been looking at different platforms, some mobile platforms wouldn’t work for that reason. You know, PC was, do you know, again, it’s the same situation with the PC. And so in 2012, when a Palmer Luckey, you know, started a Kickstarter campaign around Oculus Quest, right? I get really excited, because, wow, you know, this is the medium that, you know, we’ve been craving for, it’s actually an immersive environment that you can put a person in and they can self explore, they can, you know, have an opportunity to play. And in addition to that, as they play, they can learn a few, a few skills, right. So again, fast forward to where we are right now, you know, behind me, you see a kid that’s wearing Oculus Quest 2, with Akiva logo on it. And what’s happening there is that this kid is actually immersed into this beautiful, a world of Akiva when we have 10 different worlds now. But but the point is, is that, you know, so we took the methodology that was working, right, there was sort of a one on one education that you couldn’t scale, right? And we digitized it in a way that anyone with access to this device can have that experience, right, can have experience with methodology that’s working can have learning experience. That’s, that’s fun and immersive. And it produces results, right? So that’s sort of where we started, why we started, what we’re doing and where we’re going. And our mission, by the way, is to make sure that every neurodivergent individual has an opportunity to learn, self explore and thrive. So as you can see, behind me, this is for our youngest members of the community, right, this is a world which is somewhat cartoonish and playful, and so on. And as you progress as you become older, you you want different things. We’ve built worlds for children who are, you know, older who are interested in space, or, you know, or or, or dragons. We also we have a Dragon Lair world, we have a Candyland world. So we’ve thought about a variety of ways of how we can entice our, you know, audience, children and individuals who are older, right to learn and self explore in virtual reality and then use the skills in the real world. 

 

Vincent Dela Luna   

So Alex, can you explain to us how this works? If you’ve got varying degrees of severity, with people with autism or neurodiversity? How do they guide through the courses how do they select the courses? is how does that work? If they’ve got the goggles on? 

 

Alex Landa   

Right, that’s an excellent question, Vince. So the way it works is that we wanted to make sure that, you know, parents or guardians, or specialists, for that matter, have a participation in this, but not exactly inside of the VR yet, right. But actually, in way of a companion, so we built the companion app, it’s a mobile app that’s available for Apple devices, with iOS, operating system and Android devices as well. And there are two modes that you can use it in, you can use it in smartphone mode, or tablet mode, whichever you prefer, right. So what happens there is that you have an opportunity to select what’s happening in VR, right, so you can help your your kid experienced that world. And, and sometimes, you know, it’s a helpful experience for you too. Because you can choose avatars that you would think your child will like, you can choose digital gifts, that they will like, for example, it could be bubbles, so it could be cars, or it could be, you know, trains and planes and so on. Right. And then you could, you know, basically select and change different different stories, which are learning material that we have. So each one each, each one of them is a story, that giving you an opportunity to self explore, but also you have avatars inside that are guiding you through that story and that levels. That’s how it works and the most important part, from a feature perspective for this Mobile Companion that will built is a casting mechanism. What it is, is that, you know, as, as a parent, as an adult, that is, using this companion app, you can see in real life, everything that’s happening with the kid inside of the virtual reality, so you can see how they’re interacting with this world, what they’re doing with their hands, what are they focusing, and so on. And so that gives you, you know, an opportunity to participate and play a key role. You know, there could be a very limited guidance or no guidance from from an adult, or there could be a lot of guidance from an adult, especially in the beginning, right. But but the whole, I think the wonderful purpose of this is that we give an opportunity for, for children to self explore, right inside. 

 

Vincent Dela Luna   

The gifting when you talk about gifting, you’re talking about a reward structure? 

 

Alex Landa   

Well, we we’ve talked about the subject a lot with the leaders of the neurodivergent community. And the whole concept of you know, tit for tat is really not sitting well with them. And so it’s more of a gifting and self exploration than reward for doing something right. 

 

Vincent Dela Luna   

Can you can you define the gift? 

 

Alex Landa   

Yeah, you get, you get the digital gift, like a car or a bubble, or, you know, a train, and an avatar is gonna send it to you, and you have it on this board. And I can show I can show you in the videos, I mean, videos have, and basically, in the board, you can you can, you can touch it, you can play it with it. So that’s the shielding effect that they use in order to get more comfortable, right. So that’s exactly what the gifting is. 

 

Karen Simmons   

It’s kind of like a pat on the back sort of thing? 

 

Alex Landa   

Yeah, it’s just, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s the difference between the rewarding reward system is that, you know, if you if you so if you are unable to, for example, I’ll give you an extreme example, if you are unable to look and maintain the eye contact, which a lot of autistic kids cannot, right, then I’m gonna reward you with something that you like.  Well the problem with that, psychologically is that you know, if I physically cannot do it, you’re beating me into submission as a specialist to do something that I physically cannot, you know, my brain is wired in a way that I’m I’m watching what’s happening more than actually, on your typical humans, because I’m scanning the environment. That’s how my brain works. But you’re beating me to submission into making me do things that I physically cannot, and… 

 

Alex Landa   

… and then and then so that creates a wrong alignment with you know, reward system because you give me a reward for something that I’m physically incapable of doing. Right whereas The difference here with what we built for Akiva, Akiva Metaverse is we want to gift, you know, we we’re gifting, we’re we want you to have fun, we want to have comfort. We want you to be in a safe environment. So you receive those gifts. And you understand that you got the gift for being there for having fun for, you know, exploring, not for some specific thing that we want you to do. Right. And that opens you up to having more attention, more opportunities for you to learn more opportunities for you to interact with within the objects inside of Akiva Metaverse, more opportunities to focus and listen on what avatars have telling you. Right? So that’s the major difference. 

 

Karen Simmons   

Right. 

 

Alex Landa   

Oh, that’s brilliant. 

 

Karen Simmons   

Yeah, it is. 

 

Vincent Dela Luna   

So you’re using you’re using gifts to lead them in an interactive way. So they can keep being engaged with the gifts, but they don’t have to do anything specific to get the gifts. 

 

Alex Landa   

Right, right. And if you think about it, this is what most of the parents observed their kids and that’s the reason why would give parents an opportunity to choose the digital gifts within the companion app, right? The reason being is that at some duration of the time, you know, kids have tenacity to certain items. Like for example, my son was going through periods, where, you know, I think it started with rocks, then it went into bubbles, then it went to two propellers, toilets, then Eagles, and then there was a Siberian Tiger. Siberian Tiger was the longest, it was like nine months. And you know, he would drive most people insane with this.  Like he, he learned about Sibera more people than Siberian people knew about themselves, right? But he was like, so focused on this item. And so, you know, the idea was like, Okay, how can we use this, in order to give you an opportunity to give you what you like, not just for something, but to give you so that you comfortable, so then you’re gonna open up and you’re gonna start learning better? Right? So that’s the, that’s the idea. By the way, we haven’t created Siberian Tiger as a gift yet, but are going to 

 

Karen Simmons   

Tell us about the type of courses that you have? We’d really like to know about that. 

 

Alex Landa   

Yes, so we focus on on several different areas, you know, obviously, at the core is communication, right? Because we want to make sure that we can sparkle even start from nonverbal and get into verbal communication as quickly as possible. So as part of the communication is speech, you know, and within the speech, we have unique opportunities to work on calligraphy and learning sounds and letters and words in that progression, right. We work on attention because we can, you know, track the eye gazing from, you know, Oculus Quest perspectives, which is great because we get, you know, figure out okay, so how, you know, how are you going to focus how are you going to pay attention to certain things or not, and use avatars to sparkle, the interest use digital gifts to you know, embellish that experience, right?  

 

Alex Landa   

We focus also on gestures, because gestures is a very important part of nonverbal communication. And so we have a lot of gestures and signs such as you know, goodbye, hello. You know, Can you can you show your appreciation or love by hugging a person, and we diligently go into why this is important than how you do it properly. And you know, you can you do a high-five was the avatar and get the actual feedback from from doing that, which is, you know, a lot of our users have kids find it really fascinating and great. We work on situational behavior, we work on emotions. So we will we have different multiple choices on how you can recognize certain emotions and what you do and how you react and so on. And it’s so this is this is more of stories or learning material or game, if you will, for our, you know, more youth focused community, not not the early childhood intervention, but you know, those who are middle school in high schools, right, we have content for them as well. But this these are the probably the top areas we’ll work on right now.  

 

Alex Landa   

What we have in the pipeline for the future is in a we’re going to create It multiple levels of content for multiple members of ecosystem, including, you know, including parents, including the neurodivergent individuals who are ready to emerge into a workforce. You know, we want them to have an opportunity at life and you know, we, again, we we long term we strive to be that platform, that ecosystem that Metaverse for them and for neurotypical individuals as well, who wants to join, right? So we’re not, you know, we’re not excluding anybody, but we want in our members, our community to learn skills that will help them thrive in life. And, you know, if somebody wants to learn how to be a programmer, or a graphic designer or a marketer or writer, they should have an opportunity to do that in Akiva Metaverse. You know, the same safe environment that they’re used to and they happy to participate in those stories. 

 

Vincent Dela Luna   

That’s great. 

 

Karen Simmons   

I have a silly question.  

 

Alex Landa   

Sure.  

 

Karen Simmons   

It’s silly to you guys, because you’re younger. But is there a way that people can interact? Like two people? Or is it just… 

 

Vincent Dela Luna   

Socially. 

 

Karen Simmons   

…Yeah, while they’re using this? 

 

Alex Landa   

So So right now, yes, right now there is there isn’t there’s a way of interacting through a through the Mobile Companion App, as we, you know, building our, our ecosystem, we’re looking into multiple ways to give this interaction inside of the VR for two people and more. Right. And, you know, hopefully, I will have an opportunity to, to be back and actually show you what we’ve done in the near future. Because there’s a lot of r&d, so research and development happening on our in our team specifically on that, how do we integrate the other members of the community into cohesive Metaverse, right, where they can sometimes participate, but for the specific reason that we want, at this stage for children to self explore, we excluded this sort of interaction in our stories, they do interact with avatars, and in the future, they will interact with specialists and parents and humans, who will be part of it, it’s an inevitable progression. It just we haven’t gotten there yet. 

 

Vincent Dela Luna   

So as far as VR goes, it’s currently only Oculus Quest. 

 

Alex Landa   

At the moment, and we’ve tested multiple different platforms Oculus Quest 2 is by far the most superior virtual reality platform experience that we can find and from a consumer standpoint, the most affordable too, which is very important, right? It retails for about $300, in retail stores in the United States, which is, you know, a really good point, if you think about it, and by the way, you don’t need to buy, you know, an additional PC or, like, before, there was a really big barrier of entry to build something because that solution or you know, would cost a lot and then plus the, you know, the joysticks, and, you know, the wires, and so on and so forth. And then you know, you couldn’t do it, but but but with that device, you can, there are few other devices that are coming on the market and we will continuously you know, test it out. And, you know, we the way we develop Akiva Metaverse is, is that it’s it could be, you know, transferable and transferable to different other other different platforms is that we need to make sure first that these platforms are at least as good as Oculus Quest 2. And then we because if we can’t do certain mechanics as we’re able to do right now, for example, hand tracking, right? It’s very important. A gazing is very important. Speech recognition is very important, right? So if other platforms don’t, don’t do it, then they are inferior. And then for that reason, it almost doesn’t make sense to put our content there. So… 

 

Karen Simmons   

We love your passion and we share your passion. 

 

Alex Landa   

Thank you so much. 

 

Karen Simmons   

It’s amazing.  We really, really do and we know you’re going to just rock it out of world it’s just amazing. 

 

Alex Landa   

Thank you so much for kind words, Karen, that that that means a lot coming from you because, you know, you’ve been one of the original thought leaders before any information was available anywhere and You know, I think I think, you know, without, without you we couldn’t even exist because, you know, at the time, people don’t didn’t even know what autism is. And you know what? What’s going on? So, so you’re coming from you, you know, I it is it is an amazing, amazing achievement already. And I’m very humbled by your words. Thank you. 

 

Vincent Dela Luna   

Well, you want to tell us then, now that we know what you’re doing? Tell us what’s the next step? How do people get on Akiva, 

 

Alex Landa   

I’m happy to announce that we’re actually delivering two products. One is, which is called Akiva Discover and the other one is Akiva Explorer. So they’re basically a combination of 100 hours of content that could be consumed by, by younger audience in Akiva Discover, and by audience who are middle schoolers and high schoolers in Akiva Explorer, right. And we making it generally available as of today. So when and if you know, a parent or a specialist or kids themselves, if they have, if they have an opportunity to get to a website and create an order for themselves, it is available, right? So we are happy that is available, we are happy that we’re here. But we also would like to announce another thing in terms of getting different organizations and individuals to participate in our beta testing. So as we create more content and more product, we constantly gonna have the beta testing and most of the successful products right now successful ecosystems right now, because we have these beta programs. And I think this is what will will drive enormous success for us as a community, for as many participate in this beta program as possible, right? So we’re while we’re excited about making our product generally available, we’re even more excited to invite everybody in who wants to participate to become a beta tester to help us perfect, Akiva Metaverse and make it better. 

 

Vincent Dela Luna   

That’s great.  

 

Karen Simmons   

That is great. Well, I think you’re awesome. I think what you’re doing is awesome. And you are changing the world and making it a better place for everybody. And I think you’re part of our team, and we’re really excited about having you as our partner, 

 

Alex Landa   

Very cool, very cool.  

 

Vincent Dela Luna   

So thank you very much. 

 

Alex Landa   

So thank you so much. We’ll we’ll talk to you very soon.  

 

Vincent Dela Luna   

All right.  Talk to you later, Alex! 

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