Any worker who’s ever endured a remote conference call or multi-way video chat knows all too well how clunky, glitchy, and (insert another negative adjective here) the experience can be, which is why WorldViz’s VR-based business communication tool, codenamed “Skofield,” might sounds like an overreach.
We can often barely get a video stream to hold itself together these days, but VR? VR is a whole different ungainly beast that requires special equipment as well as lots of bandwidth and processing power.
WorldViz, though, seems undaunted, and it has reason to believe in Skofield’s eventual success.
The Problem Of Presence
Ignoring for a moment some of the inherent technological issues, the problem WorldViz wants to solve is one of presence.
“We see it all the time - modern communication technologies such as telephony, video conference calls, and PowerPoint sharing simply can’t bring people together in a collaborative setting or enable decision makers to experience complex concepts, designs, and spaces first hand,” said WorldViz CEO and co-founder Andrew Beall in a press release. “Companies are spending a staggering $1.25 trillion globally on business travel to circumvent this limitation.”
Companies with throngs of remote workers understand that Beall is not talking about the need for some kind of touchy-feely camaraderie; it’s the need to break down the simple communication barriers that can exist with distributed workers. There are times when an in-person meeting just needs to happen. In other applications, you just need all the minds working on a project focused on a 3D object; this is more true in fields where people have to collaborate on a Thing, such as architecture and engineering.
People will be represented by avatars within the virtual environment.
What It Is
WorldViz describes Skofield as sort of a “GoToMeeting for VR,” bringing remote people into a shared, immersive meeting space. Users can create presentations with Skofield’s Presentation Designer software using a WYSIWYG editor, dragging and dropping in elements such as proximity triggers, enabling interactivity on certain objects, and adding standard fare such as PowerPoint presentations and PDFs.
Then, you can create a meeting and invite participants via email or text. Participants can interact with the objects the presenter created, too, by moving around the virtual space (partially enabled by gaze tracking), speaking via phone, zooming into objects, adding annotations on objects, measuring distances, using a pointer, and so on.
The whole thing is cloud-based (it's a SaaS tool), but it appears as though businesses can also set it up on their own private cloud.
Wide Hardware Support
A key to the potential success of Skofield is the breadth of its hardware support, which, apparently, is a strength of the tool. We’ve seen WorldViz experiment with display methods for room-scale VR environments, develop Unreal and Unity plugins to expand support, and even figure out ways to get a Rift and Vive working in tandem.
In its announcement of Skofield, WorldViz stated that the tool will support Rift and Vive, as well as “the current 3D displays, CAVE projection systems, input devices, and mobile devices WorldViz already supports.” Those “mobile devices,” by the way, include Daydream-ready products.
It’s hard to overstate how important Daydream support is for such an application. If Google is successful on that front, it will have democratized “decent” mobile VR better than anyone. Assuming a raft of Daydream-ready phones are coming, and we believe they are, you would potentially have a quorum of employees with access to VR HMDs. The next question is whether and to what extent the Daydream View VR HMD can give you the kind of immersion and control over presentation materials you need to make Skofield worth anyone’s while.
That may be a problem to solve in the future, though. For now, it seems as though WorldViz is focused less on typical workplaces (spreadsheets, PowerPoints, etc.) and more on the aforementioned industrial, engineering, etc. use cases. These are spaces in which WorldViz is already a player; for example, Boeing uses WorldViz’s warehouse-scale PPT system to help prototype airplanes.
Even so, WorldViz has some huge hurdles to overcome before Skofield can succeed. There are obvious technological issues the company will have to address, not to mention what we assume will be a prohibitively high cost and the need for companies to actually adopt the system.
There is no word on pricing, but that’s likely because, for one thing, the cost will probably scale depending on the number of seats and other features. For another, Skofield is still the alpha stage. WorldViz is launching a beta testing program, however, and if your company wants to participate, you can head here.