Experiments in Virtual Reality
- What if the spaces we knew from real life could be accessed from anywhere?
- Could we travel to see our friends and family more often? Could we discover more meaningful kinds of living arrangements in the process?
- Could we rotate between cities every few weeks or months and use telepresence for everything in between? Some kind of hybrid omnipresence, a mix of virtual and physical?
- How would a VR call compare to a Facetime call? What about a real-life hangout?
- Could it feel like we had torn our walls down and left our rooms connected together for a while? What would that do for us? And what would it look like if you left that call running? Could we get a sense for what each other's days involved?
- And what if you could do it with a bunch of your friends all at once? Could you have a hallway connecting you to all of your friends' rooms but then have their hallway only connect them to their friends? So you're limited only by whether they want to be with you, not each other? (similar to Siempre Video)
- Would a virtual house like that help us get and stay closer? Could it lead to the late-night conversations, spontaneous questions and impromptu activities that living around folks in person can lead to?
- What could VR tell us about our relationships between people, physical spaces and technology?
- Could it help us better understand what the limits or requirements of human relationships are in the first place?
These are just some of the questions that led us to explore virtual reality in the context of Siempre.
And explore, explore we did!
For over a month, we worked tirelessly to digitize our bodies and our home office. The goal was multi-fold but it all relied on a simple idea: "we know that living and working together in person works."
In particular, we knew that this specific arrangement of desks, finances, inter-personal dynamics etc. was a sustainable, productive and meaningful experience to have access to.
So what if we could have that together virtually?
Could we decouple getting to live and work with each other from being in the same physical location together?
How far could we take it?
And what else could building this out help us understand? Might the next step be to model our friends and their apartments and then set them up with headsets?
Building it ourselves seemed like it would tell us what we needed to know.
And after a month or so of building, it turns out it told us that and so much more.
The first thing we did was to use our virtual office from inside our physical office.
Combining manual calibration and modeling with active SteamVR tracking and Leap motion hand-tracking meant all the physical objects in our room registered in VR exactly where our bodies expected them to be. Reach for your mouse and you'd see your virtual hand touch the virtual mouse exactly as your physical hand mouse did. Same for almost every other surface in the office!
Add multi-screen screen-sharing, virtual whiteboards, animated facial expressions, body kinematics and time-based lighting and you quickly start forgetting the differences between VR and the real world. We haven't done a month-long study with it but the time we did spend meeting and working in there together was better than expected.
Our next experiment involved working together with our virtual offices but from our physical bedrooms.
Unlike our first experiment, however, our second one was about completely removing ourselves from our physical reality and replacing it with a different and virtual one.
As it turns out, this distinction makes a huge difference. Without a physical reference in sight or in grasp, the virtual office only has to feel better than being on a persistent video call with each other. When we were in the physical office, it still affords us some freedoms but it's obvious where its limitations are. In our bedrooms, we'd need to have a lot of those deficiencies pointed out to us intentionally.
Not having a physical reference also means you don't have to be limited by what the designs of the physical office are.
No roofs required here.