Comparing Different Types of Immersive Technology for Collaboration

The pandemic changed the future of work. Various types of immersive technology has redefined what's possible with remote collaboration.

Comparing Different Types of Immersive Technology for Collaboration

March 31, 2023

Avatour

Immersive Technology Changed How We Collaborate

Different types of immersive technology are changing how teams collaborate.

Before the pandemic, remote collaboration referred primarily to more traditional communication tools such as email, file sharing, video conferencing, and messaging. Meetings were just starting to be held over video conferencing platforms, mainly as a replacement to phone calls.

Then the pandemic brought on a new challenge: work traditionally done on-site, like inspections, tours, and training, now had to be done remotely. This resulted in a mass adoption of immersive technology across industries, and opened new doors for what remote work could look like in the future.

What are Immersive Technologies?

Immersive technology refers to a range of tools that create a sensory-rich experience for the user. It’s often categorized by the modality of consumption – Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), Mixed Reality (MR) – each of which has different benefits.

But when considering the deployment of these types of immersive technologies for collaboration applications, it’s important also to consider your goals, and the various technologies available to create immersive content.

These technologies include interactive simulations, digital twins, and 360° video (both live and pre-recorded).

Types of Immersive Technology: Consumption

Virtual Reality (VR)

Virtual Reality simulates physical presence in a virtual environment through the use of headsets which entirely obscure the real world. Using technology to track your movement, VR places the user directly into the virtual world to interact with the elements as if you were there.

Augmented Reality (AR)

Augmented Reality uses a headset or mobile device to overlay digital information onto the physical world using sensor data. AR devices scan the physical world around them and are able to localize the user within it.

The AR experience is designed to enhance the real-world experience without removing the user completely.

When considering AR hardware, there are a couple of important distinctions to keep in mind, which are often ignored or deliberately obfuscated.

Smartglasses, such as Realwear or Google Glass, have no spatial awareness of the real world, and function only as a hands-free display. These devices are mature and deliver real-world usability for many use cases, but have very limited capabilities and should not be considered AR devices.

The other distinction to note is between “see-through” and “passthrough” AR headset designs. “See-through” headsets such as the Microsoft Hololens have shown disappointing usability due to their extremely limited field of view. However, a new generation of “passthrough” headsets (including the Meta Quest Pro and the rumored upcoming Apple device) promise a much broader capability set and will actually be able to operate in either AR or VR mode.

Mixed Reality (MR)

Mixed Reality (MR) has been defined in different ways. Some industry observers use the term as an umbrella term covering all AR and VR technologies and applications.

However a more precise definition would be that MR hardware and applications blend the physical and digital environments together. This allows users to interact with digital elements in a real-world setting for an enhanced, overall experience.

It seems likely that the upcoming Apple device will be referred to as a “MR headset” due to its rumored ability to operate in both AR and VR modes.

Types of Immersive Technology: Content

There is an enormous variety of content for immersive applications, and an almost equally enormous set of different means of creating such content. This is an overview of a few of the most common types of content.

Simulations

For the highest-value applications such as surgery, aviation, or the operation of dangerous machinery, simulations allow realistic, interactive training without risk.

These applications typically use VR to immerse students (and instructors) in a completely synthesized interactive environment. These simulations must be created bespoke using a game technology platform such as Unity, and can be quite expensive to create.

However, for high-value applications, simulations deliver enormous ROI; for example, A 2019 study conducted by UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine found that using Osso VR's platform improved surgical performance by 230%.

When the price of a mistake during training is a plane crash or the death of a patient, cost is of little concern.

CAD Modeling

Immersive collaboration for 3D CAD applications is among the most inexpensive, effective, and easiest-to-deploy uses for the technology.

In most industries, designers are already using digital tools such as SketchUp or Autodesk to create models in 3D, which can be exported in standard formats to a variety of immersive collaboration platforms. These models can then be reviewed together by remote users anywhere in the world, in full 3D and at any desired scale.

The upcoming generation of passthrough Mixed Reality headsets will be ideal consumption devices for this sort of collaboration, but current VR and AR headsets work reasonably well also.

Spatial Capture

Spatial capture uses a combination of image, video, and sensors such as LIDAR to capture a 3D model of a real-world space at a single point in time.

These models can be consumed in VR or AR, but most commonly are reviewed using standard computers and mobile devices.

This technology is widely deployed for construction and real estate applications, but most platforms don’t permit remote collaboration using the captured content as context.

360° Video Capture

This technology is perhaps the least expensive and most generally applicable tool for immersive collaboration.

Capturing 360° video is quick and easy, even by non-technical personnel, and can be shared in real-time or on a time-shifted basis. It can be consumed by remote users using any headset or even on standard web or mobile devices.

Its low cost and high ease-of-use makes it applicable for a wide variety of applications, from inspections to training to marketing and sales. And unlike CAD or digital twins, 360° video captures procedures, interactions, and motion.

[Callout: What about Digital Twins?]

The term “digital twin” is applied broadly and rather imprecisely to refer to CAD models, spatial captures, and even data feeds.

It’s a useful general concept for digital models that reference the real world for industrial applications, but it’s not consistently or clearly defined.

Choosing the Right Type of Immersive Technology

Now that you’re familiar with both consumption and content technologies for remote collaboration, let’s explore how to choose the right one for you and your team.

Purpose

Think carefully about what you’re trying to accomplish by implementing the new technology and determine specific goals and objectives that you hope to achieve. Understanding your needs helps to decide what features or capabilities are most important.

For example, for design reviews, you may need technology that allows for detailed visualization and interaction with 3D models. But for training, you may need technology that allows for real-time interaction between participants and an instructor.

User Experience

Start by identifying the target user group, and evaluate the overall user experience of the immersive technology.

How easy or difficult is the hardware to operate? Is the interface user-friendly? Does it require any technical proficiency?

Oftentimes, those implementing the technology are not the ones that will use it in the day-to-day. To avoid misuse or lack of use altogether, make sure the user experience will not hinder adoption of the technology.

Technical Requirements

Review both the hardware and software carefully. Check its connectivity requirements, and ensure the technology is compatible with the devices, software, and networks being used by the team.

Scalability

Consider the number of possible users and whether the technology accommodates the desired level of collaboration and interaction.

Costs

Evaluate the cost of the technology, including any hardware, software, or licensing fees, and determine if it fits within your budget.

Security

Assess the security features of the technology, including data protection, encryption, and access control, to ensure the protection of sensitive information.

Support

Determine the level of support available from the technology vendor, including technical assistance, training, and user forums. Some vendors will offer much more extensive support and onboarding services compared to others.

Understand the Challenges and Limitations

While different types of immersive technology offer unique benefits for remote collaboration, there are also several challenges and limitations that should be considered.

One key challenge is the cost of hardware and software. Immersive technologies are expensive and require a significant investment to implement. VR headsets for consumers cost several hundred dollars while more professional headsets can go in the thousands.

Another challenge is the need for strong and stable internet connection to function effectively. While this may not be a problem in the office or at home, it can hinder usage of the technology out in the field. It could be even more problematic when implementing internationally as connectivity can be quite limited in certain countries.

There’s also likely to be a large learning curve associated with using some immersive technologies. Individuals need to learn to be comfortable working in an entirely virtual environment. Some may require extensive training and onboarding to learn how to use the technology properly.

Finally, there are privacy and security concerns associated with using immersive technologies, as virtual environments can potentially provide opportunities for unauthorized access or the sharing of confidential information. To address these concerns, organizations may need to implement strict security measures and protocols to protect sensitive information.

Try It Out

Ultimately, the most important step you can take when implementing new types of immersive technology is to try it out yourself.

It’s difficult to understand what works well for you and what doesn’t simply by reading about it. Whether it’s participating in a demo, a free trial, or a pilot program, getting some sort of hands-on experience will help you evaluate the technology more thoroughly.

Conclusion

Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of the different types of immersive technology in the context of collaboration. We explored what immersive technologies are, why they’ve become increasingly important in the wake of the pandemic, and how to choose the right one for you and your team.

It’s clear that immersive technologies will continue to play a significant role in the modern workplace. The benefits of these technologies are too great to ignore, and their potential for improving communication and collaboration is very high.

We can expect to see continued growth and innovation in this area, as the number of organizations adopting immersive technologies continues to rise.

Avatour

An image of the Avatour platform

Avatour brings teams together on-site, virtually.

The Avatour platform delivers a shared feeling of presence in a physical location using real-time 360° video capture. We call this experience, Shared Reality.

Interested in trying out Avatour? Schedule a demo or contact us directly with any questions you may have.

Click to learn more about the Avatour platform.

Ready to Learn More?

See more about how the Avatour platform works, or schedule a personal demo.

Stay Up to Date with Avatour

Sign up for our monthly newsletter highlighting the latest
company news and industry insights.