When Spatial emerged from stealth in late 2018, its vision of using mixed reality headsets to facilitate realistic “holographic” meetings seemed ahead of its time, if not overly ambitious given the limitations of existing technology. But as the coronavirus pandemic precluded in-person gatherings, enterprise-scale demand for virtual alternatives spiked, including Spatial’s ability to bring realistic avatars and productivity files into room-sized spaces. Today, the company is taking two major steps to become the business world’s collaborative XR solution of choice.
First, the company is offering multiple months of free access to its premium-level Spatial Pro enterprise service, including support for users without full-fledged AR or VR devices. Businesses will be able to share any Spatial room with team members using just a web link, enabling desktop, laptop, and small device users to join meetings with a web browser, no download or headset required. Spatial’s headset UI has been carried over to the web, enabling 2D screen users to easily observe the 3D spaces.
Already adopted by major companies including Mattel, Nestle, Pfizer, and BNP Paribas, the enterprise-level service lets users speak with and see realistically synchronized VR avatars of other participants, while interacting with documents and 3D models. Virtual team meetings of designers, engineers, manufacturers, and marketers can take place within office settings, even when some or all the participants are working from home.
Second, Spatial is making an Oculus Quest app generally available today, including a “much improved experience” compared with the prior private beta. Although Facebook hasn’t announced sales figures for the hybrid standalone and PC-tethered headset, Spatial characterizes the repeatedly sold-out Quest as “the most widely available XR device today” and says it has refined its user interface to make the experience easier for new users.
“By opening up our immersive collaboration platform and allowing access on the devices people already have, we hope to connect people in a way that isn’t confined by space, location, or even a pandemic,” Spatial cofounder Jinha Lee said. The company says it’s seen a 1000% surge in interest from organizations since self-isolation initiatives began, spanning Fortune 1000 companies, schools, hospitals, and small to medium-size businesses.
We were seriously impressed by our hands-on test of the new Quest app, including a session that enabled six participants from different locations to talk and visually interact with only a little more latency than a typical phone call. Regardless of platform, VR/AR headset wearers are depicted as realistic torso-up 3D avatars, using hand/controller tracking to replicate real arm movements. The sense of collective presence is dramatically heightened compared with 2D video chats, and users can share and move around complex 3D objects, documents, webpages, and videos within the space.
One highlight of Spatial’s live demo — and a peek at where VR and AR collaborative productivity apps are heading — was a human-scale VR walkthrough of a cellular retail store that then zoomed smoothly out to let multiple “god” like users peer into the store as a model to determine optimal use of space and traffic flows. While the textures inside the store were low resolution, Spatial’s engine handled the change of scale without a hiccup, and the company says next-generation Qualcomm XR2-based headsets will improve texture detail levels across the board.
Prior to now, Spatial was available for AR and VR headsets such as Microsoft’s HoloLens, Magic Leap One, and Oculus Rift, with simplified smartphone and PC access. Spatial is also working with Nreal and three mobile carriers on 5G-optimized software for the Android-powered Light AR glasses. Enterprises and users interested in accessing Spatial Pro for free over “the coming months” can sign up at Spatial’s website from a supported headset, desktop, or smartphone; there’s no specific end date yet for the free trial.