Zoom Goes VR: Yet Another Remote Teamwork Virtual Reality App (Avatars? Who Needs Avatars?)

You might remember that I coined an acronym which I hope starts to catch on in the industry: YARTVRA, which stands for Yet Another Remote Teams Virtual Reality App. This is an emerging use for VR, and I have compiled a list of YARTVRA apps in this recent blogpost.

Well, it would appear that LearnBrite (which I have blogged about before), the company behind Zoom (the well-known, popular remote conferencing service) wants to embrace virtual reality, and hop into the nascent YARTVRA marketplace.

It looks like they are offering a couple of different ways to represent each remote participant. Take a gander at the following one-minute video, showing three men communicating via flat-screen video “avatars” in a 3D photograph of an office:

Watching this, I ask myself: why would anybody want to do this? What benefits does this bring? Sorry, but this is just weird. No avatars at all? Horse confetti?!??

Here’s another one-minute video showing you not only the flat-screen video “avatars”, but also a tantalizing glimpse of an actual, 3D avatar:

In the first part of this video, Zoom again eschews user avatars completely, choosing instead to have each participant displayed in a video screen in a 3D virtual conference room. However, notice at the 0:38 mark in this video, someone puts on an Oculus Quest VR headset, and you can then see his three-dimensional avatar standing in one corner of the conference room.

Here’s another one-minute video (no audio) that shows you a bit more of the setup for the Oculus Quest:

Now, it’s not clear to me if this is a real avatar that you can embody, able to move around the room, or if it is just a stationary object, a placeholder that merely represents the user. Unfortunately, there’s not enough in these videos to be able to tell!

In a page from the LearnBrite website showing you how you set up a virtual room in Zoom, the company states:

Why?

LearnBrite already includes tightly integrated WebRTC conferencing capabilities such as audio, video, VR presence and dial-in by phone.

In some enterprise environments it may be preferable to leverage the tools already in place, this helps with costs and also managing change in an organization. If everyone is already familiar with using Zoom, then adding VR to it can get better user “buy-in” than asking them to use a new or different solution.

But whether or not this is actually something that is going to be truly useful, something that adds a real benefit to remote work team collaboration, remains to be seen. So I’m a little skeptical, and frankly, I want to see more of this in action before I pronounce final judgement (especially how they implement 3D avatars).

As far as I can tell right now, this half-baked solution just gives LearnBrite the bragging rights that they now support Zoom in VR, without a lot of the features seen in competing YARTVRA products. Sorry, but I’m not impressed. This looks like a cheap gimmick to me.

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LearnBrite: A Brief Introduction

LearnBrite is similar to many other products which I have already covered in this blog, such as Apertus VR, Engage, Edorble, Rumii, and NeosVR, in that it offers tools for people wanting to build virtual worlds for educational purposes. LearnBrite bills itself “The only VR-Ready authoring tool designed with Trainers in Mind”:

With LearnBrite, you simply author once in the VR-Ready Workflow and it automatically brings your micro-learning and instructor led training to life on mobile, tablet, desktop and VR/AR without writing a single line of code.

That means you can create immersive 3D (for flat screens like mobile & desktop) or AR/VR experiences that put your learner right in the middle of the action to fully engage their senses as they PLAY through your scenarios.

This is your opportunity to design active learning modules that will help solve performance issues & behavioral challenges in a fun & engaging way vs the “point, click, quiz” method that has most learners “checked out” after the 1st slide.

Here’s an example of LearnBrite in use at Curtin University, where it was used to help train students on how to do a home visit on an elderly woman that aims to provide support to allow her to continue to live at home:

What’s surprising to me about LearnBrite is how expensive it is:

LearnBrite 14 Aug 2018

Obviously, they are targeting customers with large budgets! And they do seem to have a rather impressive list of customers:

LearnBrite 4 14 Aug 2018

They also outline what they call “premium complimentary” services available at each price point:

LearnBrite 2 14 Aug 2018.png

That line of fine print along the bottom reads, “Because of the high demand for these services, we can only guarantee availability for the next 20 subscribers.” Which, of course, is a standard sales technique: “Act now, supplies are limited!”

What I find odd is that most other platforms provide “built-in conferencing” for free, as a part of the platform (hence the term “built-in”), so why is LearnBrite charging for it, and why are they limiting it to only a certain number of hours per month?

Here’s a quick list of features and a look at their avatars:

LearnBrite 3 14 Aug 2018.png

Hmmm…sure sounds (and looks) an awful lot like Second Life to me, which has had educators using it for teaching purposes for well over a decade now (here’s a list of resources from their wiki and they even have an Educator’s Portal set up).

If you’re interested in building educational virtual worlds and social VR experiences, you might want to take a look at LearnBrite, but you might also wish to consider other, potentially cheaper alternatives like Engage and (of course) Second Life.