Tencent technology news on August 20, US local time on Thursday, social networking giant Facebook released horizon workrooms, which is a new way for office workers to contact using virtual reality (VR). Facebook believes that this future tool will give remote employees the opportunity to cooperate in the same virtual space. But analysts say it may take a long time for the company to persuade more people to switch to VR for meetings.
It took two years to develop and supports virtual meetings for up to 50 people
The app, which is still being adjusted, allows employees to create avatars, collaborate with others on whiteboards, watch notebook content and take notes, and interact with colleagues who enter the virtual room through video conferencing. And all this is done by people sitting in a real-life workspace. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said: “we really shouldn’t feel that we have to stay together for on-site collaboration or brainstorming. Video conferencing took us a long way, but when we started planning to go back to the office, I wasn’t particularly excited about most meetings being held via video. ”
Facebook’s idea is very simple. Instead of talking to people sitting in a small box through video calls, the company spent more than two years creating a new way to “brainstorm” around a virtual conference table with up to 16 people (in the form of avatars). If people only use webcams to communicate, the system can support up to 50 people.
According to Zuckerberg, Facebook has been using horizon workrooms internally for meetings for about six months. “This kind of experience can make you really feel with others. I think it is a much richer way of interaction than the social applications we can build on mobile phones or computers,” he said
Facebook said it was a small but important step towards building a virtual world “metaverse”. The so-called meta universe is the digital world. People can work and play in this world one day, just like the scenes described in novels such as ready player one or snow crash.
Facebook has been trumpeting the metauniverse recently: in July this year, Facebook set up a special executive team to develop the metauniverse. Zuckerberg once said that the company would make money by selling digital products. Although horizon workrooms is now free, it is easy to imagine that it will become a paid service for companies or schools.
In the presentation of Andrew Bosworth, head of Facebook FRL, and other executives, we can find that horizon workrooms feels like a unique middle zone between video calls and sitting in a real conference room. Although Facebook has no real strategy to bring this beta service to the market, it works well.
It’s very different from video call
First, we need to install the horizon studios application on our personal computer (also supports MAC) and another version on Facebook’s oculus Quest 2 helmet for $299. Open horizon workrooms in the helmet to create an avatar, and then you can enter the chat room created for the briefing. We’ll pop up at the conference table and talk to other media members and several Facebook employees. It’s like I just entered the city and walked into an office building, but what I saw was not a real person, but a cartoon version of others.
Unlike many VR experiences, Facebook’s horizon workrooms can make full use of the movement of hands and head, while the virtual avatars in VR in the past are not so flexible. For example, you can see someone’s hand movement when talking, which makes people feel more like in a real conference room than in a dead computer. Horizon workrooms is also directly connected to the computer, so we can see our windows desktop floating in front of real people to take notes. The through function allows people to see the keyboard and mouse on the table, even when wearing a helmet.
Then, sitting in the position of Mike Lebeau, FRL work experience director of Facebook, demonstrated how someone could make a presentation in the room, including drawing on a digital blackboard, or sharing their screen so that everyone could see it. This can’t help but remind people of sitting in a college classroom.
It definitely feels more like being in a real room with others than in a video call. This is important, especially if your employees (or children) may turn off the camera during video calls and jump out of sight during video calls at work or school. I think it’s difficult or impossible to slip out without anyone noticing. After all, as long as you move, your avatar will also move.
Andrew ‘Boz’ Bosworth, vice president of FRL, said: “for a long time, we have always believed that this is an important part of our future work. People should have a sense of presence when they are far away from each other, not only for games and entertainment, but also to deal with more serious things. During the novel coronavirus pneumonia outbreak, we worked well as an information worker. But unlike horizon workrooms, you can’t do this with video calls. ”
Bosworth is right. The feeling of using horizon workrooms is very different from that of video call. But it’s not sure if it will be better. It’s a cool experience, but maybe someone doesn’t want to stay in the conference room too long. At some times, we may prefer video chat. In that case, we can turn off the camera. After the exhaustion of video calls caused by the epidemic, many people like to call more and more.
Sitting in the office typing, wearing a slightly heavy, sweaty helmet on his face, I feel a little silly. We have to pull it up every few minutes because it sometimes slides to an uncomfortable position. Although we know that no one can really see us, it still makes people feel uncomfortable, as if we were really sitting in the same room with others.
If Facebook plans to push horizon studios to the enterprise, it may face many challenges. It needs to convince the company that they should pay $299 for each employee, let them wear VR helmets, cooperate with the IT department, install appropriate applications on each computer, and convince managers that this is really a better way to meet than just video chat.
But Facebook is not worried about all this. The product released on Thursday is still a beta version. Although it looks very exquisite, it is actually just to show people that such an experience can be carried out in VR. The company hopes that early adopters can test new services as they see, and may convince others that this approach works well.
Whenever the real meta universe appears, we hope to play games with friends from all over the world in the future. But like the real world, we may have to work in the virtual world.
The physical burden remains a major obstacle to universal access
The launch of horizon workrooms comes as many Facebook employees continue to work remotely. Although the company is rapidly entering the VR field, this technology is still in its infancy. The industry is facing a series of challenges. VR needs to overcome these challenges in order to become the mainstream. VR helmets for all employees may be considered a major expense. Oculus Quest 2 alone costs $299, and the latest helmets are still slightly bulky. This technology is not always as practical as telephone or video conference. Some users may feel headache and nausea when using the device.
Tuong Nguyen, senior chief analyst of emerging technologies and trends team at Gartner, a market research firm, said: “VR is coming, but it is not coming as fast as people want or describe.”
Nevertheless, over the years, with the expansion of market forecasts, Facebook has been increasing its investment in Augmented Reality (AR) and VR. In the past two and a half years, the company has been developing horizon workrooms and is currently developing ar glasses. The company is also studying how to make people’s eyes appear in a virtual environment and trying to create a wristband that allows people to control their digital devices through simple gestures.
According to IDC, a market research company, as more companies adopt this technology after the outbreak of the epidemic, the global expenditure on AR and VR is expected to increase from about US $12 billion in 2020 to US $72.8 billion in 2024, an increase of more than six times. Speaking about the AR / VR market, Tuong Nguyen said: “generally speaking, the market is not saturated, and the current growth mainly comes from gamers. Most people don’t use VR, and I don’t think it’s surprising for anyone. ”
VR has begun to see real benefits in the game. Yuan Zheng, CEO of video conferencing application zoom, said he believed that AR and VR would play an important role in future work, especially telecommuting. However, he said that major technological breakthroughs are still needed to make wearing VR helmets as comfortable as ordinary glasses and experience more seamless and intimate. “We’re not there yet. Now the helmet is too heavy and there’s no eye contact,” he admitted
Tuong Nguyen said that in addition to the cost and convenience, the physical impact of VR on many employees is also a “huge obstacle” to large-scale adoption. Some users will experience eye focusing problems called vergence accommodation conflict, which will cause visual fatigue, headache, nausea and so on.
Bosworth said that Facebook was fully aware of the challenges facing VR and pointed out that he had to rest after about an hour of experience because he was too hot in his helmet. But improving technology also means balancing the cost and physical performance of the helmet with the comfort of the equipment. For now, Facebook hopes that the experience will make those discomfort worthwhile, he said. “Different people have different degrees of comfort, which is obviously an area where we continue to strive to promote progress,” he said（ Tencent Technology (reviser / Jinlu)