With 2020 being the year of virtual gatherings, I decided to circle back to my favorite pundit, Bobby Carlton, for an update on the virtual reality (VR) space.
Last time I shared my conversation with Bobby (July/ August 2019 issue—https://pubs.royle.com/publication/?m=20617&i=600053&p=20), he had predicted a drop in price and more untethered solutions, which is exactly what we are seeing now. VR has come down in price, and we are seeing a variety of headsets with inside-out technology. This approach incorporates lights or cameras to build out a digital version of the space the headset wearer is in. The data from these sensors is continuously cross-referenced to see how the wearer is moving within the physical space. Fewer wires, more ability to move around.
Bobby shared that organizations are turning to VR to recreate those moments of camaraderie we are missing out on during the COVID-19 pandemic. Interesting to me were the words he used to describe his VR interactions:
“We are looking for that idea of virtual presence— where we can see body language and read people. Where we can read excitement and interest.”
Reading excitement and interest is good, right? But I’m a skeptic. Not a big fan of wearing a headset, I admit to being a hesitant adopter in the VR space. I also find it unsettling to appear as an avatar. To alleviate my doubts, Bobby showed me how he uploaded a photo of himself to one of the VR platforms—making for a more realistic avatar. I had to see it to fully understand the value of this small change, but I can tell you, it made an impact. With facial expressions and hand gestures included, virtual presence in VR is shaping up nicely.
LEADING WITH LiDAR
Even before the pandemic, companies were using VR for onboarding. According to Bobby, these VR experiences continue to help new employees acclimate to their new environments both culturally and geographically, giving them a sense of the space.
Bobby showed me how easy it is to capture that space, thanks to LiDAR (light detection and ranging) technology on the iPhone 12. LiDAR is a remote-sensing process that uses light to measure variable distances. Combined with GPS technology, you can map out pretty much anything with LiDAR—plus guide a self-driving car. If you have the iPhone 12, check for a little black dot near the camera lenses. That’s the new LiDAR sensor.
Bobby shared that it took him a mere five minutes, using his iPhone 12, to scan his living room and create a 3-D model, which now can be brought into an application such as SketchFab or a similar VR platform.
PLATFORMS TO CHECK OUT
Speaking of VR platforms, Bobby recommended a few interesting platforms to explore: Engage, Rumii, and Spatial. I highly recommend that you explore all three.
Teachers and students meet in Engage VR classrooms and explore pre-built content. Use cases include science-based curricula and animal dissections. Recently, Virtual College partnered with Engage’s parent company (Immersive VR Education) to design, develop, and deliver vocational learning solutions, with a potential focus on the healthcare, infrastructure, defense, and security sectors.
You can try out the Lite version of the platform for free and explore events and sessions others have created. The Pro level is also free, with pricing per project on some features. Engage boasts tools such as an avatar creator, outfits and uniforms, live VR meetings, forms, assessments, recording, translation, and the ability to play your own videos inside the VR environment.
With Rumii (from Doghead simulations), you ideally can meet with your team in a virtual space and bring in assets you normally would have in a meeting or classroom. In Rumii, collaboration is paramount.
You can download a free trial for up to three users. Features include custom avatars, realistic spaces, shared assets, and a widget board that professes to bring real-life collaboration tools into the VR learning space.
Spatial is my favorite. It combines VR and AR (augmented reality)—also known as mixed reality—to enable us to bring objects into a shared space to view and manipulate them. According to co-founder and CEO Anand Agarawala, “With Spatial, collaboration becomes an immersive 3-D experience where you can express ideas visually by just saying them, organize thoughts in the room around you, and never let space confine your work.”
In Spatial, I appear as a hologram with my real face (from a photo), and my mouth moves realistically when I talk. I was able to invite a few people to join me as we passed a globe around the room. I could read body language, excitement, and interest. And I forgot I was wearing a headset! As of December 2020, Spatial was still offering access for free.
Note that each of these platforms can be used with a VR headset, as well as on a computer.
Thanks to Bobby Carlton for sharing his knowledge and expertise. If you run into him in person, or in VR, ask him about the pine cones in Spatial. It’s a great story!
MORE TO EXPLORE
- Engage: https://engagevr.io/ and @EngageVR on Twitter
- Rumii: https://www.dogheadsimulations.com/rumii and @rumiiVR on Twitter
- Spatial: https://spatial.io/ and @spatialxr on Twitter
Phylise Banner is a learning experience designer with more than 25 years of vision, action, and leadership experience in transformational learning and development approaches. A pioneer in online learning, she is an Adobe Education Leader, Certified Learning Environment Architect, STC Fellow, performance storyteller, avid angler, aviation enthusiast, and currently training to be a private pilot.