Microsoft’s Room2Room augmented reality project casts new light on huddle rooms and remote productivity. 

MIT Technology Review (Metz, 2016) reveals stunning research submitted to this year’s Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing Conference (CSCW2016). The study on augmented reality examined the potential collaboration opportunities of Room2Room, the most recent iteration of Microsoft’s 2014 RoomAlive gaming “experience” that utilizes Kinect cameras and life-size image projection. 

 RoomAlive: The other resident (Microsoft Research, 2014).

RoomAlive: The other resident (Microsoft Research, 2014).

ZDNet’s review of Room2 Room suggests the product is a potential “Skype killer” (Tung 2016), but since both products are Microsoft, it is more a derivative than a replacement of desktop conferencing.  While Tung tolerates the first release's poor image quality and sees the cumbersome configuration as easily surmountable, to me there is a more obvious oversight. Based on the article’s pictures indicating a rudimentary projection along a wall and over a chair, what is missing is an artificial body to cast the three dimensional form. It is hard for me to imagine the other party is in the room with you without a physical reference point.

The projected augmentation takes me back thirty years, to the suspended head of Christopher Columbus as it came to life at the Museum of Science, telling his story to a gawking teenager. I lingered long after the loop repeated, trying to figure out how they made the head look so real. I held my hand up, breaking the beam projected on to the mannequin’s face and took note of the simple illusion that so easily fooled the mind.  

 3D face projection (Deuchest Museum, 2012)

3D face projection (Deuchest Museum, 2012)

What is really fascinating about Room to Room’s spin on virtual reality is less about the camera and projection technology and more about the research indicating enhanced productivity, achievable when visual augmentation is applied to remote collaboration.

In the study of seven pairs of participants, it took four minutes for face-face participants to construct shapes out of cubes compared to seven minutes for Room2Room users and nine for Skype callers (Pejsa, Kantor, Benko, Ofek, and Wilson, 2016). The augmented teams did not have to wear virtual glasses or gloves.

 Study: (c) instructor, (d) assembler (Pejsa, et al., 2016).

Study: (c) instructor, (d) assembler (Pejsa, et al., 2016).

The advantage Room2Room has over desktop video is that participants can get up to view the blocks from different angles, and see each other’s hands move the blocks around, which improved the team’s assembly speed over Skype. However, unlike Skype, participants cannot see what their partner is seeing, so they cannot confirm their non-verbal cues are transmitting effectively. Feedback indicates that Room2Room transforms the session into an “intimate living room encounter” (Pejsa, et al., 2016, pg. 2), underscoring the difference between the suspended disbelief we encounter with augmented proximity and the “glass barrier" of flat screen technology when we video conference.

 Room2Room (Pejsa, et al., 2016).

Room2Room (Pejsa, et al., 2016).

Tech companies are rushing to capitalize on customer demand for virtual reality products that transport the user into a new environment (Danova, 2015). I see augmented reality to be less mentally taxing than VR and more apt to foster creativity for enterprise workers. The insertion of remote participants into the users’ existing space using display technology is a logical extension to today’s huddle room. While the current version is limited to two endpoints and symmetrical arrangements, with more advanced mapping future iterations could recreate multi-point experiences.  

 Kinect depth camera and projector (Metz, 2016).

Kinect depth camera and projector (Metz, 2016).

The most significant attribute of Room2Room is that users can naturally grasp the experience and convey their gestures and body language without adjusting the camera, learning a new UI or reaching for an electronic pen. The ease of use will lead researchers to explore the value of augmented reality in higher context situations.

It's possible that the experience could be improved by projection on to a still form. The face of Columbus certainly looked real but his hands and body were not motion.  If augmented reality proves to be as effective in communicating empathy as it is in remote productivity, then it has the potential to break through cultural barriers and resolve international conflicts. 

TURNING POINT is Mark Peterson's personal take on innovation and collaboration influencing today's corporate strategy. To have a conversion about what takes to implement collaborative solutions efficiently and at enterprise scale, contact Mark Peterson

Reference

Danova, T. (2015). Virtual-reality headsets are set to take off — here's how the market will grow. Business Insider. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/virtual-reality-headset-sales-explode-2015-04

Deuchest Museum, Munich (2012). 3D face projection. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q06LtdcnrWw

Metz, R. (2016). Augmented reality study projects life-sized people into other rooms. MIT Technology Review. Retrieved from https://www.technologyreview.com/s/545466/augmented-reality-study-projects-life-sized-people-into-other-rooms/

Microsoft Research (2014). RoomAlive: The other resident. Retrieved from http://research.microsoft.com/apps/video/default.aspx?id=231619

Pejsa, T., Kantor, J. Benko, H., Ofek, E and Wilson, A. (2016). Room2Room: Enabling life-size telepresence in a projected augmented reality environment. Wisconsin University. Retrieved from http://pages.cs.wisc.edu/~tpejsa/files/16-CSCW-Room2Room.pdf

 

TURNING POINT is Mark Peterson's personal take on innovation and collaboration influencing today's corporate strategy. To have a conversion about what takes to implement collaborative solutions efficiently and at enterprise scale, contact Mark Peterson.

 

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