Cool, but Revolutionary?

Image courtesy Varjo

Varjo seems really excited about the Varjo Reality Cloud. Earlier this week the company’s Chief Product Officer teased that it is “probably the biggest announcement ever by Varjo.” But I’m not sure I get the hype. It’s not that the fidelity isn’t great in the proof of concept—I trust the company when they say it will get better—it’s just that I don’t see the major advantage of having virtual meetings in scanned environments, unless the environment itself is specifically of interest. Although you can see the host’s environment, it isn’t like you can interact with it. Beyond a ‘wow this is cool’ factor, I’m not yet convinced of the value.

When I asked Varjo’s executives about this, they brought up a theoretical example where a session could be held near a conveyor belt on a factory floor which has some sort of issue that needs to be diagnosed by remote technicians. Ostensibly you could have someone on the ground at the factory scan the area, then throw on their XR-3 headset so that others joining the meeting could get a look at the conveyor belt issue. But the idea that you’d bring a high-end PC down to the factory floor and hook up your tethered headset in order to facilitate the meeting seems… clunky in practice compared to simply sharing a livestreamed video from a smartphone.

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The company also thinks its Varjo Reality Cloud could have even further reaching implications down the line. Not just for high-end enterprise applications, as Varjo serves now, but also in day to day life.

“We believe that Varjo’s vision for the metaverse will elevate humanity during the next decade more than any other technology in the world,” said Timo Toikkanen, CEO of Varjo. “What we’re building with our vision for the Varjo Reality Cloud will release our physical reality from the laws of physics. The programmable world that once existed only behind our screens can now merge with our surrounding reality—forever changing the choreography of everyday life.”

A decade is surely a long time for Varjo to change my mind, but again, I’m just not quite seeing the paradigm-shifting value that the company does, even in a theoretical future where this tech is available to consumers. Like, it would be great to invite a friend to my virtual home—at least so that we’re in a familiar space—but it isn’t like they could join me on my couch or sip wine poured fresh from the bottle. So why not just meet in one of many synthetic virtual spaces that are already available today?

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  • Jan Hovora
  • kontis

    It’s impressive that small companies are beating the CV/AI giants at their game, but let’s be real. We all know that FB/Google/Apple could release the same thing 5, even 10 years later and there is 99% change they will be more successful in less than a month. And they will also extend to Enterprise, because why not?

    There is also the 99% chance that if this thing is a successful business used by many people it’s because it was acquired by one of those megacorps.

    The enhanced version of winner takes all paradigm in the digital world is quite painful to observe.

    Unfortunately the Tesla story of new independent big player happens very rarely nowadays (and even they were close to be acquired by Google and then Apple).

    • Blaexe

      5 years later? I’m sure all the big companies could release a significantly better version today given the freedom to develop a $5000 headset supported by a high end PC.

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    • Armando__

      To be fair Varjo has 100M funding, not a small company or small startup by any stretch.

    • Lucidfeuer

      Of course they are, giant corporations like those you mention are not “businesses” anymore but speculative funds. Apple made $270B in revenues (from various sources) and yet has a market cap of $2.2T which is almost 8 times their real value. The difference is companies operate on risk based operations (revenues can rise and fall) while investors leeches don’t, and will be paid according to projections without doing any work or producing any real value, even if that means stalling your cash pool (to not lower your valuation), borrowing money to banks (despite having billions in funds) in order to pay investors for a missed results…which is beyond irrational.

      Anyway, to the point: corporations put less and less money into R&D, hiring, active investments (year-over-year growth was somewhere around 30-40% in these categories around 2012, departure of Jobs, and has declined and stagnated between10-15% up to now), they aggressively cut more and more on operating, production and products costs while maintaining prices to rise their margins more and more.

      The results being: these corporation are hands tied while being bled by scum investors parasites, meaning they’re stagnating and slowing down on CR&D, in fact they pretty much either wait for easy “papers” implementation or straight-up steal from smaller companies, and if you add to that more and more kafkaesque administration, hiring and micro-management, you can be sure no new significant tech, or innovation, lest revolution will come from these corporations.

      Which is a good and a bad news: good because these companies have ideally never been so vulnerable to sudden competition (despite the huge barrier of entry and predation on smaller companies due to f*** up legislation and no enforcement), and bad because it is also a testimony of the current unregulated economic situation.

  • Armando__

    Volumetric cameras aren’t able to capture most of the optical properties of the environment. Think of why modern video games have realtime lights and various maps besides a color map: Specular, diffuse, transulcency, refraction, volumetric scattering, emissive surfaces, just a few things in real life not preserved during depth capture. Pretty good to capture a basic room but anything else including humans are going to look off.

    • Lucidfeuer

      They can with some tweaks (for exemple: using polarisers, a research paper used that to capture normals of somewhat flat surfaces).

  • I agree with you, Ben. It looks supercool, but I still don’t get completely the value. Or maybe they have a roadmap we still don’t get completely: reconstructing an environment using the camera stream of the headsets in the room may be part of a patent that will be used by all future XR glasses.