Virtual reality and human interactions

The online world that we are used to is leaving screens for virtual reality; not only are technologies evolving, but interaction tools and methods are too. VR development makes us take a fresh look at the principles of communication and go behind our traditional understanding of space and distance.

So, how will we interact in virtual reality? Despite the growing apprehension on isolation, a lot of experts believe that VR actually will help bring people together. Chris Milk, a leading VR designer, called virtual reality an “empathy machine,” as this technology lets us share personal experiences in a way that was impossible before. The thought that VR could become an advanced method of communication may seem absurd when considering that the technology provides absolute isolation for its users by cutting off contact with their surroundings. However, we have already seen VR apps designed to facilitate communication, such as video conference, virtual tourism, or even dating apps. Imagine a VR app transporting you to a picturesque beach to meet your friends. You can see what they see and share your emotions and fleeting thoughts with them in an instant! Instead of reconstructing someone else’s experience from speech, you can actually immerse yourself in it.

In some aspects, VR might be even better that traditional face-to-face communication by being either more private and secure or more open and public-oriented. There are unlimited options to change your appearance since you can choose the way your avatar looks. You can look several people straight in the eye at once, and each of them will feel as if they are the center of your focus. Thanks to VR development, we will be able to attend events from afar, as distance will no longer be an issue. These social and dimensional transformations will not only change the lives of individuals, but also affect technology. For instance, Spotify is already thinking about soundtracks for virtual worlds: an airy melancholic melody will perfectly suit colorful sunsets on the beach.

Facebook is also tapping into VR. Facebook and Oculus Rift have announced the launch of Spaces, an app that allows users communicate in virtual reality. When a user logs in for the first time, the app suggests that the user choose one of their photos, which will serve as the cast for an avatar, a cartoon-like image of the user. It can be easily customized by changing the color of the hair or eyes or by choosing new clothes. This is where an episode from Black Mirror might come to mind… though such dangers and fears of digital society are not the topic of this post. Back to Spaces, then. Developers have paid special attention to avatars and their ability to show emotions — they must look realistic, but not weird. The main function of Spaces is to interact with friends from your Facebook contact list. For example, you can go on a virtual trip with a group of your friends who also use Spaces: climb the Eiffel Tower, dive to the bottom of the ocean, or go for a walk in a desert. Users choose locations from the library of 360-degree images or videos. At this stage of development, only four people may interact in Spaces simultaneously.

The app doesn’t provide any specific function (at least for the moment), as it is focused on the interaction between users. Its goal is to facilitate contact between people and enhance it through a shared VR experience. The issue faced by the app is the lack of content (360-degree images and videos), that is why the choice of locations is rather limited. We believe that innovative AR/VR ecosystems and marketplaces, such as Cappasity, can solve the issue and provide an unforgettable experience for users.

However, some experts think that the future development of remote communication lies in mixed reality (MR), not VR, at least in business. VR conferences are quite popular now: virtual joint spaces have been developed by High Fidelity, Sansar and Facebook, Altspace VR, and over 30 thousand people per month use them regularly. Joint VR apps like Rec Room or Big Screen are also beginning to trend.

One of the main benefits of VR conferences is that people can use forms of communication that are usually used in face-to-face conversations. They can do more than just talk to each other: they have virtual bodies, so they can turn to each other, shake hands, use non-verbal signs, point at objects, or play games together. In Rec Room users can play tennis, and in Facebook Spaces they can create 3D sketches together. All of this ensures a deeper feeling of social presence than traditional audio or video conferences. VR conferences have huge potential, and companies are investing billions in the relevant platforms. But MR conferences might have an even greater impact because of its stronger connection with real world.

MR is a technology that mixes the real world with a virtual world. VR isolates users from reality, whereas MR enhances interactions between material and virtual realities by adding elements of the real environment into VR. The possible benefits of MR for remote communication are numerous:

- users get help performing real-world tasks from remote experts;

- virtual projections of people can be put into a real space;

- support combining AR and VR;

- introduction of MR images to enhance remote communication;

- users can share their opinions and look at something from each other’s point of view;

- direct connection between the location of the task or object being discussed and the communication space.

The main advantage of MR conferences is possibly the shared focus on the workspace. For many issues of the real world, such as repair and maintenance, it is more important to see the object rather than the person working on it. This possibility can be used in many industries, such as healthcare, technical support, or sports.

The development of new AR/VR displays has led to the creation of new MR systems. Microsoft has introduced an MR version of Skype with HoloLens. A user can put a Skype window anywhere and see a video of the person they are calling. HoloLens camera can transfer videos to remote users and add AR annotations and instruction to help perform tasks. Remote partners see the surrounding space from the point of view of the HoloLens user. The problem is that Skype for HoloLens places a video in a virtual square screen. The Microsoft Holoportation project is designed to solve the issue: it uses a depth camera to film and transfer a 3D image of the remote user into the real world.