(Editor’s note: Both Lenovo and Microsoft are clients of the author.)
Lenovo’s big Tech World ’22 took place this week and one of the most interesting segments tied into what Microsoft’s called Holoportation. (Not surprisingly, it uses Hololens.) It also addressed one of the biggest problems with Meta’s metaverse implementation: realism.
Most people who have seen Meta’s take on the future of mixed-reality meetings have found it … wanting. People aren’t really ready to participate in a new service that makes Linden Labs’ “Second Life” look good. (If Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg wanted to recreate “Second Life,” he could have bought it for a fraction of what his development efforts have cost so far.)
Specifically, what Lenovo showed off was an implementation that, instead of relying on cartoonish avatars, uses a set of 3D scanners to accurately create an interactive, highly photorealistic avatar that can be used for virtual conferences and meetings. This, I think, is a game changer for the concept of metaverse conferencing. It represents a far more workable future than what we’ve seen to date and could solve some of the problems inherent in virtual worlds.
Let me explain why (and why avatars need legs).
Whether we’re talking about the early days of videoconferencing or current efforts using the metaverse, one underlying problem for remote workers is that they don’t feel present. You have people who are on a job site who clearly interact with each other as people (because they are present and are people), while those that are remote appear as 2D pictures or 3D avatars that not only look like poorly drawn cartoons but lack legs.
This lack of reality makes it hard for remote workers to feel equal to those who are physically present in a meeting and highlights other problems. It’s hard to have side conversations if you’re not in the room, or go and grab coffee or a meal after a meeting has ended, or make any deeper — and more engaging — individual connections.
While a more realistic avatar won’t fix the inability to engage outside of the meeting, it does provide a better reason to develop adjunct tools that could virtually allow these missed opportunities to emerge. You may not want to have a long heart-to-heart conversation with a cartoonish avatar, but you already likely do
Creating a more realistic avatar should result in better in-meeting experiences and the potential for better after-meeting engagement.
Blended realism for the win?
One of the big problems for remote workers is that people on-premises see them in unflattering conditions. Maybe they’re in casual attire while those in the office are in suits and dresses, or they’re surrounded by poorly rendered backgrounds in rooms cluttered with the artifacts of home life. Using a rendered avatar (rather than a real image), allows that avatar to look its best (perfect hair, makeup and clothing) and it can better blend into an artificial background that looks more realistic. You don’t have the issues that come with using a green screen — that odd white line around your body and a clearly static image behind you that everyone knows isn’t your real home.
Blended realism could present remote employees in a better light than even those who are on-premises, because reality is nowhere near as easily modified. This alone could prompt employees to favor remote meetings, cutting down on travel time and commuting waste, while both improving productivity and the use of virtual reality conferencing tools.
Lenovo’s creation of a real-time scanned avatar that can present as real and can always look its best, regardless of lack of sleep, bad clothing, or messy backgrounds shows where Meta has so far fallen short. Granted, the solution does require a lot of processing power, a few 3D sensors, and a space that would allow a user to be rescanned when needed.
But all of those issues are relatively easy to solve, suggesting that holoportation is about to get a significant VR upgrade as we move to the next level in metaverse conferencing.