AWE 2021: Campfire Showcases Specialized XR Remote Collaboration Solution
The value of a dedicated holographic collaboration platform
At AWE 2021, Campfire CEO Jay Wright took the stage in-person to discuss the value of his company’s newest platform, an extended reality (XR) solution specifically built for holographic remote collaboration in design and engineering work. Wright immediately started off his talk by establishing a rarely heard angle in the XR space: XR overall is restricted by trying to do too much all at once.
Here’s an example: Remember in 2016 when everyone from Oculus to HTC to Magic Leap to Microsoft were unveiling headsets? What could they do? Well, everything, of course! I saw games frequently highlighted on the first Hololens, a device that cost at least $3,000 (aka way too much for a viable gaming platform). Yet many XR developers came from the video game industry and the influence of culturally significant science fiction like Tron and Ready Player One demanded that they lean into certain directions. This, ironically enough, likely helped initially turn off the enterprise space—which was ultimately where many of these headsets ended up exclusively catering to.
The point is a simple and an old one: When you make something for everyone, you’re really making something for no one in particular. Wright and his company did not want to do that. Campfire is a holographic platform with one goal in mind: remote collaboration.
|The Campfire solution working on various hardware platforms.
(Source: Road to VR)
How Campfire’s Holographic Remote Collaboration Works
What was especially impressive during the Campfire panel was the thoroughness of the solution platform. This isn’t just specialized software, there are notable hardware components, as well. Wright made mention of famous movies (Star Wars) and frequently-seen images showing professionals gathered around a table with a holographic image in the center. He then went on to declare that, while impressive to look at, such solutions were near impossible on hardware like the Magic Leap 2 or HoloLens 2. One of the problems he noted was field of view (FOV)—which was why the Campfire augmented reality (AR) headset has a much larger FOV size than the HoloLens 2 (92 degrees diagonally vs. 54 degrees diagonally).
Wright also highlighted the importance of seeing a person’s face to help understand their intent and emotion during collaboration, so users will be able to see each other’s faces through the headsets. The screen, however, can also be made translucent so that the headset wearer can quickly check their desktop, phone, or other surface for more data. Users can also interact with more than just a headset. In a way, Campfire is hardware agnostic…as it can work on tablets, smartphones, and desktops. For smartphones, users will have access to a Campfire Pack, which is a sensor attachment that fits around the phone and provides an app for interaction and collaboration (with features such as a laser pointer).
Arguably the most interesting component is the Campfire Console, which looks like a large plastic “X” at first glance. This is where the holographic emulation happens. By anchoring the experience, it becomes much easier to track. So long as users have this, everything they do—regardless of where they are—will be collaborated and tracked onto a common holographic display. Wright’s company has even created its own version of Google Docs (Campfire Scenes) to help manage and catalog the shared files.
The Growing Demand for Powerful Remote Collaboration Tools
Our recent Future of Office Survey showed a dramatic rise in hybrid workers. More than that, our data found that not only are more workers remote…they like being remote. Many feel they are more productive, while others prefer the new work/life balance. Regardless of the reason, one thing is clear: They do not want to return to what business was before the pandemic, nor should they have to. Shifting to hybrid has opened a new mindset, one that expands the definition of coworker beyond someone who shares an office space.
In this new normal, it is increasingly expected that we will work “alongside” people in different towns, different cities, different states, different countries—everywhere. This is truly exciting to realize that the potential brain trust is no longer limited by geography. It does, however, create new challenges to overcome.
Let’s look at Zoom—in many ways, a terrific platform that well deserved its meteoric rise in 2020. Zoom does a lot of things, but not always with depth. One of our podcast guests once equated it to a meal of empty calories. Zoom is limited by its nature. It is a great way to put faces together and give a basic level of human interaction, but that’s about it. Can you collaborate using Zoom? Sure, but it’s going to be limited.
For really intense collaboration—the kind needed during the design or engineering processes—Zoom likely will not cut it. The barriers will show, and it will feel like only an imitation of an in-person meeting. Campfire goes beyond this. Not only does this look to replicate the possibilities of an in-person meeting, it improves upon the formula by removing the logistical limitations. Organizations can reduce their investments in central office infrastructure and instead spend that money on skilled employees able to perform their duties from anywhere they wish.
There is a real market for these types of solutions at all levels, which is why we’ve seen so many announcements recently from HP to Xerox to Konica Minolta. The need has been recognized and innovative products are moving to satisfy the market. However, not every solution is setting out to do the exact same thing, nor are they all as powerful or as flexible.
Is Specialized XR the Future?
If I were to ask you what the defining application of the smartphone was, you’d likely have to really think about it. It’s far from obvious. The smartphone does so many things and it does most of them really well. Of course, this was not always the case. The smartphone as we know it has been developing and improving for decades and now it is difficult to imagine life without one.
XR as a broad industry is still in its infancy. It hasn’t had an iPhone 1 moment yet…never mind an iPhone 13. Before the iPhone moved millions, there was the Black Berry: a much more niche device built for a smaller audience and optimized to serve one market well. Campfire is more akin to the Black Berry than the iPhone. It’s not trying to change the world or have a user base of millions. Instead, it is setting out to do one important job well. Is this the short-term future for XR applications? Likely. Much of VR’s success right now has been devices that clearly market themselves to one group of customers and do one thing well (no one buys a PlayStation VR headset for training applications). I believe this focus is crucially important. XR has been too often buried by marketing hype and buzzwords. It’s easy to lose track of what these solutions actually do when way too many people only focus on what they are.
Yes, Campfire’s holographic remote collaboration displays are a pretty cool showcase of modern technology, but that’s not the focus. The focus is on filling a critical need in a hybrid workforce. That’s where it belongs.
|The Campfire hardware lineup. Source: Road to VR|
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