Virtual Reality and the office environment of the future

Author Kyle Gaffney

Back in 1982 when Jeff Bridges was transported into the virtual world of Tron, the idea of there being a virtual world that one could transport themselves physically into, seemed destined to always be the work of a high concept sci-fi film. Yet with the explosion of Virtual Reality headsets reaching the mainstream and a rumoured Apple branded blend of VR augmented reality on the horizon, those wild ideas of fiction are quickly materialising. 

It was merely less than a decade ago when the Oculus VR founders started their Kickstarter campaign, a campaign which aimed to create a video game focussed Virtual Reality headset. The fundraiser in itself was already a success, with the team raising an impressive $2.5 million, yet it would take only another two years until Facebook acquired the company for a staggering $2 Billion – that’s billion with a capital B. To put that into perspective, that is over double what Facebook had paid for the far more mainstream social media platform Instagram back in 2012.

Since then Oculus has continued to grow exponentially, with many other media giants such as Sony, HP, HTC and Valve all finding their way into the VR field. Yet while all of these mentioned companies are somewhat set on creating devices that target the ever growing video game industry, Facebook seems to have a somewhat different approach, targeting not just the gamers, but also those who potentially have next to zero interest in the gaming medium.

Above – A look at how Oculus envisions the virtual office.

Historically, VR headsets had two hurdles that they needed to overcome: they were expensive, and they required a beefy computer to run any programmes that were VR supported. Yet with the Oculus Quest device, this hurdle has been leapt across. The Oculus Quest 2 for example, the latest in the line, is a wireless, fully self contained device that costs just shy of £300, more than reasonable when you consider the Valve Index (granted a more complex PC device) is over £1000, with Oculus reporting around 2 million total units now sold.

With the headset increasing in popularity, enter Spatial, an app for the Oculus Quest devices that allows users to work collaboratively on projects, all virtually. From presentations, team planning, and brainstorming, to generally capturing the overall office environment that has been lost for many over the past 18 months, Spatial uses 3D avatars created via a camera selfie to stand in for your body, with body and lip movement all accounted for. Certainly beats the same old Zoom screen, doesn’t it?

With support for Slack, Google Drive and various media file types, the whole thing sounds almost too good to be true, and in a way that may just be the case. The Oculus Quest, for all the praise it can have thrown at it, is still at the end of the day a noticeably weighted computer that is strapped to one’s face. So to have this attached to you for 8 hours a day is a quick way to hit some strain, never mind how much your eyes will be begging for some natural light come 5pm.

Facebook’s annual Virtual Reality focussed event rolls round again this month, so it is only a matter of time before we see even more interesting innovations from the media giants in this field. Yet the real question is, is this ever going to catch on? Or are Zoom calls the be all and end all of remote working?

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