Avatars to the rescue: Kelowna company takes on Zoom with virtual reality | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Avatars to the rescue: Kelowna company takes on Zoom with virtual reality

This is one of a dozen virtual meeting rooms where you and coworkers can place your avatars for a virtual meeting.
Image Credit: Submitted/Utopiavr.io
August 31, 2020 - 6:30 PM

Kelowna-based Apex VR Holdings is launching a virtual meeting/social gathering platform that will offer all that Zoom does and much more.

For one thing, you can choose an avatar, use a mouse or touchpad to move it around one of a dozen types of meeting rooms and avoid the “Zoom fatigue” so many people experience having to be on camera all the time.

Or, it can allow for more traditional face-to-face chats.

Called Utopia VR, it’s launching with a dozen public VRooms that include a library, board room, disco, penthouse apartment, village and more. The avatar can walk in, sit at a table and chat with others.

Those public rooms are open to anyone who wants to have a look at the technology. But don’t expect a lot of company right away since they have just announced it.

Businesses or groups of friends can register for meetings or social gatherings in private settings where everyone has a code to log in. It can be accessed from computers, smartphones or virtual reality headsets.

One unique feature is that there is no software to download and take up memory on your devices. This is web based so it’s just a matter of sending a link to other participants.

It can be run like a regular audio or video conference and can import audio, video, animation, 3-D pictures and documents just by dragging them into the room or posting links to things like YouTube.

The basic technology is not all that new. Gray set it up with a small real estate company (EXP Realty) in 2014 that wanted out of bricks and mortar buildings. That company is now worth $3 billion and is in five countries, Gray said.

The technology has been refined and expanded for Utopia VR, and it's specifically designed with phone use in mind.

Gray points out that, using conservative numbers, 50.5 per cent of internet access is now done by phone compared to desktop traffic at 46.5 per cent. Phone use is growing so, he argues, software options – which require adequate memory – are not the wave of the future.

Utopia VR is free for the basic package that’s suitable for meetings of up to 25 people.

Gray expects, by early next year, that enhanced versions will be offered that businesses will pay for. That will allow for larger groups to meet and have extras like a greater selection of avatars, animation and a notification feature so operators can be alerted when someone enters the room.

He’s also exploring advertising opportunities that will help fund the platform but the basic package will remain free.

As for security, Gray said that, while users should always be careful, Utopia VR is based on Mozilla which is known for its security features.

Learn more here.


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