AVATOUR [sic] is a new group collaboration system that allows a remote host to bring virtual teammates, customers and/or workers to the job site for group collaboration. The ‘Host’ is in the physical world using a consumer-grade, 360° camera attached to a selfie stick and an android device. The remote guests, up to 5, join the host using an Oculus Go head-mounted display or desktop/laptop computer or mobile phone, where they share the 360° view broadcast as if they were present. The 360° view IS the room in which the simulation takes place.
Participants see each other as three-dimensional spatial avatars, blended with the live 360° video broadcast by the host. In a sense, the broadcast becomes the “room” in which the simulation takes place for the participants. The host and participants can then communicate in real-time, looking at the same images though they may be distributed around the world. An unlimited number of parties can observe the session, which can be taped and annotated. During a demo earlier today, we felt an extraordinary sense of presence.
AVATOUR was founded by Nokia veterans, Devon Copley (CEO) and Prasad Balasubramanian co-founder (CTO). Over the past two years as they’ve been working with technology originally developed for the $60,000 OZO camera (since discontinued) as Imeve. Imeve provided the technology behind a number of major 360 broadcasts, including Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parades for Verizon and the Champions League playoffs. Their new idea, AVATOUR, was bootstrapped by a remote team of seven, as they provided 360° services to a limited 360 broadcast market they knew would not scale.
For the past ten months, AVATOUR has quietly beta-tested its product. Ninad Athavale, Senior Manager for Global Real Estate and Store Development at GAP, was an early user. “It’s like being there, and it’s a far cry from Facetime or Zoom,” he said. “We’re able to do our business faster, cheaper and better by having visibility on-site in a way that is comprehensive and where we have control over what we’re looking at.” With its launch today, which consists mainly of “calling journalists and buying $500 worth of Google ad words” Copley says the company is ready to scale its sales and engineering teams and is now actively reaching out to VCs.
AVATOUR got a boost from the Corona Crisis as millions of companies were suddenly searching for solutions. A major manufacturer of medical devices, ramping up to support hospitals during the crisis, ordered three “kits,” which consists of an Insta360 One X 360 camera, an Android phone, an Oculus GO all-in-one HMD, and a selfie stick. “We were in a holding pattern with them, with a few internal advocates, but it was an uphill climb.” said Copley. “Then they called for kits to try out, and they wanted them right away.” A week after receiving the first three kits, the company asked for a quote for dozens.
AVATOUR has a number of obvious use cases, architecture, construction, real estate sales, design, and travel, to name a few. The benefits include savings in time, expenses, and travel, as well as a smaller carbon footprint. Spatial telepresence mixed with 360 video. It’s one of those things that seems so obvious and so useful, that you think it’s been done already. Over the next several months the company plans to add features like annotation, giving the local host an MR view, and adding more cross-platform compatibility.
The company is providing free starter kits to new customers and the Oculus Go is one of the few low-cost commercial headsets still available. The AVATOUR platform is available now to qualified companies in the United States, EU, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and China. The hardware/software package starts at US$1190 (€1090, £990, ¥150,000, CNY8,800) for 60 days of service.