Development, like many tech processes, can generally be done remotely, so the impact of a pandemic and social distancing can be minimal. Even so, developers must interact with others on a project to ensure success. Oftentimes, this includes meetings as well as presentations.
Why Use VR for a Tech Presentation or Meeting?
Many meetings are being done using tools such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams. These tools are great for discussions and sharing a screen, but leave a feeling of being remote and isolated. Another option to help bring people together in a manner that feels more engaged and better simulates being together in person is the use of Virtual Reality, through one of the many existing VR platforms for interacting.
Consider that one of the reasons people travel to corporate offices or other locations is to meet in person. This is not only for the human interaction and collaboration, but also for greater focus on the issues under discussion. VR simulates being in a live meeting, making engagement greater without the cost of travel.
What Can Be Done in a VR Tech Presentation or Meeting
While most of today’s VR platforms don’t provide life-like avatars, they do provide human-looking avatars and meeting places that can mimic meeting rooms or conference centers. For normal meetings, they can provide the same “sitting around the table” atmosphere, including the table. For conference presentations, they can provide the stadium seating feel as well as the large-scale projection screens that can be used for presentations.Presentations within many of the VR platforms can pull in the same PowerPoint decks, videos, and demos that would be done in a live conference center presentation.
With some VR platforms, when doing a conference, multiple smaller rooms can be created to view the same presentation. This gives a more intimate feel for a conference or presentation while being able to support hundreds (or more) people. All individual rooms would see the same speaker and presentation at the same time. You can have the speakers on a stage with screens, a pointer, and a microphone just like a conference in real life. The stage can have a podium with a microphone that picks up conversation from those near it. People in the audience can whisper to the person sitting next to them if they want. A virtual microphone can also be handed out in an audience to allow attendees to ask a question of the presenter in the same manner as a live conference. After the presentation, the members in the audience can walk up to the stage and interact with the speaker just as if it were live. Of course, features from desktop conferencing and meetings such as chat windows, hand raising and screen sharing are options in some of the platforms as well.
In short, a VR presentation can have nearly every benefit of being in person, but without the need to be in person. The primary disadvantage is the loss of the ability to see body language.
Platforms for Doing a Technical VR Presentation or Meeting
There are several platforms available for doing VR meetings and presentations. There are two that I’ll cover, Engage and AltspaceVR, followed by a list of other platforms that offer similar features.
Engage is presented as a virtual reality training and educational platform to make it easy to collaborate, create, and learn in VR. The platform allows you to do meetings as I’ve described earlier in this article, including virtual meeting rooms and conferences.
Engage also lets you build immersive environments that go beyond a standard classroom. It also allows for interactivity and collaboration. Just like in a real world conference room, you can do presentations, share videos, and engage in interactive white boarding where participants can collaborate. Such collaboration on white boards allows you to do planning and designing just as if you were in the same room.
Another benefit of VR platforms like Engage is that you can create virtual rooms or worlds that can help in your presentations or training. Instead of just showing slides of modeling, you can create 3D renderings that can be reviewed. For example, if you were working on an embedded systems project, you could mock up a device and its use within a VR world so that people could see how it looks.
The Engage platform comes with a number of core features that let you work with up to 50 remote users. You can create and stream content. You can use existing objects (there are over 1,200 3D objects and effects), and you can use their virtual locations (there are over 21). They include collaborative features and objects as well as built-in quizzes and forms you can use inside the virtual environments.
AltspaceVR is an entire world where you can attend live shows, meetups, and classes as well as simply interact with people. Altspace is a more popular platform that has been used for conferences with VR as well as meetings and other events. It provides the ability to create event rooms and can include presentations, interactive forms and quizzes, and many of the features mentioned above. If you are doing public meetings within AltspaceVR, you have the ability to use features like block, report, and mute as well as tools to help with raised hands, stage blocking, hosting panels, and more.
AltSpaceVR is a more “public” platform in that there are many events happening that have nothing to do with technology. These mainstream events, however, are helping the platform to grow. While it can be easy to be distracted by the latest presentation on meditation or discussions on rock climbing, those events are drawing people to the platform. Additionally, this mainstream usage means that many of the needed features and customizations for doing technical or team meetings and presentations are already built into the platform.
Other VR Meeting Platforms
Of course, there are a number of other VR platforms that can be used for meetings. These include:
Connec2 - https://connec2.nl/
Dream - https://dreamos.com/
GatherInVR - https://www.meetinvr.com/
Glue - https://glue.work/
Immersed - https://immersedvr.com/
MeetingRoom - https://meetingroom.io/
MeetinVR - https://www.meetinvr.com/
Rumii - https://www.dogheadsimulations.com/rumii
Spatial - https://spatial.io/
vSpatial - https://www.vspatial.com/
Developers can customize VR tools
For developers, Engage and AltspaceVR are both extensible. To build your own worlds and features, you can use the Mixed Reality Extension (MRE) SDK as well as use their World Editor. The World Editor lets you add 3D objects, teleporters and extensions and more. In a future article, I’ll provide an overview of what the MRE SDK offers developers.
VR equipment needs
The downside of using VR for meetings, presentations, or collaborative efforts among a team is the need for the VR equipment. In most cases, you will need the VR headgear, VR controllers, and a machine with the appropriate specifications to support the equipment. Fortunately, the cost of VR equipment has dropped and the specifications for the average workplace computer has gone up.
The VR equipment can range from about $300 on up if bought on sale. This includes Mixed Reality tethered headsets that generally come with controllers. Entry level Oculus devices such as the Oculus Quest2 can be found for around $300, with controllers as well. HTC Vive devices with controllers start around $499.
While this might seem expensive, when you factor in the cost of a plane ticket, hotel room, and transportation costs, it is pennies on the dollar. When you add in the ability to gain better focus and engagement over using tools like Zoom and Teams for virtual meetings you gain additional value as well.
Virtual Reality is still evolving and has a way to go before a ‘real life’ experience will be possible; however, it is getting closer. Even using today’s entry-level equipment, the experience is at a level that works. VR also adds another intangible value in that it is leading edge and cool. While this might seem irrelevant, when working with developers and technical staff it is often such things that keep them engaged with your business. In a world where there are a lot of open technical positions, using VR might be the thing that sets you apart.