In development for the past two and a half years, ALAIRA is an innovative way of looking at multiple datasets in one go. It’s fully-immersive, allowing you to physically lean in and pull, grab, rotate and position data anywhere in a virtual 3D space to understand it better.
If you have a HTC Vive or Oculus Rift (or Rift S), you can download the ALAIRA demo – called Public Room – to try for yourself alongside up to 10 other users from around the world, all in real-time. If you have multiple VR headsets, you could even dive in alongside colleagues.
We spoke to Slanted Theory cofounder Laura Smith to find out more about the ALAIRA Public Room experience and find out where the industry is headed.
What is Public Room?
Laura Smith: Public Room is a collaborative virtual environment that contains multiple datasets. We want to show people the power of 3D visualisations, allowing them to play and get their heads around the tech, which is still difficult for many people. You can talk about it as much as you want but people don’t “get” it until they see it.
What data is available for people to test out in it?
At the moment we’ve got a good open data set for people to try out in Public Room. It’s on everything from health to gender equality, employment, happiness scores and carbon emissions.
We’ve set up Earth globes with heat maps and data interaction points that let users click on and drill down into the aforementioned data points from specific countries.
There can be up to 10 users in a room interacting with that data in real-time. You might find that when you enter, somebody is looking at the UK while you’re looking at another country, such as China.
Public Room is live for people to try out now, and we’re looking at releasing the full version in the second quarter of 2020.
Multi-user interaction in VR will be new for many people in business. What are the potential implications of that?
It’s interesting – we thought about the issue of collaboration and collaborative etiquette when we developed ALAIRA.
When people enter Public Room for the first time it’s a normal activity – people grab the controllers and take control to spin the world around and do whatever they want.
Once the novelty wears off they realise – OK, I wouldn’t walk into your office, grab the papers and start throwing them around or going through the drawers in your desk!
You generally have a goal and somebody will ask you to spin a globe to look at data from one country, whereas you may want to look at another. People tend to calm down after the novelty wears off.
What other challenges exist around mixed reality solutions in the enterprise?
I think in general, the industry as a whole is experiencing similar challenges. Now that the hype has come down, people are wondering what they can do with the tech and businesses are learning about this emerging space. They don’t quite understand what they can do with it and where it might fit into their organisation.
When we’re educating about our own product, we’re educating the market as a whole alongside companies like HTC that we work with. They have an enterprise section that’s there to educate businesses about how they can use the tech.
The more we can get out there and demonstrate what its capability is, the more people will realise where it fits into their business flow. We find that the US picks up on this quicker in terms of innovation than the UK, so we want to find the companies here that want to look at the tech and understand its potential.
How do you help businesses understand the ROI of what you do?
I think it’s something that will come in the future. We have to understand what the power of the tech is, but the use cases have to come from people. We need more use cases to demonstrate the potential of that.
Ultimately the tech will speed up time to understanding. We know that by putting things in a visual format, whether that’s VR or AR, people’s understanding is increased. We process information 60,000 times faster when it’s in a visual format rather than text.
Typically when you go out to a country where you can’t speak the language, you use visual cues to try and communicate with somebody and build an understanding.
By using a platform such as ALAIRA, you’re creating a common visual language. You can empower somebody to do their own analytics, look at its trends, and then present it back to somebody at C-Level. These visuals convey far more than 2D counterparts and create a common understanding, enabling users to show the paths they took to find their insight.
We hear from those working in data analysis that they are still struggling to get C-Level executives to understand their findings and the solutions they propose to problems. Sometimes execs don’t necessarily trust proposals that come in and end up doing their own research to corroborate a story.
We believe that with the visual aspect of VR and AR, people will be able to communicate stories easier and literally walk execs through the steps they took to get solutions.
Execs are then able to make quicker decisions and take action without having to wait for programmers to put dashboards around what they’re doing before conducting analysis.
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