Facebook believes that it has developed a tool for the future of work: a virtual reality application that allows remote workers the opportunity to collaborate in the same virtual space.
But it may take a long time for the social media company to persuade a large number of workers to switch to RV for meetings, analysts say.
On Tuesday, the company unveiled what it calls “Horizon Workrooms” on Oculus Quest 2 VR headsets. The app, which is still being modified, allows workers to create an avatar, collaborate with other people on a whiteboard, stream the Content from your laptop, take notes and interact with coworkers who conduct video conferencing in the virtual room, all while sitting in your living room real-life workspace.
“We really shouldn’t be physically together to feel present, collaborate, or brainstorm,” said Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook. “Video conferencing has taken us quite a long way, but as we start planning to go back to the office, I’m not very excited that most meetings are by video.”
The app also allows Quest users to use their hands instead of remote controllers, and the spatial audio features give users the feeling that people are in different areas of the room along with them, such as in a room. physical lectures. Users can also choose from a variety of room settings so that they can face their counterparts or a blackboard to listen to a presentation, for example.
“We just had this really great vision that people should be able to have that sense of presence away from each other,” said Andrew Bosworth, head of Facebook Reality Labs. “And not just around games and entertainment, but also potentially for more serious things.”
The Facebook post comes as many workers continue to work remotely (some permanently), as the coronavirus pandemic forced many employees to move in from home. Despite Facebook’s push toward virtual reality, technology is still in its infancy and the industry faces a host of challenges that need to be overcome for it to become mainstream.
Headphones for the entire workforce could be considered a major expense (the Oculus Quest 2 alone costs $ 299) and the latest headphones are still a bit heavy and bulky. The technology is not always as handy as a phone call or video conference, and some users may experience headaches and nausea while using the device.
“Virtual reality is coming, but it’s not coming as fast as people would expect or portray,” said Tuong Nguyen, chief analyst at Gartner’s emerging technology and trends team.
However, over the years, Facebook has been increasing its virtual reality investments and increased as market forecasts increase. The company has been developing Horizon Workrooms for the past two and a half years and works on augmented reality glasses.
Research is also being done on how to make people’s eyes appear to other people not in virtual environments and an attempt is being made to create a bracelet that allows people to control their digital devices with a simple gesture.
According to market research firm IDC, global spending on RA and VR is projected to increase more than sixfold to $ 72.8 billion in 2024 from nearly $ 12 billion in 2020 as more companies adopt the technology later. of the pandemic.
“Overall, it’s unsaturated,” Nguyen said of the AR / VR market, adding that most of the current growth comes from gamers. “Most people don’t use VR and I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone.”
Eric Yuan, CEO of the Zoom video conferencing app, said he believes augmented reality and virtual reality will play an important role in the future of work, especially remote work. But he said great technological advances are still needed to make the headphones as comfortable as normal glasses and the experience is much more fluid and intimate.
“We’re not there yet,” he said during a virtual conference on the future of work. “The headphones are too heavy. There is no eye contact.
Beyond cost and convenience, Nguyen said the physical toll that virtual reality takes on some employees is a “huge hurdle” for mass adoption. Some users experience an effect called accommodation-vergence conflict, a biological problem that occurs when the brain is confused with the distance of objects due to a three-dimensional environment. Possible result? Headaches, fatigue, nausea or some combination of the three.
Facebook is fully aware of the challenges facing virtual reality, Bosworth said, noting that he himself has to take breaks after about an hour because it gets too hot inside the headphones.
But improving technology also means balancing the cost and physics of the headphones with the convenience of the device. For now, he said Facebook hopes the experience is worth bothering.
“Different people have different levels of comfort,” he said. “Clearly this is an area that we continue to try to push forward.”
The industry seems to agree on one thing: virtual reality will be at least a tool that some workers will likely use. But what is ubiquitous will still be debated.
“Within the company, I feel it’s a big non-start,” Nguyen said. “You’re saying, ‘I’m giving you this tool to do your job, but you may have a headache or you may vomit.’