Homeworking is one of the things that has changed dramatically in the past month of the coronavirus pandemic.
How do you organise or attend a conference from your own study and when there is a travel ban, for example.
One answer is to host a conference in virtual reality and if you have the technology to hand, like Ireland’s VR Education PLC (LON:VRE), this period of enforced homeworking is set to be a company maker.
Dave Whelan, chief executive and founder of VRE, says his phones have been ringing off the hook since coronavirus restrictions were imposed, with the company employing additional business development staff to handle the extra workload.
Two weeks ago, it ran a virtual conference for Taiwanese electronics group HTC.
The Hyve conference is normally an event with physical attendees, but as it was due to be held in China HTC asked VRE if it could host the event virtually.
Whelan says it had over 1,000 ‘logged in at the event through its virtual reality platform Engage.
Speakers and attendees from Europe and the US were able to interact naturally with visitors from China while over 1.1mln watched the live streaming of the conference.
Since then, it has been inundated with queries from event organisers through the world.
“Because of the virus, organisers are really assessing how they have done business in the past and asking can we do this online in future,” he says.
Whelan adds that a key advantage of its Engage VR platform is that it has a very low bandwidth requirement for conversations inside the platform.
“We don’t transmit video. What we transmit is positional data, which is a large text file, and MP3 audio.
For people, who cannot run a Skype meeting or video conference because of bandwidth constraints, Engage will work perfectly well, he adds.
Whelan believes the last couple of weeks have been a game-changer for the VR sector overall, which up to now has promised much but struggled to deliver.
VR headsets have fallen in price so you don’t need a computer while a 5G connection works extremely well.
Anyone who has used Zoom and Skype for meetings knows they can get very busy, very quickly with people talking over each other.
Using VR, enables a meeting-style connection at home.
Engage uses 3D spatial audio, he explains, so if you are in a group of 50 people in a virtual room and there is a presentation going on at the front, you can still lean over to the person next to you and whisper as if you were sitting next to them.
You can also draw on the virtual whiteboard or make a presentation, he adds.
Headsets are around US$400 each and can connect directly to W-Fi, while each ‘virtual seat’ on the enterprise version of the Engage platform costs US$300.
Originally, Engage was set up as an educational tool and here too business is flying at present.
Games activity has rocketed since the lockdowns and that has translated into big rises in the usage of VRE’s software.
A new game Space Shuttle Commander is due to come out shortly on best selling headset Oculus, but Whelan says Engage is also being used a social medium to help people keep in touch in the current situation.
Going forward, the prospects look bright.
Following the success of the Hyve conference, HTC wants to be become a reseller of VRE’s software in China and combine it with its own hardware.
Discussions are underway with other large conglomerates including telecoms companies and hardware businesses.
“Trading is going really well,” says Whelan, adding the last few weeks have been transformative.
“Now one saw this coming. We thought 5G was going to be the push for VR technology, but with the virus causing a lot of people to reassess how they work and communicate, now is the time that this technology is going to flourish.”
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