Our very own COO, Nate Fender, was invited to speak in the webinar “A New Reality: AR/VR Transforming Collaboration” on April 2nd, 2020. The event was hosted by Alley, an accelerator program working with entrepreneurs, Fortune 500s, media partners, and corporate partners to “Create Good Change” where substance is valued over style. The webinar’s five panelists discussed how augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) can be used to supplement remote work and collaboration during the COVID-19 pandemic, how headsets come into play, and where we see the industry post-crisis.
Nate’s Fellow Panelists:
Adoara Udoji is the Director of Corporate Innovation and Venture at RLabs, ‘the nation’s first city-funded center for research, education, and entrepreneurship in virtual and augmented reality and related technology.’
Gordon Meyer is the NYC chapter president of VR/AR Association, ‘an international organization designed to foster collaboration between innovative companies and brands in the VR and AR ecosystem that accelerates growth, fosters research and education, helps develop industry standards, connects member organizations and promotes the services of member companies.’
Ben Numez is the co-founder and CEO of Evercoast, a media production company that is ‘advancing the creation, compression, and distribution of 3D holographic, volumetric content to be used in augmented reality, virtual reality and the web, on mobile or desktop environments.’
Chris Pfaff is the founder and CEO of Chris Pfaff Tech Media, a ‘New York area consultancy that supports the needs of global technology and new media entrepreneurs in the areas of market and business development, strategic marketing and public relations, and investment consulting.’
Here’s a few of our favorite answers to the various questions and topics posed.
How are AR and VR products positioned to be deployed during a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically in regards to remote work:
Nate: “In a time like this when people are not allowed to travel on site to help service and answer questions, I think it’s an inflection point where we are finding these tools [AR tools such as Ario Enterprise and Ario Connect] are seeing an uptick of necessity as opposed to ‘we want to test it, and we want to try it.’ It’s now ‘we don’t have an option.’ We are going to use FaceTime, or we are going to use something that gives us an even greater contextual situational awareness, and I think that’s what we are starting to see with our business right now...we were already on track but this has accelerated the timeline.”
Ben: “I can echo that sentiment...whether it be an EDM music festival that’s been totally shut down and can’t do anything and DJs around the world can’t really connect with their fans, and they’re using YouTube live to be able to do some of those things, but using volumetric capture or augmented reality or virtual reality experiences—significant interest in that—to hedge funds who you know have billionaire clients, and they are always looking to impress their clientele. We were talking to some who were interested in shipping headsets to clients and being able to stream content in real time to be able to conduct their quarterly annual meeting to household name, massive, developer conferences getting cancelled. You know everyone is still interested in one upping the competition, and so [it’s] how do they incorporate immersive technologies into that process.”
Adoara: “If nothing else, the level of [AR/VR] awareness has gone through the roof. I’ve spent years working with all sorts of corporations and Fortune 500s and a lot of times the question becomes ‘what is the use case, how does this add value to my business, how do I sell into my business, and how do we scale it.’ It’s abundantly clear right now for many companies that there are a variety of different [AR/VR] tools across sectors whether we are talking about healthcare...or architectural VR firms...The teams that look at these new technologies are [now] looking at them very differently, because post this crisis, they are going to have to reconfigure how they are thinking about what innovation means and what this next generation of technology means, whether we are talking about VR or AR or 3D technology...”
Chris: “As we saw after 911, the few months after 911, there had already been a lot of usage going back to something Ben said around the headphone crew who were using Polycom and trying to look cool and hip being in the same room together. Now we are all in the same room, and there’s hundreds of us on this call. But Polycom saw a huge growth spike in the months after 911, and I think you are going to see the same for a certain group of us who already have those headsets or might just order them online today...We are using Zoom today, but if we were to do this a year from now, it might be some new VR package we haven’t even heard of.”
Is the industry ready to deploy these AR/VR solutions, and are consumers ready for AR/VR content streamed through headsets:
Gordon: “Is the industry ready, I think it’s a no, and it’s a no from several fronts, right. For one, in terms of the way this industry has marketed itself to its detriment has been video games, and if you go on Google, and just do an image search on virtual reality, just take a look at the images you see. For the most part, it’s video games, and it’s also just a single, solitary person with a headset on, right. There’s almost no representation of a group experience inside of virtual reality or AR, right, so in terms of how people view this is very much shaped by us in the industry and what we are putting out there. Meanwhile according to other studies, most people when they think of immersive, they want to use it for very practical purposes. Number one is travel. Learning new skills is number two. You don’t get to video games until it’s the bottom half of that list, and so this is a real wake up call for the industry itself. What we’re seeing is a lot of inbound interest from people who are stuck at home, saying wait a minute!”
Ben: “From our perspective, volumetric contents is device agnostic, It’s great to consume inside a virtual reality headset, great to consume inside of a Hololens, inside of a Magic leap, but it’s also you know very suitable for two dimensional devices, so, augmented reality on a mobile phone just using the 2D screen...we’ve all been in conferences where people are putting on virtual reality headsets after virtual reality headset, no one’s going to want to do that anymore, just given germaphobes...I’m with you completely Gordon where I think we are still ways away from having a real material market with people who have VR headsets.”
Gordon: “Bare with me on this analogy, I started looking into bicycles and bicycle deaths, and why people might die on a bicycle. You know 50 percent of those deaths are because people don’t wear a helmet, and the reason why people don’t wear a helmet is that they look dorky, and we are in the dorky phase—in the puberty phase of immersive technology—this device isn’t something I would walk into the hottest club and put on, and this isn’t also something that I would want to put on in a boardroom of a major company...people are willing to risk death here in America rather than wear a goofy looking bicycle helmet.”
In 5 years from now, will meeting attendees still be in little Zoom boxes or will we be using AR/VR to in some way shift this experience:
Nate: I air on the side of it’s going to be a mixture, I think we are going to see an interoperability of people to be on this call, we won’t all be on Zoom as we see it now in 2D boxes maybe Chris is coming in on his Oculus and maybe Adaora is coming in on a tablet that has liedar facing so just her face is coming in and maybe Gordon is on a plane somewhere and maybe Ben is standing in his studio being projected next to my computer or whatever is being projected from my headset. I think it can be a variety of mediums, I think that’s what’s interesting about what going on...at some point you are going to see them intertwined...because then it truly is where the form meets the function of where you are at in your day and where you coming in from on your call...You use it how you use it best.”
Adoara: “I want to just cosign everything Nate just said, because I think in five years, because right now we are opening the floodgates to a lot of experimentation and a lot of thinking very seriously about these new technologies. Whether it’s just people at home trying fun ways or all the way through the enterprise applications. I think we’ll get closer to this realization of this whole internet of things...I think we are going to see a real rise in the use of these technologies—spatial computing, future interfaces, and 3D technology—in a real and fundamental way where it’s going to be far more ubiquitous in five years than it is to today.”
That’s a wrap.
A common theme we’ve noticed in the webinar is that it’s hard to rely on headsets. Even two panelists remarked their frustration at having forgotten their headsets when fleeing New York City during the pandemic. That said, no one forgot their phones because we rely too heavily on our mobile devices during daily tasks. We believe AR will continue to be popularized through the mobile device, and that it’s crucial to not overlook the technology we already have when looking forward in terms of innovation.