Minnesota businesses enter the metaverse

Minnesota businesses enter the metaverse

When COVID-19 forced workers home, companies quickly shifted their communication strategies to video conferencing platforms like Zoom and Microsoft.

But as the pandemic dragged on, companies realized they had to take on more than virtual day-to-day planning. Even factories that have remained open have had to update training procedures for people who would normally travel to familiarize themselves with new equipment.

Enter the metaverse. Minnesota businesses and organizations have used the immersive technology used in games to create new onboarding and training materials with computer-generated environments designed to look and sound real while changing the way people communicate.

Now they say the technology is here to stay and are working on even more ways to use it, both with employees and customers.

Twin Cities experts see the Metaverse as the next iteration of how humans operate and interact with internet-based technology. This follows the introduction of the personal computer, dial-up internet, mobile phones and browser and app-based video conferencing platforms, said Amir Berenjian, CEO of reality studio Rem5. virtual and development company based in St. Louis Park.

For Uponor North America in Apple Valley, the global pipe maker’s US headquarters, Rem5 Studios has created a virtual reality training system where new employees working remotely and customers outside the region can tour the manufacturing process unique to the company, as well as quality controls and testing. .

A few years ago, the company would have transported these workers to the Twin Cities.

“It’s more scalable and more cost-effective,” Berenjian said.

Companies like Ford are partnering with virtual reality companies to give their remote designers a place to collaborate in real time.

Rem5, also for Uponor, has created an augmented reality experience that displays 3D holograms of Uponor products to show how they are individually assembled into a single final piece and function, allowing a person to learn about the product, inspect parts and interact with it without having to transport the physical part itself. Anyone with a mobile device connected to the internet can access the experience from anywhere in the world.

This technology can also change the way businesses and organizations interact with their customers. Instead of transporting equipment to trade shows or to another company for demonstrations, virtual reality can be added as a means of illustrating how equipment and machinery works in the real world.

Use VR headsets

Virtual reality headsets add a deeper component of 3D communication because it’s a more natural form of engagement, Berenjian said. Body language, walking in different directions while having a conversation or even turning your head to see where a sound is coming from can be achieved in the virtual world.

That doesn’t happen in two-dimensional engagements like Zoom, he said.

“The reason I like to go this route is to demystify how people think we’re moving away from human connection when we introduce virtual technology,” Berenjian said. “We actually take a step back when we do. .”

Using a virtual reality headset, all visual inputs are controlled by the app. Everything seen is computer defined, nearly eliminating the ability for one person to multi-task as they would on a phone call, or even a video conference call where one person might be cooking or washing dishes. as she speaks, said Victoria Interrante, a professor at the University of Minnesota’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering.

“It evokes a different mode of interpreting and interacting with what you’re doing,” Interrante said.

However, the commoditization of VR headsets depends. Not only price is a factor, but also comfort. Some users may experience nausea or dizziness when in headphones for extended periods.

“Once the technology gets to the point where it’s physically as comfortable to be in VR as it is in the real world, I think we’ll see more people adopt it,” Interrante said.

A company of avatars

Not all experiences in the Metaverse require VR headsets. Many are accessible via the Internet on a personal computer or mobile device.

While first-person virtual reality allows a user to see a world through their own eyes, third-person virtual reality is a puppet method with a digital character representing them.

Rem5 has developed an office virtual reality program called 1 City, 2 Realities as a diversity and inclusion training tool for employers. When logged into the online program, users can control their avatars to browse a virtual gallery of information and images “highlighting systemic racial inequalities in our country and in Minneapolis.”

Rem5 worked with General Mills and Target to integrate the virtual experience into employee training.

The company also created a similar privilege-focused program, Berenjian said.

An experiential learning opportunity like this creates empathy, Berenjian said. The emotional response of watching scenes unfold in VR bridges the gap between watching a recap of those events on news channels and actually being there.

“Your brain is more immersed,” he said.

Meetings in the metaverse take on different levels of engagement in avatar form. A videoconference meeting with dozens of participants can get messy if there are too many faces in tiny squares on a computer screen.

In the Metaverse, dozens of people can still congregate, but have one-on-one or group conversations in a room if their avatars huddle together, just like in the real world.

“The knee-jerk reaction is to say, ‘I don’t want to replace the real world,'” Berenjian said. “We’re not talking about replacing anything. We’re talking about extending it, improving it, or making it more accessible.”

Because immersive technology can make interactions more personal, it is becoming more common in therapy sessions and in diversity education. Getting together in the metaverse just for the sake of it, however, isn’t going to increase engagement with this technology, Berenjian said.

“We need compelling reasons to be in these spaces,” he said. “It’s new and it’s going to fade.”

Where businesses can start

If companies think a permanent virtual training option should be available, then they need to think about how much they need to spend. For example, a program that uses VR headsets could be expensive, Berenjian said.

But as innovators and advocates of Web 3.0, the next iteration of the Internet, push for a decentralized and more democratized system for emerging technologies, the use of augmented and virtual technology will become cheaper, and possibly free. .

“We’re talking about making it more accessible,” Berenjian said.

In the meantime, companies will need to do their due diligence to find potential partners who specialize in immersive technologies and negotiate costs. Companies like Rem5 aren’t in abundance in the Twin Cities, but they do exist here, and there are players nationwide.

Red Wing Shoes, for example, recently teamed up with California-based Roblox Corp., makers of the Roblox online gaming platform, to create a virtual experience called Red Wing BuilderTown through its new game exchange program. builders.

Eventually, some of these designs will be built in the real world for those in need thanks to Red Wing’s partnership with Settled, an organization that houses homeless people in small homes. Roblox members can also purchase Red Wing products from a virtual store.

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