Claudia Kiani is Co-Founder and Managing Director of Omnia360. The agency offers solutions for businesses based on 360° and 3D reality capture. Claudia explains why companies need to stop sleeping on immersive technologies, and how they will become accessible on a mass scale
What fascinates you about immersive technologies?
Four years ago, I co-founded Omnia360, an agency focused on reality capture solutions. In other words, making physical places virtually experienceable, from corporate buildings to trade fair booths. Over the past few years, we have implemented projects for a wide variety of target groups. We don't have a single-industry focus, but rather a technology focus: Our customers and project partners are super diversified, and that's what makes the work so interesting. It allows us to immerse ourselves in many different industries, get to know different problems and just observe. And now, thanks to Corona, interest in immersive solutions has increased significantly. It’s palpable and very exciting. There is suddenly a greater openness towards new technological avenues.
What are the next steps for this field?
Companies like Facebook are already starting to move into the VR area. But we need more applications, more exciting use cases. More companies need to realize that VR solutions can help them to confront real problems. But especially here in Germany, there’s a lot of fear in people’s minds when it comes to new technologies. We shouldn't spend so much time talking about our fears, but rather about the potential advantages. And we should try not to mystify the whole thing, but create strong use cases to show how we can advance the technology to the next step. There are already some great pioneer projects that are making people want to try this out. Last year, at the height of Corona, there was a project developed by the Staatstheater Augsburg. They wanted to stream shows on 360° video using VR goggles, but so few people had them at home. So they organized a delivery service: They had the glasses sent directly to the patrons’ homes, and at the end of the performance they would take them back and disinfect them for further use. Projects like this help the entire industry enormously by making the equipment more accessible and getting the idea of immersive technology into people's heads, so to speak.
The term 'Immersive Technologies' covers a range of different technologies which provide you with the experience of being immersed in, or enable you to view or interact with simulated objects and environments. These range from 360-degree photography and video to Virtual and Augmented Reality.
Virtual Reality: Interactive 3D models of digitized environments and simulated spaces. You can engage with experiences through a range of low to high-cost virtual reality headsets. Enable students to explore or test practical skills and decision making within imagined, simulated or inaccessible locations.
360° Video: A video recording in every direction at the same time. The audience can choose which angle they view the video from at any given moment using interactions from a virtual reality headset, purpose-built project screen, computer or mobile device.
Which industries can benefit from these tools?
Immersive technologies have a huge variety of uses. It’s a pity that in many people's minds, this topic is still pigeonholed in the gaming area. Many of the aspects that make these tools interesting in entertainment can also be transferred to other industries. In the field of medicine and therapy, for example, more and more research projects are starting to arise. For instance, people are investigating how VR can be used to combat phobias, helping people face their fears in a protected environment. It's amazing how well that works – I have a bit of a fear of heights, so I have tried this kind of therapy myself. I had to walk on a beam that was just lying on the floor, but with the goggles on it felt like balancing myself over a huge height, between skyscrapers. I felt an abyss under my feet, and I was drenched in sweat.
Can this tech facilitate other aspects of personal development, and even interpersonal relations?
Absolutely. In the area of corporate training, there are empathy training programs that use VR to put employees in different scenarios. They simulate feedback conversations or layoffs, switching from the role of a rejected applicant or terminated employee to the position of leading the conversation. This helps people learn how to conduct themselves more personably, and how to show understanding and support. There’s also a lot of potential in the area of remote collaboration. Imagine what it would be like if, instead of just logging into a meeting from a laptop in our bedrooms, we could all put on a pair of glasses and meet in a virtual meeting room. Suddenly, we would not be surrounded by separate environments, but we could work together in a common space.
So in the future, we will all have VR glasses at home.
Things will definitely go in that direction. But it won’t be in the form we know today, these clunky, fat black goggles. Smart glasses will be smaller, lighter, suited for everyday use. They will use a combination of VR and AR, and they will be cheaper.
Will immersive technologies change society?
The benefits speak for themselves. Most of the media we use now convey a vicarious experience, all we have are screens to look at. With immersive technology, we can interact much more with the content and experience it with all our senses. Furthermore, there are simply too many areas in which we can profit from it. Be it in training, education, but also prototyping, modeling, marketing and sales, this technology can change corporate history. For instance, we have the climate crisis breathing down our necks, so the issue of reducing travel presents a crucial starting point to bridge distances digitally. Even after Corona, we will need alternatives to flying to every trade fair, every meeting; and if you have one video conference after another all day long, it gets quite tiring. We can create more variety through different media formats, and to do this, we are continuing to develop technologically, hardware-wise, software-wise. All the teething troubles, such as the realism of 3D renderings, are being smoothed out. Perhaps the technology isn’t available on a mass scale yet, but it’s getting better every year.