Remote learning, and immersive learning in particular, are now in higher demand than ever. For many would-be implementers, the use cases are obvious but hangups involving hardware requirements, security concerns, and issues with authoring content get in the way. VRtuoso addresses all of these concerns.
ARPost has been aware of VRtuoso for some time now. They’re a Qualcomm XR Enterprise Partner, and they made our list of companies supporting business during coronavirus. When I (digitally) ran into CEO Frank Furnari at EWTS in October I sat in on a live demo of VRtuoso and we’ve kept in touch. He has a lot to say about his project and XR industry in general.
VRtuoso specializes in the creation and distribution of remote learning experiences involving 360-degree images and video. When users pay for the experience, they can opt in to receive a 360 camera to record their own spatial video. However, they can also select from a library of 360 images and videos available within VRtuoso.
“If you’re able to create a presentation on PowerPoint, you’ll be able to create great immersive content on VRtuoso,” Furnari said during the demo at EWTS.
The immersive presentations aren’t only composed of images or videos. Elements, including sounds, videos, images, and text can be placed within the experience for users to interact with.
These interactions can be made obvious through large textboxes, or they can be essentially hidden so that they don’t interrupt the scene or so that the user has to find them. Other remote learning tools include animated and interactive guides to help the user locate elements within the presentation.
Remote learning presentations can also include polls and quizzes to gauge the reactions or interactions of the users.
These remote learning presentations can be downloaded and used asynchronously, they can be presented live by a presenter to a group of up to thirty, or can be used for live VR streaming and real-time remote collaboration.
When the remote learning presentations are given live, the presenter has additional tools like gaze tracking, a laser-pointer, and of course direct voice communication.
XR and Remote Learning
The remote learning company has been around for about four years, though the first two of those were primarily in research and development. In addition to working with Qualcomm, the company has been a part of innovation labs created by Telekom and Microsoft. They also currently work with PwC and Pico.
While VRtuoso is compatible with VR headsets, it also works on just about anything else. That includes computers and even tablets and mobile phones.
“Once you create the experience in VRtuoso, the experience is hardware-agnostic,” Furnari said in a December video call.
The platform also foregoes luxuries of some other VR and immersive learning platforms, including hand and body tracking and avatars for users and presenters.
“We strongly don’t want to use avatars. Avatars in the enterprise world are perceived as gimmicks. They’re cartoony, they’re pixelated, they aren’t lifelike,” said Furnari. “In [Microsoft] Teams you don’t have a virtual representation… but you carry on doing business.”
This admittedly somewhat minimalist approach makes the platform less expensive, easier to use, quicker to learn, contributes to its near-universal hardware support, and has security advantages. For most applications, the platform doesn’t need to access video or even audio recording – permissions that don’t fly in some work environments.
If security is still an issue, the platform is offered as a cloud service accessed through web-browser but can also be installed and hosted on-premise. Experiences can also be installed on individual devices.
XR Enterprise and the Pandemic
Like virtually all companies, specifically XR enterprise and remote learning providers, VRtuoso has been impacted significantly by coronavirus.
“The coronavirus gave us a 250% growth. It’s something that nobody saw coming,” Furnari said in a brief phone interview in November. “We were unprepared, to be honest.”
A lot of that growth has been from new businesses that VRtuoso had not necessarily spoken with before, largely because of how other companies are restructuring organization and spending.
“After the pandemic [started], it wasn’t HR departments contacting us, it was someone with a title like ‘transformation’ or ‘innovation’,” said Furnari. “Their budgets had gotten bigger while HR budgets were cut.”
While there were new people coming to the service, Furnari was adamant that the service was the same.
“It’s not that the use-cases were different, the use cases became crucial to business,” said Furnari. “The product didn’t change and the use-cases have always been there.”
The Future of Extended Reality
That isn’t to say that VRtuoso isn’t getting ready to make some changes. Those changes are just more technological than social.
“VR and AR are two different technologies but they are complementary and eventually they are going to merge,” said Furnari. “VRtuoso will become a truly VR and AR platform for enterprise.”
Furnari was tight-lipped on exactly what those changes will look like or when they might be released. As ever, the problem is one of accessibility and Furnari is reluctant to release the updates until the climate is right.
“The software is there but we aren’t releasing it yet because we believe that there aren’t any strong (and affordable) products yet,” said Furnari, citing consumer AR glasses that lack large markets and enterprise headsets that are prohibitively expensive. “Software is great, but it always needs to come out at the right time and from an AR point of view we aren’t there yet.”
The enterprise XR and remote learning ecosystems have gotten a real shock in the last few months. VRtuoso is one company that is rising to the challenge and looking beyond the pandemic in preparation for a time when we are embracing new technologies rather than reaching for new solutions.