If you want to catch up with earlier parts of this blog article series on the Virtual Interaction Room, here is a link collection:
1. value proposition and assets
2. usage scenarios and features
3. moderation formats
4. market overview and practical experience
5. “Cheat sheet” for VR moderators
6. VR entry barriers
7. Testing Hypotheses
8. Integrating collaboration tools into Virtual Reality
9. Finding innovators for VR meetings
10. Converting massive point clouds into VR scenes
Virtual Interaction Room in times of COVID-19
The motivation for this part of our blog article series on the Virtual Interaction Room was the dramatic situation of the Corona pandemic AKA COVID-19. It impacts our innovation project in mainly two ways, with positive as well as negative effects.
Rise in demand of remote collaboration tools
As you can see from the above message posted on LinkedIn, the “social distancing” strategy obviously drives many people to look out for alternative communication tools. At the same time, supply chains are breaking down, causing VR headsets to be sold out. Here’s what Oculus wrote to me in a mail when I requested Oculus Quest for Business headsets:
“Due to high demand as well as production impacts caused by the Coronavirus, our inventory remains constrained. As a result, we are temporarily pausing enterprise sales of all hardware, including Oculus Quest, Go, and Rift S starting March 9, 2020. […] We’ll keep you posted as we work to resume order processing as soon as possible. “(firstname.lastname@example.org)
Decreased customer attention for innovative technology
What we have also observed is that many companies are so badly struck by the situation that they postponed their activities towards VR collaboration until the crisis is over. While I can understand that their focus is currently elsewhere, I would still recommend to consider VR interaction rooms as one way to address the crisis.
Possible platforms for a VR Interaction Room
Those customers who are willing to explore VR collaboration with us need an alternative viewer if VR headsets are not available. We also heard the same question from customers who want to use our solution for a broader audience where purchasing too many VR headsets does not appear to be feasible. So let’s take a quick look at the solutions we can offer:
Virtual Reality headset
In order to unleash the full value of VR collaboration, a proper VR headset is still the best option. However, we may have to revisit our decision to focus on Oculus Quest in case we find a customer who wants a solution quickly and has other VR headsets (Rift, Vive, Index) available to him.
Being able to participate a VR meeting from a desktop PC or a laptop is useful in many ways: typing is far easier there, the usage of laptops is well-trained and the devices are available anyway. I am still cautious when customers are requesting this feature because I believe that participating in a VR meeting with a laptop nullifies the added value completely, making VR collaborations even less effective than video conferences. However, in combination with proper VR clients, having one participant joining from his laptop makes a lot of sense.
Mobile phone and tablet
Another device that is highly available is everyone’s mobile phone. Similar to the desktop client mentioned before, a mobile client allows users to join VR meetings very easily. On top, the phone has inbuilt sensors such as accelerometer, gyroscope and compass – also known as interial measurement units (IMU). These would allow users to define their viewing angle simply by turning their phones. Try it yourself on YouTube!
Another option that phones can offer is the so-called Cardboard. Invented by Google in June 2014, this simple device made of paper and two plastic Fresnel lenses allows stereoscopic 3D images. You simply slide in your mobile phone after launching a Cardboard-capable application and you are good to go. Major disadvantages are the reduced field of view of only 90° (Vive/Rift: 110°, StarVR/Human Eyes: 210°), the missing interaction options and the low resolution of 750×667 per eye (commercial VR headsets: 4-8x higher). The major advantages of VR Cardboards are the higher level of immersion caused by the stereoscopic 3D experience and a factor 1000 (!) in pricing: the cheapest cardboard I could find costs only €0.80 if at least 50 pieces are ordered. Also, these glasses make a good giveaway because you can print anything on them.
If VR headsets are combined with cardboards in the Virtual Interaction Room, our experience could “pair up” every cardboard user with one “companion” wearing a full-fledged VR headset. So the limited interaction capabilities of the cardboard could be taken over by the companion (e.g. navigating through the scene, interacting with elements, creating annotations) whereas the cardboard user could still see, hear and speak in an immersed manner but relies on their “buddy” for the rest.
To be continued…