Immersive Collaboration and VR – Why Now?

From about 2005-2009 collaborating, teaming, advisory and counseling services, teaching, and learning were worked in virtual worlds and VR very seriously.  Sometimes this work met with great success but most suffered from the “just a little too early” in the supply and demand of it all.

Fast forward to today and use of immersive collaboration or VR for business or in educational endeavors is not just moving out of the old “Trough of Disillusionment,” its pole vaulting out.   Given how much the factors that challenged the early pioneers in this area have changed, it is not surprising to see this growth in immersive collaboration or VR-based meetings and teaching now.

So, what are these changes that explain this growth that caused such struggled a decade ago?   Mainly 5 things, the first 2 are the basis of so many technology growth spikes, reduced cost and increased capabilities; the next two are changes in the products, ease of use and acceptance of technique; and the final one, enough use cases to show where immersion can best even in person.  I’ll cover only 1-4 here and that last one is so interesting and I hope insightful, that I’ll cover it in the next blog on its own.

So, 1 and 2 you should find to be very obvious, you know they are true and you’ve heard it before.

1.     Costs are down, way down – This is by far the most impact-full change.  In the past 5 years the “every person” computer has changed so dramatically.  And PCs or Apples themselves are half the cost of 5 years ago.  And Internet connectivity has never been cheaper for so much bandwidth.

Kids have Laptops that are cheaper than our phones these days

Kids have Laptops that are cheaper than our phones these days

2.     Capabilities are up – Basic computers being put into consumer’s hands today are powerful.  These computers, unless they are more than 3 years old can hack the 3D visuals and sound well, even the lower end ones.  And, we just toss around in our briefcases or backpacks.

Most on board graphics drivers today are good, even if a GPU chip would be better to power immersive, 3D locations and sound.  I personally double dog dare you to find a laptop or slate without a camera and sound.  Added headsets and 720p capable USB cameras with built in mics are high quality and low cost.  Everything is bundled in now that didn’t used to be for immersion.  Plus, to the point in #1 of how cheap bandwidth is now, it is even more ubiquitous.

These two mean that almost everyone has what they need to attend an immersive meeting, go to a hybrid/immersive class or a delver a virtual coaching session.   So, supply and demand have hit their intersection requirement to not block the growth in the VR collaboration or immersive collaboration tooling for real business or educational use now.  I short hand the constructs of this in the image below.

These aren’t specific to VR or Immersion, just needed.  But, now that the required tech is cheap and ubiquitous, let’s get specific –  why now  for immersive collaboration?

3.     Easy There. We are talking 3D locations and sound, with unified collaboration tools within these locations.  It had to get easier and users have become more comfy with electronic games.

On the first point, I’ll pull from our own customer base; our largest customer’s users come in for 2 meetings, the end.  They are in, for the first time ever for a training class, then they come back for a more 1 on 1 service, then they never come back.  In, out, on with their life.   This is a common need for business, especially in L&D and delivery of service for pay.  This pattern also reflects profoundly different goals than those around recreational immersion such as gaming.  In recreational gaming, the point is often to become so expert in the environment that you can do anything.  Business and Education goals rarely include wanting their end users to spend weeks learning the intricacies of a tool at this level.

 

Today’s VR for Business and Education is focused on needs such as the direct delivery of classes, services, teaming, coaching and counseling.  The tools have greatly reduced these dexterity barriers, drag, drop, point, click, making it easier to use than your email.

Culturally, the battle is won for VR and Immersion, as most have done some gaming, at the very least looked over the shoulder of others and have used Skype here and there.

 

For those who love the generation thing, we just find that Boomers and GenYs are similar in their learning curve and adoption percentages.

 

4.     Frivolity Factor – This is often the elephant in the room.  When it’s not recreation, it needs a reason to eat your budgets. This factor is the “we can’t spend money when we have to cut costs and do more.”  Or “We already have a screen share with a little head video, social communities and chat….So, why?”  Super reasonable should be discussed.

We had decades of studies, before online anything existed, that show how teams were more productive and learners retained more when they were engaged or active.  We have had about 5 years of talks, papers, studies, articles on how game dynamics help everything as well.  Engaged users create better teams, retain learning longer, teach better, get more creative and a whole host of other things that make big impacts on your bottom lines.  We are starting to see that MOOC as great as it can be to get more info to more people has very real issues due to the virtual distance and attention management issues it can introduce unless it is blended with some other interaction.  Making a user engage during meetings/classes can be as critical as eye contact.  Immersive VR has both.

Let’s hit the top 2 most called out as frivolous aspects of VR for business or Education.  I’ll share a few quick reasons why they bring value beyond your current tools.

  • The Avatar, that’s the #1.  When a user has to move themselves to other users or thru data to experience it, they are actively participating.  This means you’re paying attention, not reading your 100th email while not watching the screen share death by PowerPoint marathon.

Thanks to your avatar you have eyes and ears, you can see and hear as you move around, to other people, looking at different data or working on different topics.  This is so NOT silly when you consider how you can share a world expert or go see someone near the data you need to move them thru, look into the eyes of a customer, etc.  Think of the avatar as your camera view.

Today’s immersive users are sometimes in avatars and sometimes live video and sometimes a combo.

  •  The locations are the #2 –“isn’t that kind of silly? … unless you are doing training on an oil rig or as fighter jet or something here simulations have been used for years…”     You don’t always need a location.  We do many use cases where neither the avatar nor the location shows up at all to end users. The immersive collaboration is the global glue that ties different geo-located, physical thinking rooms with touch boards together.   I will describe this use case in detail another time.

Space and flow are important.  Persistent locations for teams that don’t have a shared physical space… unreal, and don’t even give me that “shared folder” thing.  Forcing students to look at your tiny face and the 1 slide you are sharing, really?   And if I’m the one describing something, wow, I want to stand behind my students or see what they are saying, thinking, touching, drawing,…

VR can deliver infinite location…We have a customer who just did a great job describing why an “infinite wall” is so useful for design of complex process, reports and products.  I’ll post it shortly and you can listen to him instead of me.  Other customers write reports on walls in days instead of weeks and months…Teachers teach with flow control via 1 way doors, you can’t go there till you learn this first…

These tools have reusable locations that make sense for you already.  Sure, you can go places that do not exist or are not possible in ways that assist.  You may never harness immersion in that way but this is what immersive simulations have done for years for us, here we come with this stuff at cost effective prices and it will bring innovation waves.  But 90% of the business or Education users will be able to use these locations out of the box limited modifications needed to make it just what they need.

5.     VR can deliver services that even best in-person for some use cases.  I’ve just shared a number of them, like persistence, flow, “Infinite Wall.”  There are many of these.   I’ll write about this shortly.