Introduction to XR Collaboration Tools

Key Benefits Over Video Conferencing Tools

XR Collaboration offers several advantages when compared to alternatives such as video conferencing, phone meetings, or even face-to-face interactions. These include an enhanced sense of presence, eliminating extraneous distractions, and enabling enhanced and more dynamic visualization of information and objects, as well as interaction with these objects in 3D. Furthermore, those dynamic interactions can happen in real-time with other collaborators, regardless of where they are physically located at that point in time. Additionally, even before this global crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, the cost, stress, environmental impact, and time-waste caused by global business travel was becoming a pressing issue, which led many companies to consider adoption of XR collaboration tools, either to partially or entirely replace such face-to-face interactions. In the post-COVID-19 world, however, what was previously desirable will become - in many cases - the only viable alternative for co-workers to continue meeting and collaborating meaningfully with one another. 

Less Distractions During Meetings

During an average one-hour video conference, participants report approximately 15 minutes of distraction from phone and other peripheral actions. XR platforms, on the other hand, fully immerse participants, focusing attention more fully on the interaction at hand. 

Highly-Customized Meeting Environments 

XR meeting locations can be designed to replicate real-world locations, such as board rooms (with custom furnishings and equipment, as well as branding and reference information), or allow for more creative settings. This can be particularly useful in educational use-cases, where it would be possible, for example, to hold a class on the surface of the moon, or examine a jet engine inside a realistic virtual hangar. 

Increased Presence / Immersion

Virtual Reality’s goal is to fully immerse a person in a digital landscape, triggering the same kinds of physical and psychological reactions they would experience in the real world. This is called “presence”— a mental state in which people recall VR experiences as if they had actually occurred. Interactions mediated by XR collaborative tools have the advantage of instilling that sense of presence. This arises from being immersed in an environment, as opposed to viewing it through a screen, as well as a sense of “embodied cognition,” which comes from your own actions, movements, and expressions being replicated by your avatar and having a visible – even tangible – effect within the virtual environment.

Interaction with 3D Objects

XR tools allow for interactions that would be too difficult, expensive, or dangerous in real-life. Architects can visualize different layouts, identifying potential issues and avoiding costly mistakes before construction even begins. Designers and engineers can test prototypes and view how minute changes affect aerodynamics and performance. Clinicians can optimize the layout of operating rooms, and manufacturers can easily move several tons of heavy machinery and equipment until they find the most efficient arrangement which can be agreed collectively and  implemented with confidence.

Text Input Can Be Challenging

A current issue with most XR experiences is that traditional methods of text input can be awkward, slow, inefficient, and downright frustrating, as anyone who has attempted to type on a virtual keyboard can attest to. Advances in voice technology are likely to make voice-to-text input the norm for XR, as it offers an intuitive, quick, and hands-free alternative. 

Common User Requirements for XR Collaboration Tools

Each of you will be looking to address different needs when it comes to considering the use of an XR collaboration tool. We have identified a set of common requirements that should be considered when selecting the best tools and platforms to suit those needs. On our website, we provide an interactive tool that can be used to tailor recommendations to those specific needs and requirements. 

High Level

  • Support participation via a wide range of devices, to allow more convenient access to potential participants: PC-based VR, standalone VR, smartphone-tethered AR, standalone AR, tablets, smartphones, and Windows/Macintosh computers.
  • Stable and reliable software. Check the vendor’s blog or release history to see if they are regularly posting software updates.
  • Offer accessibility equal to or better than IRL (in real-life) events.
  • Intuitive enough so that first-time users aren’t discouraged from participating. We’ve spent time gathering information on each tool’s first-time onboarding experience so you can plan ahead how much time it will take to get started.
  • Support at least 5 participants in real-time without glitches or lag. We’ve evaluated each tool’s ability to support concurrent users in a single collaboration session.
  • Allow both free access and paid access, and public access as well as private access. 

User Interface

  • Allows users to quickly and easily visualize the way their avatar appears to others.
  • Should offer users a consistent set of features on supported platforms.
  • Interaction controls should be available without having to switch in and out of XR.
  • Should not have distracting, “always-on” UI elements that crowd the user’s view.
  • Simple, toggle-able menu, with most common commands accessible via minimal steps. 
  • Display time of day (in user’s timezone) and details of current session.
  • Allow users to easily see the schedule and navigate to other sessions.
  • Support both teleporting and joystick locomotion/turning.
  • Use standardized controls for locomotion and interacting, so users can easily switch between platforms. 
  • Ideally allow users to change settings without affecting their avatar movements.
  • Include a pause function, so that users can temporarily leave the XR environment with ease (we all need “bio breaks”).
  • Functionality to save sessions, slides, and information on fellow attendees. 
  • Allows participants to easily exchange contact details.