The latest wave of VR/AR technologies — kickstarted by the Oculus Rift DK1 in 2013 — has moved rapidly through the hype cycle, from next big thing, to last year’s news, and finally on to what really matters: real-world applications. Remote Presence technology is a new form of communication that falls firmly in this last category. It applies the recent advances in immersive technologies to solve a simple real-world business problem: the cost and inconvenience of travel.
If you work in a role where you buy, sell, lease, build, renovate, insure, or otherwise manage property, travel is a big part of your life. Maybe you’re the one sitting in the middle seat in coach, or maybe you’re trying to get clients, contractors, or other stakeholders on site — either way, all this travel is a challenge, consuming time and money. But you do it anyway, because it’s always best to meet in a place if you need to talk about it.
Remote Presence is a new communications technology that has the potential to replace much of this travel. In this post, we’ll define remote presence, show a few examples of how it’s being used in business today, and provide you with more information on how to get started using remote presence technology.
What is Remote Presence?
Remote presence is quite simply the immersive experience of a real place, including real-time remote interaction with the people there.
So let’s unpack that a bit. There are three key components to any Remote Presence system:
- An immersive experience, typically involving a VR or AR headset, allowing the user to look around as if they were actually in a space;
- The capture of a real place, using data from visual, sound, and other sensors in such a way that a real-world space can be shown in an immersive manner; and
- Real-time remote interaction, allowing users far away from the captured place to communicate directly with the people there.
The term “remote presence” is somewhat new, as each of these requirements is has been difficult to achieve, and the combination has only recently become possible. Initial implementations cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and required specialized hardware and technical support. But over the last few years, the core technologies have advanced to the point that a complete remote presence system can now be deployed at a reasonable cost for the first time. The hype is over; remote presence is feasible now.
Why is Remote Presence Important?
Remote presence offers a new and more efficient alternative to travel.
Travel is expensive, time-consuming, bad for work/life balance, and a major contributor to global warming. Every dollar spent on gas is a dollar less for growing your business. Every hour on a plane is an hour not used more productively. Every night in a hotel is a night not spent with family. And every round-trip transcontinental passenger emits nearly a ton of CO2 into the upper atmosphere. Remote presence holds the promise of making much of this travel unnecessary.
Relatedly, in some cases, getting to a location might not even be possible. Sometimes an overseas client wants to purchase a property from afar; sometimes the expertise you need at one site is already committed to another. Remote presence can solve these problems as well.
It’s an important new tool for improving business effectiveness. It reduces the need for travel, saving time, money, and the environment; it’s also the best substitute for when real presence is simply impossible.
Real Examples of Remote Presence Applications:
Early users of remote presence technology include real estate, construction, insurance, retail, and property management companies. Here’s a few specific use cases:
Real Estate Tours
Residential real estate agents, like Butch Haze of Compass in San Francisco, are offering their remote buyers personal virtual tours of properties, no matter where they are. The real estate agent can walk the remote buyer through the property, having a natural conversation while the buyer sees everything the agent sees.
Construction firms, like DPR Construction in Austin, TX, are using remote presence to allow senior personnel to visit sites more frequently, deploying their expertise more efficiently. Use of the new technology helps reduce revisions and cost overruns, increasing efficiency and moving projects along faster.
Chain Retail Management
A major national clothes retailer is using remote presence to reduce the management travel associated with the 20 store renovations they perform every month. Project managers are virtually visiting the job sites far more frequently than they ever could in person, becoming more effective and traveling less at the same time.
Some locations are too distant or dangerous to use for training, but personnel can still be best prepared by learning about the site in advance. Railroads, utilities, and heavy industries can use remote presence to conduct virtual location-based training, improving efficiency and safety.
What Remote Presence is NOT
A variety of technologies share some characteristics, but lack one or more of the key elements above.
Standard video conferencing enables real-time remote interaction, but does a very poor job of capturing a real place, and fails entirely at providing an immersive experience,
Spatial capture, using tools like Matterport or Holobuilder, is great for the static capture of a real place, which can be used to create an immersive experience — but these tools do not provide any sort of interaction, whether remote or otherwise.
VR collaboration tools such as Glue, meetingroom.io, Spatial and dream.os provide an immersive experience with real-time remote interaction, but they work entirely with synthetic content and cannot show a real place.
Each of these technologies has valid use cases. Remote presence is distinct from all of them.
How can you start using it for your business?
Avatour is the leading remote presence platform. Using off-the-shelf hardware, it combines live 360° video with multiparty communication to deliver a new category of remote collaboration.