Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality

How Close Are We To Realistic Virtual Events?

August 3, 2021
Virtual Event Pro Illustration

If you’ve attended a meeting in the past year and a half, social or work-related, there’s a good chance that more than 90% of those meetings were held online. Even after social distancing and lockdown policies were eased the percentage only dropped slightly, making it clear that online meetings are here to stay. While online meetings became the norm due to necessity, their advantages cannot be denied. But like a lot of useful things, it also has several demerits.

Besides the myriad of technical difficulties faced before and during an online meeting, several studies have shown that physical meetings have several advantages over those done online. For example, a study by MIT’s Human Dynamics Lab showed that 35% of the variation in a team’s performance can be accounted for by the number of times the team members spoke to each other in person. This has led to people looking to extended reality —the term used to refer to both augmented and virtual reality.

The key appeal of extended reality is its ability to make something digital real to us. With such technology, we can simulate physical meetings while remaining in our homes. Over the past few years, companies like Facebook have been working on several technologies that would make extended reality even more realistic for virtual interactions. Below are some of the advancements that have been made so far.

Audio Presence

A team of engineers, scientists, and designers at Facebook’s Reality Lab have been working on something called ‘audio presence.’ Audio presence is the feeling that the source of a virtual sound is right there with you in your physical space. The team was able to develop a calibration system that personalizes audio using custom algorithms and processing technology to mimic the behavior of sound in the real world.

This technology, commonly referred to as spatial audio, is now used in several VR apps today. The team is also working on personalized spatial audio and room acoustic modeling in the quest to achieve audio presence. The combination of all this technology will give us a more realistic audio experience during virtual interactions. When you hear someone speak in a meeting or virtual event, it wouldn’t just sound like it’s coming from a speaker, it would sound like the person is right next to you or seated across a table.

Codec Avatars

Codec Avatars Conversation Scene
Image Courtesy: Facebook

Traditionally, VR apps designed for social interactions, such as meetings or virtual events make use of computer-generated avatars to represent people. The avatars can keep track of head and hand movements thanks to hand tacking capabilities and trackers in the headset. However, this is not a realistic representation of those wearing headsets. What’s more, facial expressions and mouth movements can’t be translated by these representations.

Codec Avatars is Facebook’s solution to these problems. Codec Avatars are still computer-generated representations of a person. But the key difference is that the representations would be the result of training an AI system with the image captured from a dedicated capture studio with hundreds of cameras and microphones. A codec avatar is more than just a representation of the physical body. It also includes the person’s expressions, voice, and mannerisms.

Not long after FRL developed this, it went on to develop a system for creating full-body avatars. While these technologies won’t be available anytime soon, it is clear how much of a big deal they are, as they bring us closer to realistic virtual interactions.

Virtual Event Pro Booth Image
Application: Virtual Event Pro

Conclusion

While most of these techs aren’t commercially available yet, there are several good VR apps that can simulate physical meetings quite well using the current state of the art. One such app is Virtual Event Pro. You can use apps like Virtual Event Pro to host various virtual events such as virtual tradeshows, food shows, conferences, career fairs, and so on. As time go by, some of these advances would begin to seep into these apps and bring about more realistic interactions.


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