Image: Halfpoint, Getty Images/iStockphoto

Virtual reality (VR) has been in the public eye since 1992’s Lawnmower man; augmented reality (AR) since Pokemon Go. As a working professional, I was always content to have two monitors: One for a word processor and one for web browsing, thank you very much.

Then last week a Kinemagic Stratus arrived on my doorstep.

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The Stratus is a software product that sits atop the Oculus Virtual Reality headset. Think of it a bit like a game for a gaming system like the Nintendo Switch. The Stratus product was originally designed to help envision, model, and walkthrough structures that were difficult to get to, such as an offshore oil rig or refinery. CAD drawings can only do so much. With the right VR, you can actually walk or bend over to see if you will fit into a proposed remodeling space. The product gives force-feedback when you hit a wall or obstacle.

What a team meeting can look like in a Kinemagic Stratus.
Image: Kinemagic

The experience

Using an Oculus isn’t just immersive. For AR, it feels real. After marking off a free area on the floor, a virtual screen and keyboard appeared that I could touch. These looked as real as my desk at this moment. After a few minutes setting up the two-factor authentication, I launched the Stratus application and entered workspaces, from an offshore platform to the stadium above. Stratus remodeled my world as a virtual one, true VR. Other users present as the crash-test-dummy-like person above. The Oculus platform includes an integrated headset, with microphone and speaker, so it felt like Brian Lozes, the CEO, was standing right next to me. The Oculus adjusts to a tilt of the head, movement, or even sitting. Brian tells me that people who easily get motion sickness can be a little uncomfortable with the Oculus, and I can see why.

Clicking my virtual watch, which is actually on my wrist, brings up a collaboration menu, which includes screen captures, the ability to mark components of a drawing, messaging, and note-taking tools.

The Kinemagic collaborative tool.
Image: Kinemagic

The most important new feature of the product may be the ability to take in laser scans. Many organizations simply do not have a CAD drawing of their office, certainly not one that includes laptops and an office couch. For a few thousand dollars a day, a professional laser scan can create an image of what the office actually looks like.

An actual laser scan from an offshore platform.
Image: Kinemagic

Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, this technology only made sense for hard-to-reach areas. Today, that might include the home office.

Getting real

Even if your company is willing to experiment with a product like the Oculus, it’s unlikely the company will start with buying a set of goggles at $400 per person. If the whole team were to get the goggles, the extensive system requirements could be a problem as well. Then there are the permissions to install the application on your system, which could be a problem when tech support is unwilling, or unable, to drop by your house due to a global pandemic. Kinemagic has a few features to make that a little easier.

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First, the company has a personal-computer rendering of the space that does not require a VR headset. When I toured this, the interaction felt a bit like a first-person shooter game, which is still far more realistic than a thread on Slack or an e-mail. The interactions were still real-time, and having the laptop allowed me to switch between the product and a more traditional, fast-typing or programming environment. Second, Kinemagic has a “portable apps” version of its tool, which runs in a single directory and does not require an installation. This can allow you to see and experience the product at least by yourself. The full functionality, which includes interaction with others, licenses, and so on, does require two-factor authentication online. In other words: There is both a sandbox version to explore, and a proper version that will pass muster with IT security.

Returning to normalcy

With high-tech companies like Twitter, Facebook, and Google embracing work from home, other companies may be forced to follow suit. Kinemagic’s Lozes said the company had aggressive sales targets, which were missed when the entire world went on pause due to the coronavirus. Today the sales pipeline is beyond what it was in January, and part of that is due to the new use case for the product, the online office. Instead of travelling, the company can simply mail an Oculus and laptop to a potential customer, then meet and preview the product in a virtual world.

As Bitcoin is not going to displace the dollar any time soon, it is unlikely that we’ll simulate an all-virtual office.

Still, it is nice to have options.