The Future of Virtual Meetings? Testing out the Webex Hologram
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"Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope."
Without dating myself too badly, I still recall seeing Princess Leia from Star Wars present herself in a hologram to deliver this extremely important message. Ever since, Sci-Fi and technologists have tried to create a way to leverage holograms. Entertainment companies have somewhat cracked this code by re-creating deceased artists and putting them (virtually) on stage in front of a live audience. While this is great for entertainment, there has never been a great way to create engaging and interactive content.
While the world went home during COVID, many companies have tried to solve one of the biggest challenges of remote work: how to connect and engage with employees and customers who aren't face-to-face. Of course we have tools like Zoom, Teams and Webex for videoconferencing and messaging; however, they don't provide that same level of experience that you get when you physically sit across the table from someone. Things like body language and the ability to interact with physical devices doesn't quite scale in the Zoom world.
Enter the Webex Hologram
Disclaimer: I have known about Webex Hologram for some time. In my role, I hear about a lot of new tech that vendors work on so this wasn't a huge surprise to me. Because of this, I decided to test drive it with a couple of skeptics from my team. These guys are not huge enthusiasts of VR/AR and the "metaverse," so I figured they'd be the perfect pair to see if the Webex Hologram passed their test.
The Webex Hologram requires an AR headset to connect. After finding a couple pairs of the Microsoft HoloLens 2 from another team at WWT, we decided to see if the the Webex Hologram was really the way of the future or just another new hype.
After a few attempts to get the HoloLens to update and register, we were ready to go. We started the holographic meeting by leveraging a QR code from the host which put us into the Webex meeting. After a little instruction, the host then appeared in our HoloLens. It really did look like he was sitting across the table in front us. His movement was very natural and it certainly gave the sense of him being there. Using the HoloLens 2, you can move your head around and still see everything in room; however, as you turn your head toward the host, he stays stationed in his position across from me.
For those of you unaware of the difference between AR and VR, VR is when you are completely immersed in the virtual world. You can't see your physical surroundings -- only what's in the virtual format. With AR, you can see everything through the glass but there is a display on your glasses that projects an image as if to appear a part of your physical space.
Webex Hologram initial impressions
One of the benefits of a holographic meeting is that it's more free flowing versus a traditional Zoom or Webex meeting in which you have to pause after speaking to allow the next person to talk. The Webex Hologram did feel natural after a few minutes.
From there, the host held a (physical) book in his hands which allowed us to see the shape and scale as if he was sitting in the room with us. I see this as a big benefit to a holographic meeting. Physical size and dimensions can be hard over a traditional Zoom call; Webex Hologram gave it a bit more dimension being in the host's possession.
Next, the host launched a 3D image of a race car (typical in AR environments). Being able to manipulate the car with my hands – not a controller – was a cool feature. The important part here is that the host is still taking to us while looking at this 3D image. This is a great next step in AR as it makes it much more interactive.
Potential use cases for holographic meetings
- Healthcare: This type of technology would be great in a training setting where a doctor is teaching a class on a new piece of equipment or part of the body. The ability to be "live" while manipulating a 3D object can really create an immersive training experience that we haven't seen before.
- Commercial real estate: Looking at 3D floor plans and building layouts can allow users to genuinely interact with the models and get a much better sense of size and space. Allowing developers to reach their clients virtually could cut down long sales and development cycles.
- Product development: As more teams become distributed, the ability to do product reviews that involve design, scale, shape, etc. become very important. This allows teams to work in real-time and make important decisions without hopping on a plane.
Are holographic meetings for real?
The best answer I can give is that we're on the way.
The tech definitely has some bugs to work out. We've seen VR headsets come a long way in terms of comfort and design, but there is still an evolution happening to make the form factor more comfortable and easy to use.
The Webex Hologram is a great example of pushing the boundaries of what comes next in the world of collaboration. Will this be the future of meetings? There's probably some truth in this becoming the norm at some point in our lives. Cisco has done a great job pushing the boundaries in terms of future collaboration and the human experience. In the meantime, the tech is exciting and Cisco is making sure it isn't in a galaxy so far away.