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Lights and Shadows of Covid-19 on Digital Transformation – XV

A visually more convincing virtual reality gathering in the cyberspace can improve effectiveness of on line collaboration and speed up VR and AR adoption. Image credit: Spatial

Virtual meetings are not new, I started to have them long time ago. What is new is the stop to physical meetings forced by the epidemics. As many more of us are forced using them we are also feeling frustrated by their shortcomings. What before looked like an opportunity that was added to physical meetings is now feeling like a bad version of a physical meeting.

On the other hand companies that were providing the tools for virtual meetings are now finding themselves with a captive audience that is actively experimenting and exploring alternatives. This is stimulating evolution and I bet we are going to see a leap forward in technology to support virtual meetings.

An interesting second generation tool for virtual meetings is provided by Spatial. Their tool has been designed with VR and AR in mind but given the current race towards effective and usable virtual meetings support tools they are providing a version where people can connect through a usual PC screen.

I find the idea of using AR in virtual meeting a very interesting one. Rather than using a virtual space (even one that you can customise like the one offered by VirBELA) why not start with your “real” physical space and invite other people to join in your space. You can show them around, have them look at the mock up you have on your table …

Also, this approach may be of interest to professionals like educators supporting kids with cognitive disabilities. They could use as the virtual meeting place the playroom. bedroom of their kids and enter, virtually, into their room. The kids will be much more at ease, since they will meet in their familiar environment and can physically interact with their toys as well as with the virtual one provided by the educator. By having this ghost space the educator can review the activity of their kids and monitor their progress. It is usual for educators supporting cognitive disabilities to solicit them to practice some exercises and then they get feedback from their parents, sometimes they look at exercise sheets filled in by the kid (those having a high functioning). By using AR the monitoring can become much more effective and there is even the possibility of “replay” together with the kid past activity.

The big issue to really leverage this mixed space is the availability of AR devices making the interaction seamless. we do have some devices, like smartphones, that are affordable (basically because there is always one of them around), but their use is not really seamless, it requires some skill -both physical and cognitive-  that may be missing in some kids with disabilities. Besides, the smartphone gets in the way, it turns the interaction in something perceived as mediated (that is different from when we use a phone to talk, this has become so natural that the phone fades away from our perception and we focus on the interaction). AR glasses would probably be much more effective but they are not affordable and do have several shortcomings in their current version.

We might expect that, also under the pressure of the epidemic countermeasures, in the coming months better products will become available. I am pretty sure this will happen pretty soon, the various pieces of the AR puzzle are falling in place now. At that point we will have take a big step into the Digital Transformation of our ambients.

This is likely to open a Pandora vase  of opportunities as well as issues, with privacy and security entering into our daily life. Once your home can be mirrored in the cyberspace who knows what the implication might be? Remember those fairy tales where you entered your home and there was the boogeyman waiting there? Well with AR and somebody hacking your data space you may actually end up finding a boogeyman in your living room!

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.