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Tour guides come to virtual reality with InstaVR’s ‘guided co-viewing’

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The virtual reality authoring, publishing and analysis company InstaVR Inc. today announced an update to its product that lets publishers guide VR content in real-time and let participants “co-view” it.

This change enhances the platform so that participants can view content at the same time and adds the ability for a single administrator to effect changes to that content in real-time, much in the way that a director, conductor or tour guide would.

InstaVR’s service is a web-based online tool that allows individuals and businesses to create immersive 360-degree video and VR content without the need for special hardware or software locally for rendering and production. The vision of the service is to allow users to create VR experiences without the need for training.

The service can take VR content from numerous sources and stitch it together within its own web-based editing dashboard. Thus, a user could use a 360-degree video camera to shoot a tour of a campus, an outdoor outing or a concert and upload that. The platform also supports 3-D exported model data and assets from major 3-D rendering programs such as Autodesk A360, 3DS Max and Maya, which can be imported and rapidly converted into scenes.

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Once prepared, edited and rendered, the scenes can then be viewed by users using any of the increasing number of mass-market head-mounted VR display devices, including the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Samsung Gear and Google Daydream.

Ordinarily, these VR experiences are individual and occur only within the confines of the VR viewing device. Users can immerse themselves in 360-videos or interact with an advertisement for a car or a house, which can be more compelling than watching a 2-D video screen, but most of these experiences are currently closed off and solitary.

With the addition of “guided co-viewing,” InstaVR experiences can now have a social component that allows multiple viewers to join the experience together. The co-viewers can also use different headsets together; for example, a class could all use Samsung Gear VR headsets and the instructor could use an Oculus Rift. Furthermore, the group need not even be in the same location together, allowing a guide to work from China to give a group scattered across Europe and North America a voiced tour of a 360-degree video of a factory.

“Guided co-viewing [facilitates] real-time collaboration between our VR creators and their users, regardless of geography,” said Daniel Haga, founder and chief executive of InstaVR. He added that the objective of the company is to provide a global audience greater access to VR, and “guided co-viewing takes virtual reality to the next level.”

InstaVR’s update takes the platform’s already low bar for entry – no training needed to produce immersive VR – and adds a collaborative capability that can turn an individual presentation into a guided demonstration. Having a director who can change assets in real-time, pause, answer questions and direct viewers adds to the educational experience.

Businesses and educators have been experimenting with the use of VR for training and in the classroom for decades, but the process has been slow to catch on. The recent boom in cheap, consumer-grade VR headsets such as the Rift and Vive and mobile solutions has led to a rise in these efforts. In June, retail store chain Wal-Mart Stores Inc. announced its own training efforts with STRIVR Labs and August package delivery company United Parcel Service began its own VR training program for drivers.

Outlining its capabilities, InstaVR’s platform was used by students of Professor Maha El Gewely’s Architecture and Urban Design program at German University in Cairo to create an immersive journey through the architecture of the local Cairo area. The U.S. Navy also received the benefits of the service through a project from Left of Creative, a next-gen digital production studio. It used InstaVR to create “Disrupt the Future,” which included 360-degree video from the flight deck of the USS Carl Vinson, a Nimitz-class supercarrier.

Both of those examples could be turned into a guided tour using InstaVR’s co-viewing technology, allowing a guide to enhance the experience with expert commentary or navigation through the apps.

The guided co-viewing capability is being offered as an add-on to InstaVR’s Pro service plan, which starts at $199 per month. The company also offers a free version of its service that is a greatly trimmed-down version of the Pro plan that only works on mobile VR headsets and includes a company watermark in apps.

Image: InstaVR

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