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Changing the World: Spatial and AR Technology at Work and Home
Digital Workplace

Changing the World: Spatial and AR Technology at Work and Home

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15 minutes read time
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Published on Mar 20th, 2024
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Written by Alan Lepofsky

In this episode of The Workgrid, Alan Lepofsky, Head of Marketing at Mobeus, shares his expertise in productivity, communication, and collaboration. He discusses the transformative power of Augmented Reality (AR) and spatial computing in the workplace and at home. Alan provides insights into how these technologies are revolutionizing work environments and processes, showcasing practical examples across industries. Additionally, he offers future trends in workplace technology.

In this episode you will learn:  

  • The fundamentals of Augmented Reality (AR) and spatial computing and their role in the modern workplace and beyond.  

  • How AR and spatial computing are revolutionizing traditional work environments and processes, with a demo of practical examples of AR and spatial computing applications across various industries. 

  • Insights into the future trends of workplace technology from a leading expert in the field. 

Let's dive in!

Hey Alan, welcome to the Workgrid Podcast! Before we get started, I think it would be great for our listeners to get to know you a bit better. Could you share a little about yourself and what you've been working on recently? 

My name is Alan Lepofsky and I have been working in the collaboration software industry since the mid-90s. Throughout my career, I have focused on helping employees collaborate, be productive, and work effectively in teams. I am proud to represent Canada, both in my personal life and online. 

In the past, I worked as an industry analyst at Constellation Research, specifically covering the collaboration world under the guidance of Ray Wong. After that, I spent three years at Salesforce, where I was a part of the marketing and community team. Currently, I am working at a startup called Mobeus, where we are dedicated to creating immersive and interactive experiences for people. Our goal is to provide these experiences without the need for additional hardware such as headsets or gloves. We aim to make it easier for individuals to become a part of these experiences, offering a more accessible alternative to other options available in the market. 

Alan, I wanted to ask you about the incredible changes in workplace technology that you've witnessed over the past 5 to 7 years. As we met at Constellation Research a few years ago, you have a unique perspective on this topic. Can you share some of the significant hallmarks or measures that you've observed? What changes have been particularly pertinent or top of mind for people? 

That's a fantastic question! We love discussing the future of work. When it comes to the workplace, there is often a lot of status quo, but it's important to consider the audience we're talking to. Different people have different levels of adoption when it comes to new technologies and trends. For those of us in the tech bubble, we tend to be at the forefront of these changes, but not everyone is in the same boat. Many people have stayed in the status quo for years. 

Let's focus on the tech enthusiasts, as they are the ones who will be most interested in this conversation. There are three major categories of changes that have occurred in recent years.

  1. First, the shift from working in the office to working from home and back again has had a significant impact. This has affected the tools, apps, hardware, and home setups we use for work. 

  2. Second, there has been a dramatic increase in video consumption. Whether it's for work-related meetings or connecting with friends and family, we are spending more time online and using video as a primary means of communication. This shift has both positive and negative aspects, as it raises questions about authenticity and the tools we use to connect. 

  3. Lastly, we cannot ignore the impact of artificial intelligence (AI). While it may be overhyped in some circles, AI is starting to play a role in various industries and job functions. Whether it's sales, marketing, creative content creation, or data analysis, AI is becoming a part of our toolset and augmenting our capabilities. 

It's important to note that while some organizations may not have experienced significant changes outside of their work dynamic, leveraging technology can still have a positive impact on individual roles, teams, organizations, and society as a whole. However, we must also be mindful of not losing sight of our humanity in the pursuit of automation and efficiency. It's crucial to find a balance between leveraging technology and maintaining personal connections and emotions in our work. 

That's a great point. Despite having an abundance of technology, it often feels like we are working through the technology instead of using it to work for us. It's important to find a more humane way of utilizing technology. When I first saw Mobeus, it immediately sparked ideas in my mind about how it could revolutionize the way users interact with technology in a more humane manner. How has Mobeus started to transform the user's relationship with technology? 

Thank you for that you know lead up I'm glad you know your initial reaction was a positive one we have so enjoyed showing people what we're doing and we can show your audience in just a few minutes. But yeah, the founders, Richie Etwaru and Mike Sutcliff, embarked on a mission to build Mobeus, a company that prioritizes human connections. Our tagline, which still holds true today, emphasizes our commitment to leveraging technology to enhance our lives. Our focus spans various areas, such as combating loneliness among the elderly, fostering better connections between employees and customers, facilitating effective presentations, and improving interactions between teachers and students. By infusing live human presence into these aspects, we strive to elevate online sales and reintroduce humanity into technology-driven experiences. This driving force has guided everything we do, and it has been an incredibly rewarding journey. If you would like, I can proceed to showcase a few examples or spend a couple of minutes elaborating further. 

Yeah, I think that'd be great I think I listeners would love to see some of the advancements you folks have made.

The following is the transcript from the above video. For the full demo experience press play.

Alright, let's see. I believe I can do it. I have screen sharing capabilities. I'm going to choose my desktop. We'll just do a quick demo here. What I'm going to show you is the most standard kind of thing that people do for a presentation, PowerPoint. Like 99% of the PowerPoint presentations you watch on a daily basis, you are now hearing my voice but I'm coming from behind the content. We were having a nice conversation, we had a video, I went to full screen mode and you lose me. 

At Mobeus, we allow you to put your presence directly into anything that you're sharing on screen. It's not just PowerPoint, it's any website, any application. We're not a plugin or an API, we're a layer that runs on your computer's desktop on Windows or Mac. So anything you are showing on screen, we can make you transparent behind it. Now, instead of just presenting slides and talking about numbers, I can literally point to the information I'm talking about. It brings the content to life and allows you to see my eyes, hand gestures, and facial expressions. This leads to improved comprehension, better feedback, and better audience connection. 

We have a lightboard feature where you can draw on things without going out of context to a whiteboard. You can easily draw or type on anything. We're trying to inject humanity into your presentations, improve comprehension, and make them more engaging. 

We also use artificial intelligence for object detection on the screen. We can make objects stand out and make the content shine. Additionally, instead of being full screen, I can make myself into a small circle called teleports. I can inject myself into any piece of content on screen and change the transparency. This makes the presentation immersive, interactive, and natural. It's a different experience compared to any other presentation. 

We're also solving the issue of asynchronous collaboration with our technology called beams. It allows you to connect with your co-workers and bring them into the meeting. It's not just sharing a video, it's making people interactive components of the meeting. You can have a library of experts with you in every single meeting. Throughout the course of the meeting, you can access short clips of experts on various topics. This enables every expert in your organization to be available for every meeting they need to be in. 

These three features, telepresence inside your content, the lightboard, and the ability to inject people into content, are how we're changing and infusing humanity into meetings. 

I love that there are multiple layers of interaction and presentation in this approach. It adds a more human touch to how information is displayed and shared. The potential use cases are immense. For example, in my previous sales experience, it would have been great to have the ability to easily access and share various assets related to architecture and security, rather than just sending PDFs. Having collateral like snippets from our head of security or risk compliance would have made conversations feel more personal and engaging. It's a refreshing change from the usual experience of simply passing over collateral after a meeting. 

Absolutely, being able to have your executive team scale to attend each and every meeting across your organization is crucial, especially during a merger and acquisition. This allows them to connect with clients and answer any questions they may have regarding the merger and acquisition. One of the most wonderful use cases for HR onboarding is that it helps new employees feel engaged and connected with their colleagues. The potential of this technology is limitless, as it can be applied to various scenarios. For instance, on an e-commerce shopping site, having expertise for every product can greatly enhance the customer experience. Overall, working on such projects is both exciting and enjoyable. 

Yeah, it must feel boundless because there are ex applications and CX applications. This is an incredibly novel tech. What are you seeing in terms of some of the use cases, both historical and classical, which are getting upgraded through spatial technology? And what about the novel uses that are really bleeding edge? 

Great question! You mentioned the term "spatial computing" and I think it's important to understand where we're headed with virtual environments, augmented environments, and spatial computing. If this is a new concept for you, think about what Meta has been doing in the metaverse or what Apple has achieved with Apple Vision Pro. So, let's dive into what spatial computing actually means. 

At its core, spatial computing allows you to be fully immersed in your environment. It enables you to place objects in specific areas and have them stay there. In practical terms, it means leveraging the z-axis depth on your computer screen. Operating systems, whether it's Apple or Windows, have remained relatively unchanged since the early 80s. We still have rectangular windows that we drag around, minimize, and maximize. However, with spatial computing, we're adding layers of transparency that allow you to see people, content, and control them in a more three-dimensional way. This depth on your screen enables you to consume more information easily, without constantly switching between applications or opening and closing multiple windows. 

So, what are the practical applications of spatial computing? Well, our goal is to provide people with access to information in context, without the need to constantly switch between screens or applications. Imagine being a doctor, lawyer, sales representative, or student and having the information you need right at your fingertips. For example, during our conversation, I could have my meeting notes transparently layered on top of the screen, giving me access to more information without it being visible to the audience. This kind of augmented information empowers individuals and helps them feel more confident and successful. It's not just about productivity; it's also about building confidence, trust, and authenticity, which ultimately benefits both the individual and the organization they work for. Even small improvements in this area can have a monumental impact on the technology we have today. 

In summary, spatial computing allows for a more immersive and efficient way of interacting with information. It eliminates the need for constant switching between screens and applications, providing users with a superpower of accessing the right information at the right time. This not only improves productivity but also boosts confidence and overall performance. 

and you're not having to wear a headset 

No headset. Now, I have an Oculus floating around behind me. I'm not against VR entirely, as every tool has its place. Just like a painter, a craftsman, or a race car driver, different tools serve different purposes. I enjoy putting on my VR headset and immersing myself in a three-dimensional world for relaxation. It's like doing 15 minutes of yoga and finding peace as the world disappears around me. However, when it comes to work, VR headsets become cumbersome after a while. The battery life is poor, they are expensive, and they are limited to specific devices. For example, if I have an Oculus and you have an Apple Vision Pro, we cannot meet in the metaverse together. The barriers to entry are significant. While I find virtual reality interesting, augmented reality feels more natural and engaging. If we can achieve a similar level of immersion without the burden, cost, or strain, it would be a game-changer. That's exactly what we aim to do. 

Today, I haven't shown you our ability to use your hands and body as interactive controls. You saw me being transparent on the screen, but we also have technology that allows you to interact, touch, rotate a phone, explode an object, examine a DNA strand, or move data around on the screen just by using your body. Apple Vision Pro is doing impressive work with eye tracking, which deserves recognition. However, the $4,000 price tag is justified by the advanced features that directly monitor your pupil movement. Nevertheless, within the first two weeks of its release, people have already expressed how tiresome it is for their eyes to replace the mouse. We believe that a more natural way for our bodies to interact with keyboards, mice, headsets, and hands is essential. Those who have seen our technology often compare it to the futuristic interfaces in movies like "Minority Report" or "Iron Man," where Tom Cruise and Tony Stark effortlessly manipulate objects. This is just the beginning of where technology is heading. I have no doubt that in the future, between tomorrow and the next 20 years, our children's generation will use computers in ways that are different from how we do now. It's exciting to be a part of building that future. 

I mean there must be tremendous application on B2C education creativity what are some of your thoughts on that? 

Audience, I swear I didn't set him up for this, but Rob, you mentioned my favorite word: creativity. It has been near and dear to my heart ever since I was an industry analyst. I give full credit to the work I did with Adobe as a collaboration analyst, working with IBM, Microsoft, Google, Slack, and others. Creativity wasn't a big part of it until I started working in the Adobe world. I was so inspired by their audience, their tools, the company's goal, and their vision. Creativity is the most powerful thing we can have. It's where innovation and solutions come from. 

While our tools promise increased productivity, saving time on searching and email, we haven't seen much of that in the last 20 years. People are still working the same hours, if not more. However, these tools can lead us to creativity, new ways to interact, visualize data with AI, and generate information. I'm particularly excited about the generative AI boom happening right now, whether it's text, image, or video generation. It allows the majority of people to express what's been in their minds without the need for specialized skills. 

I don't believe these tools will replace professional writers, editors, artists, or movie directors. However, they will enable laypeople to get closer to their dreams. For example, a few years ago, I flew a drone along a cliff and captured cinematic footage that previously would have required a film crew, helicopter, and post-production team. Now, imagine what these generative AI tools can do for someone with a creative notion in their mind. They can get you 50% or 75% of the way there, although not 100% for major business cases. 

As a marketing person, I haven't completely replaced my content creation with AI, but I have used it to brainstorm words, improve writing, and create images for social media. Most of my LinkedIn and social media posts incorporate generative AI to grab people's attention. However, it's the potential of creativity that excites me the most. These tools can help us solve known problems in fields like medicine, hunger, and politics. But they can also help us solve problems we can't even imagine yet. What will our children create that we haven't dreamed of? How will these tools assist them? Just like Tony Stark visualizing things in Iron Man, these tools can help us look at things from different perspectives. 

Children draw naturally, but at some point, many of us stop due to lack of confidence. We think we're not good enough artists or singers. These barriers hold us back. What if we could eliminate those barriers and allow our creative minds to continue flourishing? Imagine drawing throughout your professional career. That's what excites me the most.  

That's amazing! I love it, love it, Alan. Considering the current state of spatial technology and Apple's clear stance on it, let's look ahead to the workplace. We've discussed the challenges of digital friction and attention management, constantly switching between tasks. Shockingly, recent statistics suggest that an individual knowledge worker can make up to 123,000 contacts per day, which is both excessive and overwhelming. When you reflect on your own time management, it's likely that a significant portion is spent on this back-and-forth communication. How do you envision spatial computing addressing this issue and potentially freeing up some time, without the need for a headset? 

That's exactly how we work. My point is that spatial computing has the potential to enable us to pay more attention. We won't have to look away or at a second screen. We won't need to alt-tab. Information will be displayed in a way that allows us to see transparent layers of information. This concept is often depicted in sci-fi shows, from Star Wars to Star Trek to The Expanse, where holographic interfaces and easily accessible information are commonplace. We are moving towards that future, but we are also learning about the challenges, especially in terms of accessibility. 

Currently, we already have screen readers and accessibility features for two-dimensional spaces and applications. For example, closed captioning has been incredibly powerful for those who are hearing impaired. In video conferencing, many people prefer to be at home because they can't always understand what someone is saying in real life. Unfortunately, captions don't float above us in the real world. However, there are some exciting technologies, like glasses, that can provide that experience. But for most people, that's not the case. 

I envision a world where everyone has access to the information they need, whether it's related to sight, hearing, or just general data. For instance, if I'm speaking to you, AI should be able to retrieve information like the last time you and Alan saw each other in person or display a picture from a Google photo search. Imagine having access to your latest Twitter posts or other relevant information. Our collaboration tools are far from where they could be. They only provide us with 1% of what we actually need. Throughout the workday, there are countless moments where we wish the tools could have done something different. The potential for improvement is incredibly exciting. 

Spatial computing, artificial intelligence, and other emerging technologies will play a significant role in this transformation. We can expect holograms, transparent screens, flexible screens, and even portable screens that offer privacy and security. DNA-based information will also become more secure and inaccessible to others. We are currently at the forefront of technology, where boundaries are being pushed. 

So, what exactly is spatial computing? It's the ability to leverage depth and an extra dimension of space to place information where we need it, in the context of the moment we're in. While we have made progress with AI summarization and suggestions, we still have a long way to go in terms of providing contextual information at the right time. Currently, we can reactively summarize information or request specific details, but we lack proactive information delivery. This is something we are actively working on at Mobeus, leveraging technology to understand the context of the moment and provide you with the information you need, whether it's at your fingertips or within your line of sight. We need a more modern phrase than 'at your fingertips,' perhaps 'at your eyesight' would be more appropriate." 

I couldn't agree more that addressing the challenge of guiding attention to the right information and actions when needed is crucial. At Workgrid, we are focused on finding solutions for this problem. Your example of Jarvis and Iron Man, as well as Star Trek, perfectly illustrates the ideal scenario where technology seamlessly assists without getting in the way. In our usual workday experience, however, technology often becomes a barrier that we have to navigate through. Our goal is to create an ever-present enabler that assists at the right moment, while still allowing individuals to be the center of the story. 

Well what you guys do so well at Workgrid is kind of remove that barrier to even having to know what application you're looking at with integrations bringing things together. We haven't achieved it fully yet, we still turn on our operating system and click on the app that we want to use, whether it's a chat client or an email client or a web browser. We still have things that are siloed but we are moving away from that to the point where it's just going to be one like it's you just need the OS. You really don't need to know what the app is you just need the OS and new versions of UIs, new versions of UX, new versions of integration and APIs are going to make the traditional way we know of using computers, since the early days of Windows, icon, mouse, and pointer, you know it's going to make those things hopefully go away.

While we haven't fully achieved this goal yet, we are making significant progress. Instead of having to navigate through various siloed applications, our aim is to simplify the process to the point where all you need is the operating system. In this future state, you won't need to know the specific app you're using; the OS, along with new versions of UIs, UX, integrations, and APIs, will revolutionize the traditional computer experience we've known since the early days of Windows. This evolution will hopefully eliminate the need for icons, mice, and pointers.  

Alan, I always like to ask a couple of fun questions to my guests. One of my favorites is: What advice would you give your younger self? If you could go back to your early 20s, what would you say? 

Oh boy, okay. When reflecting on my younger self, I realize that I didn't have the work advice I needed for my childhood or my 20s. Looking back, I think I may have been too passive in my early career. By passive, I don't mean lacking confidence or being arrogant, but rather not standing out as much as I could have. I observed others taking actions to distinguish themselves, and I wish I had done the same. So, if I were to give advice to a 20-year-old starting out, I would say to be proud and confident in what you do. Perhaps I should emphasize being more confident rather than more aggressive. Looking back, there are a few instances where I wish I had pushed things further or taken more chances. It might just be my personality, but I'm content with where I am now. However, I believe that if I had taken more risks, my career path could have taken different directions. 

That's great advice. What is the last best book you've read non-fiction or fiction? 

I would like to apologize to the audience. As a parent of a nine-year-old and a six-year-old, most of the books I read are children's books. However, from a business perspective, there is one book that stands out - 'Boundless' by Val Afar and Henry King. This book explores the concept of blending technology and culture, emphasizing the importance of community, partnerships, and ecosystems for organizational success. Both authors are part of the Salesforce ecosystem, a company that values its community and the ecosystem surrounding it. This resonates with my experience at Salesforce and my early days at IBM Lotus, where community played a crucial role. I highly recommend 'Boundless' to anyone interested in understanding how to integrate culture, technology, partnerships, and ecosystems to drive success. 

I'm going to have to pick that up.  You know it's funny I've had two colleagues mention it in the last month or so it's like okay that's a sign to go pick it up... 

Both authors are truly remarkable individuals, and their unique personalities shine through in their writing. I must confess that I am acquainted with the authors, but I have also read numerous business books by authors I have never met. Therefore, I cannot say for certain if this holds true for all authors. However, when I delve into "Boundless," I feel a deep connection as if Val is personally speaking to me. Perhaps, this is the reason why I resonate so closely with the book. Overall, it is an exceptional read that I highly recommend. 

Alan, you know what this has been fantastic really appreciate you coming on the show sharing Mobeus at story where can folks go to learn a bit more? 

Absolutely! If you visit Mobeus (mobeus.com) or Airglass (airglass.com), you can learn more about them. I'm online on all the traditional social media platforms, usually under the username AlanLepo. I'm always happy to connect on LinkedIn and expand my network. I gave a pitch about the importance of expanding networks and building communities, so I believe I should practice what I preach. I would love to meet those of you that I haven't interacted with yet. Rob, I really appreciate this opportunity to speak to your audience. Congratulations on all the great work you're doing, not only on the podcast but also at Workgrid. It will be interesting to see how we can combine our technologies and change the world. 

To learn more about Mobeus and their contributions to human connections, productivity, and creativity, visit their website at https://mobeus.com/.

This blog was adapted from The Workgrid, a podcast about the digital workplace, technology, and everything in between. For the complete episode, please visit: Changing the World: Spatial and AR Technology at Work and Home

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