Say ta-ta to teleconferencing. Increasingly, businesses are finding that virtual reality is a more intimate way to communicate remotely.
That's the conclusion Wall Street Journal reporter Christopher Mims arrived at after playing with a range of virtual technologies. But hasn't VR long failed to deliver on its promise of bringing people closer together?
Yes, virtual reality has been around at least since 1962, when Morton Heileg patented his Sensorama Simulator, a machine that combined 3-D films, wind generators, aromatic puffs, and more to create an immersive movie experience. More recently, films like The Matrix have featured the technology as a portal between worlds, as well as other far-out applications.
Now, finally, virtual reality appears primed to become actual reality. The biggest headlines in the field came last March, when Facebook bought VR headset maker Oculus for $2 billion. The first consumer version of the Oculus Rift is expected to ship early next year.
By 2020, virtual reality products could generate $30 billion in revenue, according to TechCrunch. Much of that will come from gaming, but already businesses are recognizing virtual reality's potential as a communication tool.
In a fast-paced environment where time is at a premium, you often don't have the luxury of a face-to-face meeting. Virtual reality allows you to communicate inflection, body language, and space while working remotely, Mims writes. Here are some virtual reality technologies that may soon make a big impact on how your business collaborates.
Oblong Industries offers software that wirelessly transmits content from your laptop to a bank of large, connected monitors. The company's Nintendo Wii-like remote then lets you move content on the monitors, a nod to the hand-controlled computer interfaces the company's co-founder, John Underkoffler, designed for the Tom Cruise film Minority Report.
Tens of millions of PCs may come installed with Intel's RealSense virtual reality technology this year, says Sanjay Patel, CEO of Personify, a video calling platform. Personify uses RealSense--which enables cameras in laptops to perceive depth--to replace the background behind people appearing in live streams with content from a Windows PC. That keeps you from having to switch screens between the video call and the content you want to view. Patel tells WSJ that Personify is used by three of the five biggest enterprise software companies, primarily for sales demonstrations.
Strap on Altspace's virtual reality headset, and you can be face-to-face with others even if you're not in the same physical space. The technology tracks the body language of users and replaces their bodies with avatars, Mims writes. Even though the avatars did not show facial expressions, Mims describes the experience as "hallucinatory, in the way that really good virtual reality always does." Altspace is still in the testing phase for now, but its CEO Eric Romo tells WSJ that won't be the case for long.
If Altspace is hallucinatory, hooking up to DORA is the equivalent of undergoing a metamorphosis. Connected to a robot via an Oculus Rift VR headset, Mims experienced what neuroscientist Henrik Ehrsson called the "body-swap illusion." When you turn your head, the robot does the same, and you see what the robot sees. This creates the illusion that you are living in the robot's body. "As I turn around to look at my actual body, sitting at a desk and wearing a VR headset, I think "who is that guy?" says Mims. The system is a prototype built by four undergraduate engineering students at the University of Pennsylvania.