The other day several co-workers joined me in a little experiment. We connected virtual offices on several parcels in Somnium Space and offices in the real world in one Microsoft Teams meeting, like shown below:
I, first of all, was streaming the in-world camera to my laptop, turning it into a virtual webcam stream and hooking up to that in Teams. My co-worker did something similar, but he streamed his WEB client presence in Somnium instead. We brought everything together in one Teams meeting, connecting co-workers in reality (physical offices) and virtual reality.
It took a little time to set it all up, as we had to install the necessary streaming software (like OBS or XSplit), but the end result was pretty awesome. I gave an in-world tour and my co-worker showed his location from the WEB client. Some colleagues in our real world offices actually joined him when he shared the WEB client URL and they took their first jump into the metaverse. A few used their phones and were even equipped with Google Cardboard-like devices so they could get a real VR experience.
While the solution was based on ‘real-world capturing/streaming’ (in this way you can bring anything together and as such isn’t a VR solution), one can easily imagine that future features will allow one to join meetings in-world and stream directly from within VR, seamlessly, connecting multiple locations spanning multiple worlds (including reality).
You may think why bother? Why going through all the hassle to connect to people you can easily connect to using Zoom, Teams, Skype or whatever solution is out there? Why do I have to jump into a VR world only to join a meeting with others in another VR world or people who are just sitting with their laptop, drinking their coffee and impatiently waiting for me to come online?
Granted, it may seem like adding unnecessary layers of technology only to achieve what is already possible.
Being able to interact with essentially anyone, on the go, from wherever you are at the moment, is something we have grown very used to. Whether you are at home, on a bus, at work, out shopping or dining; it doesn’t matter. You can interact with anyone without having to move an inch. How different this was just a few decades ago. If you wanted to talk to someone in a different location, you had to move first of all. Find a phone, perhaps in a phone booth (this was still a reality in my very young years), a fax or whatever device you wanted to use.
Now, the notion of location is an interesting one. We typically think of physical location, like in you’re either at home, on the street, at the office, in this country or that country. Our ability to bridge geographical locations, communicate with people, seamlessly and on the go, has been key in recent human development. But our ability to communicate has always been fundamental. It was yesterday, it is today and it will be in the future.
This brings us to the Metaverse. Virtual, immersive environments will play an ever increasing role in our lives. Whether it is to socialize, do business, shop or have fun; we will spend more and more time in VR and will jump in and out of worlds or even between worlds. On the go, no matter where we are. No need to find your personal ‘phone booth’ (read VR headset connected to a powerful laptop) before you can jump in. No, you’re on a bus and suddenly remember this cool shop you wanted to visit. You put on your VR glasses (almost indistinguishable from ordinary glasses) and jump to the store in VR. You talk to a representative, check out some products and even complete a purchase before jumping back to the real world and off the bus.
Location will have a new dimension. It will include virtual space, the Metaverse. No one will say ‘I am at the store’ when browsing the store’s website. But you will say ‘I am at the store’ when walking around in the store in VR.
Back to communication. The future will be that we can communicate with each other seamlessly, not only across geographical locations, but also virtual locations. Teams, Zoom, Skype, they all serve their purpose in our current (non VR) existence. But the future is multi-layered. And reality is only one of those layers.
Our little experiment, based on Teams and capturing whatever is on our screens or webcams, is an emulation of what is to come. It is not the real thing just yet, but gave us a good glimpse of cross-reality communication. When reality and virtual reality all become part of the same realm in which you do not need to move a (virtual) inch to connect to other people.