Minnesota companies enter the metaverse

When COVID-19 forced workers to stay at home, companies quickly switched communication strategies to video platforms like Zoom and Microsoft.

But as the pandemic progresses, companies realize that they need to do more than just plan for day-to-day virtualization. Even the factories that remained open had to update the training methods for the people who went to learn about the new equipment.

Enter the metaverse. Companies and organizations in Minnesota have adopted the immersive technology used in gaming to create new materials on top of training and computer-generated environments that look and sound realistic while playing. the way people talk.

Now they’re saying the technology is here to stay and it’s creating more ways to use it — both for employees and consumers.

Experts around the Twin Cities say the metaverse is the next manifestation of how people work and interact with online technology. This follows the introduction of personal computers, mobile internet, mobile phones, and video-tablets, said Amir Berenjian, CEO. of Rem5, a virtual reality studio and development company in St.

For Uponor North America in Apple Valley, the US headquarters of the global plumbing manufacturer, Rem5 Studios created a virtual reality training system that can be used by new employees working remotely and external customers area and visit the company’s unique manufacturing processes, as well as quality control and testing. .

A few years ago, the company sent those workers to the Twin Cities.

“This is better and more cost-effective,” Berenjian said.

Companies like Ford work with VR companies to give their remote designers a chance to work together in real time.

Rem5, also for Uponor, created a high-quality experience that shows 3-D holograms of Uponor products to show how they can be individually integrated into a final product and function, where people can learn about the product, inspecting the components and interacting with it. without carrying the physical part itself. Anyone with an internet-connected mobile device can access the experience from anywhere in the world.

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This technology can change the way companies and organizations interact with customers. Instead of dragging equipment to trade shows or any other business for demonstrations, VR can be added as a way to show how equipment and machines work in the real world.

Using VR headsets

Virtual-reality headsets add a deeper level of 3-D interaction, making the experience more realistic, Berenjian said. Body language, walking in different directions during a conversation, and even turning the head to see where the sound is coming from in the virtual world.

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

“The reason I like to go down that road is to demystify people’s perception that we’re alienating the human connection when we introduce virtual technology,” Berenjian said. “We’re going back and we’re going to go back .”

In using a virtual reality headset, one’s entire visual input is controlled by the application. Everything seems to be computer-enabled, almost eliminating the human ability to multitask like on a phone, even a video call and a person can cook, or washing dishes while talking, says Victoria Interrante, a professor at the University of Minnesota’s Department of Computer Science and Technology.

“It’s a different way of interpreting and interacting with your work,” Interrante said.

However, how common are VR headsets? The price is not the only factor, but also the comfort. Some users experience nausea or dizziness when sitting in the headset for long periods of time.

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“When the technology gets to the point where it’s as good to be in VR as it is to be in the real world, then I think more people will adopt it,” Interrante said.

An avatar company

Not all experiences in the metaverse require virtual-reality headsets. Many can be accessed online on a personal computer or mobile device.

While first-person virtual reality allows the user to see the world through their own eyes, third-person VR is a technique of puppeteering a digital character that represents them.

Rem5 developed a desktop VR project called 1 City, 2 Realities as a diversity and inclusion training tool for employers. When logged into the online program, people can control their avatar to walk through a virtual gallery of stories and photos “that show the racial differences in our state and Minneapolis.” .”

Rem5 has partnered with General Mills and Target to create a virtual experience as part of employee training.

The company also created a similar program that focuses on benefits, Berenjian said.

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

“You’re brainwashed,” he said.

Events in the metaverse have varying levels of involvement in avatar form. A video conference with a large number of attendees can be problematic if there are too many faces in the small squares on the computer screen.

In the metaverse, many people can still get together, but have a one-on-one conversation or a group in the room if their avatars stick together, 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, enhancing it, or making it more flexible.”

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Because immersive technology can make interactions more descriptive, it’s gaining traction in a variety of medical and educational settings. Meeting in the metaverse just for the sake of doing so, however, does not increase access to such technology, Berenjian said.

“We need strong reasons to live in these places,” he said. “It’s new, it fades away.”

Where companies start

If companies feel the need to have a real virtual training facility, then they need to consider how much they should spend. For example, the program uses VR headsets that can be paid for, Berenjian said.

But as the innovators and advocates of Web 3.0, the next iteration of the Internet, push the decentralized system, and democratize, for new technologies, the cost of use will be lower. technology and virtual technology, and possibly free of charge.

“We’re talking about better access to this,” Berenjian said.

At this time, companies must make an effort to find partners who specialize in immersion technology and negotiate prices. Companies like Rem5 aren’t as big in the Twin Cities, but there are local players here and there.

Red Wing Shoes, for example, partnered with Roblox Corp. of California, the creators of the online gaming platform Roblox, to create a virtual experience called Red Wing BuilderTown through its new Builder Exchange Program.

Finally, some of those designs will be made into real-world solutions for those in need through Red Wing’s partnership with Settled, an organization that houses homeless people and small-scale housing. Roblox members can also purchase Red Wing merchandise in the virtual store.

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