Dateline: the virtual reality conference room

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On a recent Friday afternoon, an employee of Fidelity Investments Inc. had the patience to teach me, on a video call, how to use a virtual reality headset made by Facebook. Inc.

The work indeed required patience. I had to stop several times and remove the helmet to avoid nausea. It turns out that motion sickness is not uncommon when wearing the helmet. A friend of mine in California told me that the VR experience she had at a business conference made her throw up.

Virtual reality motion sickness is most likely caused by something called “sensory conflict”, when what you feel in the real world does not match what you feel in the virtual world.

After almost an hour, I finally figured out how to use the right buttons on the handheld controls to connect to my home Wi-Fi network, choose an avatar and navigate through the different apps to a “waiting room”. Virtual. I was happy to take a short break after that to regain my balance in the real world and take a nap on my couch to overcome the dizziness.

A few hours later, I put the headphones back on and I was finally met in the virtual world by Adam Schouela, Head of Emerging Technologies at the Fidelity Center for Applied Technology. His avatar floated in front of me and handed me a cup of coffee. I had briefly forgotten how to use the manual controls to “hold” objects, which caused an uncomfortable chuckle between us.

Then Mr. Schouela asked me to “teleport” to a conference room.

The avatar of Adam Schouela, head of emerging technologies at the Fidelity Center for Applied Technology, floats in the virtual conference room as a film on quantum computing is shown.


Photo:

Fidelity Investments Inc.

I pointed the controller at the conference room, which in the virtual world appeared to be about 30 feet away, and clicked a button that let me jump into space to meet him there- low. I could also have physically walked in the real world, my steps duplicated in cyberspace, but there isn’t enough room in my tiny Brooklyn apartment to do so. (And frankly, I was afraid to get up from my chair with the helmet on for fear of scaring my dog ​​and tripping over anything nearby.)

When I arrived in the conference room, I felt like I was in a corporate office, sitting at a large table in the middle of two Fidelity employees. When one of their avatars spoke, it was even more realistic because the sound was only coming from that area – my right or my left.

At my request, we spent several minutes trying to get a good photo of the three of us in the virtual world. We found ourselves smiling for the photo in the real world, although it made absolutely no sense as it had no correlation with the facial expressions of our avatars.

Next, we watched a short quantum computing video on a screen at the front of the conference room. By then my nausea had subsided, perhaps because I had been wearing the helmet for some time.

Virtual reality does a good job of entertaining by recreating some aspect of real-world interactions with other people. I felt like I had bonded with Mr. Schouela, if only because of the sheer stupidity of the experience. Like some Fidelity employees who took VR training in May, I was happy to escape the monotony of day-to-day work from my living room and endless video calls.

Nothing can replace a real-world conversation with a colleague in front of the office coffee machine. But the virtual world could be a fun and adequate alternative, as long as it doesn’t make you too sick.

Write to Sara Castellanos at [email protected]

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