Do you fancy wearing virtual reality (VR) headset for your conference meetings? If you do, Facebook has an app for you for your official team sessions.
Facebook has unveiled ‘Horizon Workrooms’, a virtual reality app for team collaboration, which it says will make remote meetings more immersive as it is built around its virtual headset Oculus Quest 2.
Facebook does not seem to have bothered with the question whether offices will invest in VR headsets to pass it on to employees to participate in team meetings, which as it is not many seem to enjoy.
The open beta of Horizon Workrooms is available for download on Oculus Quest 2 in countries where Quest 2 is supported.
Horizon Workrooms will basically replicate conference room meetings with your colleagues represented as animated avatars. It may be recalled that Facebook had introduced last year Horizon, its virtual reality social space accessed via Oculus VR headsets.
You and your colleagues as animated avatars
Seeing yourself and your colleagues in your virtual office space as animated avatars may seem a bit childish, but Facebook, which says it is already using ‘Workrooms’ to collaborate, feels it’s one of the best ways to work if you can’t be physically together.
“It works across both virtual reality and the web and is designed to improve your team’s ability to collaborate, communicate, and connect remotely, through the power of VR— whether that’s getting together to brainstorm or whiteboard an idea, work on a document, hear updates from your team, hang out and socialize, or simply have better conversations that flow more naturally,” Facebook said in a blogpost.
The Workrooms will offer infinite whiteboard space to sketch things out together in real time. It also allows pinning of digital images from your files as needed. And you can even save all of your virtual whiteboards or export them for traditional 2D viewing.
VR headsets for 16 only, please
‘Horizon Workrooms’ allows 16 participants and present ideas on a shared whiteboard or view shared files. The virtual meeting rooms are meant to be accessed using Oculus Quest 2 headsets, though it’s possible to join by video call from a laptop — the app supports up to 50 users dialing in with video.
Those inside the workspace with a headset will be able to use their fingers and hands during discussion, and when they speak their avatars will match their speech.
And the avatars too have been tweaked to make it more interesting. “Our new avatars, which we launched earlier this year, offer a huge variety of customization options and feel more expressive and natural, helping you feel like you’re really there with your colleagues,” Facebook said.
The virtual room’s layout too can be tinkered based on the purpose of the meet. “Whether you’re focused on collaboration, conversation, or presentation, there’s a seating layout for every occasion, and the whole room scales up and down to fit the size of your group.”
Facebook says nothing to worry on privacy
Some of the other features are mixed reality keyboards that allow users to access their laptop while in a virtual space, hand-tracking for more expressive avatar animations, and a spatial audio system that adjusts the way people sound to others based on their relative locations in the virtual room.
Facebook seems pretty clear that virtual meetings can be made more interesting by jazzing up the technology. But aside from the cost aspect and the ‘klunkiness’ of headsets, there is also the question of privacy. But Facebook says Workrooms will not use your work conversations and materials to inform ads on Facebook. Third-party apps also do not access, view or use these images or videos to target ads.
For the record, Spatial has a similar app that allows virtual meetings with 3D avatars. Microsoft’s Mesh app for HoloLens is also built on the same lines.