PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — To date, virtual reality has been widely associated with gaming. But as this immersive technology improves, it will increasingly make its way to other spheres of life, including work, impacting how people miles apart or even across the world can collaborate.
One effort that could soon inform VR applications in professional settings comes from researchers at Brown University and Cornell University, who will present on the concept at this year’s Association for Computing Machinery Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology on Oct. 29.
VRoxy, the software program developed by the team, allows a user in a remote location to put on a VR headset and be virtually transported to a space — be it an office, laboratory or other setting — where their colleagues are physically working. From there, the remote user is represented through a robot present at the physical location, allowing them to move through that environment using natural movements, like walking, and collaborate with colleagues through gestures such as pointing at objects, head animations (like nodding) and even making facial expressions through the robot proxy.
The software is in its early stages. But already the researchers say it has the potential to address some of the biggest challenges in using robot proxies and augmented reality software for remote collaboration.
“Right now, motion-controlled robots for collaboration require the physical location to have the same amount of space as the remote environment, but that's often not the case,” said Brandon Woodard, a Ph.D. student at Brown and graduate researcher for the Department of Computer Science’s Visual Computing Group. “Rooms have different dimensions. Even when meeting with people in Zoom, it’s easy to see those differences. Some could be in home offices, others in kitchens or living rooms, while others are in the work space or classroom.”