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Enterprise and Collaboration App ‘Arthur’ Adds New Avatar System, Speech to Text, and More

Arthur is a virtual collaboration and enterprise offering on the Oculus Quest Platform that lets you and your team feel like you’re in the same space together while enjoying the benefits of a digital office. You can use a free and lightweight Consumer edition with unlimited session time and compelling productivity features for smaller teams that don’t need as much room, while upgrading to the Professional edition gets you Google Drive and Jira integrations, unlimited team size and rooms for near-infinite scalability, and more.

Today, Arthur’s Professional edition introduces audio zones: designated “bubbles” that can be pulled up and placed in a room, effectively muting the conversation that takes place inside the audio zone to anyone outside of it. People in the audio zone also can’t hear what happens outside of the audio zone, unless someone on the outside uses the speaker phone function. Audio zones let people quickly jump into private conversations without putting “physical distance” between themselves and others, going beyond what’s possible in other collaboration technologies or even real life.

The Professional edition is also adding speech to text, which lets you record your voice on personal notes or text labels that turn it into written text. This can help enhance productivity as it frees you up from typing.

Last but not least, both the Professional and Consumer editions have rolled out a new avatar system with more outfit options and personalization, increased photorealism, full faces, lip sync, eye movement, and improved performance.

We sat down with Arthur Technologies Founder & CEO Christoph Fleischmann to learn more.

How did you get your start in the tech industry?

Christoph Fleischmann: My Co-Founder Nik Treiber and I went to high school together and founded an ML startup back in 2011.

The switch to spatial computing came a few years later in 2013, when I worked at the AR company Wikitude. I then moved on to become an early team member of two other VR companies, Mega Particle (the company behind PokerVR) and Inflight-VR. Soon after that, Nik started working in VR as well, and in 2016 Arthur was founded.

What was the inspiration behind Arthur? How, if at all, has the app changed over time?

CF: We always loved meeting with people in the same room. There is a magic and creativity to it that is just not replicable with traditional video-conferencing or 2D collaboration tools—no matter how high-resolution our webcams are. At the same time, if you’re interested in new technologies, you’ll very often find yourself wanting to work with a person who’s at the other end of the world. This tradeoff between finding the best way to work with people and finding the best people to work with was a driving force behind the creation of Arthur.

The idea for holographic meetings itself is not very innovative. Science fiction authors and Hollywood have long described the idea to meet in 3D—the tricky and innovative part is much more how you build such a solution.

We always thought that the best target group for this solution is large enterprises as they feel the most communicational pain. With more office locations, more stakeholders, and more data, the complexity of their internal communications is much more difficult to handle than in a small company. So from Day One, we built a solution that catered to such large enterprises. Only in 2020 did we see that many of the principles with which we built Arthur are also highly relevant for smaller teams that want to communicate and collaborate in a richer and more powerful medium.

How does Arthur differentiate itself from other VR productivity and collaboration apps?

CF: We always thought that VR shines in collaboration when it is about heavy-duty meetings. A casual check-in, that might as well have been an email or a phone call is for us not the most natural fit for VR. Yes, more than 95% of our users say it is more fun to meet in VR either way, but in order to make people truly adopt this new medium, you need to significantly change what they can accomplish through your new solution.

For us this boils down to four elements:

  • Capacity: It is imperative to give people a stable and performant experience, even with a large amount of users and content in a room. We have invested years into optimizing every aspect of our architecture to deliver the most capable and scalable full VR solution. Only once you are truly unbounded by how many people can meet and how much content you can discuss can you fully enjoy the power of VR. Admittedly, we are not there yet. We have recently run tests with 55 fully active VR participants in a single space, with tons of content in their rooms, but we know we can push this a lot further.
  • Flexibility: If you want to empower teams and smoothly integrate into their workflow, you need to allow them to customize the experience to their needs. Without much effort, any user can make the VR space fully their own and create meeting room templates their entire team can reuse.
  • Photorealism of avatars: We are very proud of our new avatar system. It’s a slippery slope to design a VR experience around real-life looking avatars, especially one that is fully plug-and-play for the users. The bar is really high for this to be a net-positive feature and not a distraction, but we managed to get there. With more than 50 facial micro expressions and mouth animations for lip-syncing, we can provide a professional-looking, highly realistic experience that has received outstanding feedback from our beta users.
  • Security: Once we start working on highly important topics, privacy and data security is of the highest priority. We designed Arthur from the ground up with security in mind, allowing us to encrypt all data streams and protect users’ data from any malicious attacks.

What kind of response have you seen from your existing clients and enterprise customers?

CF: The industry really hit an inflection point in the last six months. Adoption has gone through the roof, and we’re seeing long-term retention like never before. We’ll share more customer stories and information about this in the coming months, but the feedback we’re receiving is extremely positive when it comes to how VR can enable teams to get their really complex and important work done faster and better.

Some primary use cases for Arthur include ideation workshops, presentations, team meetings, and project management. How does the experience compare to more traditional formats?

CF: VR allows us to recreate some amazing aspects that we only know from in-person meetings: the feeling of presence, the intense focus, the connection of sharing a common space with your colleagues, and the ability to work simultaneously on a lot of things—but it seems this is just the start. As everything is digital, we can now elevate traditional meeting types and reimagine them with the users having superpowers. VR allows teams to work in settings that are oftentimes completely unfeasible in the real world and also sometimes flat-out impossible.

Did you run into any technical challenges during the course of development? If so, how did you overcome those obstacles?

CF: To run a highly capable and scalable VR solution on a mobile chipset is incredibly difficult. A lot of the principles and design decisions with which we built Athur in the early days back on PC-based platforms had to be rethought and abandoned. While VR development is difficult to get right overall, this balance of visual quality, capacity, and performance was the most challenging part by far.

What can you tell us about your future product roadmap? Anything that users should be on the lookout for?

CF: We have a lot of things on the roadmap—a lot of features related to getting content in and out of the VR spaces, as well as productivity features. We can’t share too much today, but one of the biggest updates will be related to the way our spaces look, feel, and can be used.

How do you think VR and AR will continue to change the ways people do business in the future?

CF: We think VR will become the default solution for collaboration where you need unbounded creativity, high complexity of content, and want to get the absolute best out of your team in the most critical aspects of work. Next to this, it will be the richest medium to connect to your coworkers in an ever-more distributed world, and it will allow us to form strong relationships even if we don’t meet.

So while VR will be the heavy-duty technology, what most people consider AR today will become the ubiquitous way of how we work in the digital world. It is less disruptive to us, can easily blend in to our lives and lifestyles, and will be more powerful than any flat screen interface that we are currently used to.

We think of AR long-term as the always-on hybrid layer of our digital work environment that covers most of our needs. VR will be 1,000 times more potent, as users fully commit to the digital world—but this powerful experience will therefore be used for more select projects or use cases than AR.

What’s next for you? Any exciting updates in the works?

CF: We will have a major announcement on the Professional version of Arthur in the coming months.