Between virtual reality (VR,) augmented reality (AR) and assisted reality – or their catch-all names mixed reality and extended reality (XR) – you might feel like you’re losing your grip on all of them. But many businesses are reaching out to these emerging technologies to help solve tough problems like getting the team together remotely and hands-on training.
On Kaspersky’s new podcast, Insight Story, Episode 6, I look at extended reality with Dr. Paul Tennent (UK,) Associate Professor, Mixed Reality Lab, University of Nottingham and David Kim (South Korea,) Business Development Manager for Soma virtual office by Zigbang. Insight Story unpacks emerging tech trends with global specialists and businesses successfully applying the technology.
VR, AR, XR – what are the different realities?
These technologies all fall somewhere on the virtuality-reality continuum, according to Paul. “We’ve got these two ends – virtuality and reality. All the way along this spectrum are these technologies. They’re generally about replacing our senses with something else – for example, our vision with a screen close to our eyes, hearing with headphones or touch with haptics. Augmented reality (AR) involves putting digital things in the real world. Assisted reality involves telepresence. Mixed and extended reality (XR) are catch-alls for everything from virtual reality to assisted reality to telepresence.”
Business has applied these technologies for over a decade. The IKEA app uses AR to let you superimpose their furniture on your room. Chat video filters that make your face look like a cute dog are also AR. While we’re familiar with these kinds of consumer uses, businesses are increasingly using XR in their work with other businesses (B2B.)
Paul has seen engineering companies make good use of assisted reality. “You can support on-site engineers with assisted reality, having somebody sitting behind them, watching what they’re doing.”
“If you were installing a heat pump, it’s useful to see a geothermal survey of the area before you drill a big hole. AR can add that layer of data onto real life,” says Paul. An engineer could see the extra data layer by pointing a smartphone or tablet at what they’re working on.
One award-winning use of haptics – technology that transmits tactile information like vibration, feel and force – in training vets often provokes laughs but helps solve a serious problem. “A virtual, haptic simulation of a cow’s back end helps vets-in-training feel different contexts, like something cancerous or moving a calf. With virtual glasses, it looks like a real cow. We see similar uses in medicine, with point-based haptic systems imitating a scalpel cutting through skin.”
Virtually solving the remote collaboration problem
Proptech startup Zigbang started creating virtual office Soma during the pandemic. David says, “When our company went remote, we did what everyone did – endless Zoom calls where you fall into Zoom fatigue. A missing core element was togetherness – small conversations that turn into bigger ideas. We wondered if there’s a way to better go about this remote thing.”
Zigbang’s existing work creating 3D models of apartments sparked an idea. “We thought, why don’t we create an office we could go into together? We started testing it with developers and thought it was good enough to bring in the whole company.”
As we were using the virtual office full-time, our company chose not to extend our office lease. Soma is our new office.
David Kim, Business Development Manager, Soma virtual office
In Soma, avatars represent colleagues, with their device’s camera feed over the avatar’s head. Like in real life, if you’re far from someone, you can’t see or hear them. As you walk closer, you start to see them and, when really close, hear their audio and see them clearly. David says, “We wanted to create that instantaneous communication – being able to walk up to someone and ask, did you get that email?”
If, like me, you enjoy the solitude of remote working, and find the idea of your boss’s avatar stealthily approaching and interrupting you unappealing, there’s a middle way. Soma lets staff ensure they’re left alone to do deep work. “We designed spaces for people to get away from others and get work done – bookable conference rooms and ‘pods’ – by walking into a pod, you’re saying, I don’t want to be disturbed.”
David also has ideas to address some of the challenges for office-less businesses. “Employees who don’t have enough space or privacy to work at home may prefer to be in the office where everything’s set up, and companies pay for air conditioning, electricity and internet. There are different ways to handle that – one is a stipend to help staff set up a home office. We’ve also set up lounges across the city where employees can go to work.” The shared office space market is booming – expected to be worth 123 billion US dollars by 2028.
Reducing cybersecurity risk with realities
Kaspersky’s Fabio Assolini sees several privacy and cybersecurity risks for businesses using extended reality tech.
“During the pandemic, we saw the rise of so-called Zoombombing – when someone accesses a conference call without permission and shows obscene or violent material. It can affect VR devices too.”
How Zoombombing happens isn’t high-tech. Fabio says, “People openly share passwords. Employees must be trained not to.”
Meanwhile, VR headsets are in a league of their own for privacy concerns. Meta’s Quest Pro headset has four front-facing cameras, three on each controller and several to track eyes and facial expressions. These devices could give deep insight into users’ activity, read emotional reactions to ads and make inferences from your home interior — from what colors you like to how many pets and children you have.
But none of this should deter businesses from exploring what immersive tech can do as a training aid. “The tech is already in use to help people learn about security problems or cyberattacks,” says Fabio.
Kaspersky Interactive Protection Simulation sees teams, including technical staff and leaders, protecting a virtual business from cyberattacks. Players use a limited budget and a moderator’s input to build an optimal protection strategy. It helps managers and directors understand cybersecurity budgets better.
Asked where extended reality might go next, Paul predicts “a shift slightly away from VR towards AR. We’re headed for a fluid reality, which is part physical and part digital.”
David urges businesses to get on board with these technologies. “Things are changing now in the realm of work. Companies more willing to look into and implement changes early will be the ones that succeed down the line.”