i3 - January/February 2021 - 26

THE XR FACTOR

Many in the tech industry know what it's
like to attend CES as an exhibitor setting
up displays and making sure every item is
in the right place.
Virtual exhibits need to be set up as
well. In the fall of 2020, I attended the
Wall Street Journal Tech Live Virtual
Conference, which featured a virtual
panel presentation by Anand Argarawala,
co-founder of Spatial, a VR collaboration
platform that turns the space around you
into a collaborative augmented workplace. I clicked a link I'd been given and
found myself in a " room " that was being
prepared for the event. I saw Anand's avatar turn around and ask, " Who's here? "
Luckily, he knew who I was, because I've
been a beta tester for Spatial since March.
We both laughed, and it occurred to me
that I might be the first person to stumble
into a virtual presentation set-up.
Spatial isn't quite the Star Trek
Holodeck yet, but it's definitely more
immersive than a 2D video chat. It can be
accessed on various headsets, including
Microsoft Hololens, Oculus Quest and
Magic Leap. These let you experience
" Spatial Sound, " which is directional in
the virtual space. If an avatar " standing "
26

JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2021

i3_0121_24-27_Feature_XR_AugmentedReality.indd 26

We're nearing a point
at which the
real world
will serve as
a backup, so
to speak, for
exquisitely
detailed digital realms
in which we
can plan,
design and
test virtually
anything. "

next to you or behind you speaks, you hear
their voice from the appropriate direction.
And I found my physical self turning to
look at the speaker.
Within 10-15 minutes, you get the
sense of being in a room with others.
Ironically, this holographic meeting
helped bring back more real aspects of human interaction after months
of Zoom and Microsoft Teams meetings. This could be a new way to
relieve " Zoom fatigue. "
People without headsets can still join a Spatial meeting through the web
app via a laptop camera, appearing on a screen displayed on one of the
virtual walls. The walls can also display notes, images, interactive
PowerPoint presentations, playable videos and just about anything in a real
conference room.
The attendees can also interact with 3D models, sketch over them, scale
and rotate in the space. These features are especially intriguing. In the near
future, perhaps people will meet in the real world and in Spatial simultaneously. They could move between the two spaces as needed, with a threedimensional prototype on the conference room table and a digital mockup
of that prototype in the Spatial room, where their avatars can interact in
ways their physical bodies can't.
At present, the main limitation is the cost and bulk of VR headsets. But
progress is inevitable, given the seemingly limitless applications.
" For all the billions of dollars poured into the field, nothing has yet
emerged as the iPhone of VR: the product that combines compelling technology with an intuitive, desirable form, " noted Wired.com earlier this year.
" And while augmented and mixed reality are still a few years behind VR, it
stands to reason that these related technologies won't remain distinct for

Illustrations (2): DrAfter123/Getty Images

In tech terms 2007 was several lifetimes ago (that's the year the iPhone was
introduced) but Gibson and some others
could see where we were headed. Today,
cyberspace remains mostly distinct from
the " real world, " but that's changing fast.
We're nearing a point at which the real
world will serve as a backup, so to speak,
for exquisitely detailed digital realms in
which we can plan, design and test virtually anything.
Two such tools to accomplish this are
XR and digital twinning. XR (extended
reality) is an umbrella term for virtual
reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR).
While VR is immersive, AR layers images
over the real world. A digital twin is a virtual mock-up of a physical object or space
and a platform for passing data between
the two. These technologies are different,
but both evert the physical and digital
worlds in exciting ways.

I T I S I N N O VAT I O N

12/9/20 3:20 PM


https://spatial.io/ http://www.Wired.com

i3 - January/February 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of i3 - January/February 2021

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