Introduction

The current pandemic situation has created a huge impact on our lifestyle, especially our official life. We are forced to work from home for a very long time where the environment is very closed and small. Even though we can connect to our teams through Zoom, Hangouts or phone calls, this way of communication is far different from the way we interact with them in the office. In the office we can freely move around, meet people, have casual or formal conversations, attend meetings etc. Hence people working from home will psychologically miss their office environment.

This understanding motivated us to build a platform where people can do everything that they were doing in the office like, having a walkthrough, meeting team members, attending/conducting meetings/events, workplace fun etc.

LAPUTA - Online Collaborative Platform

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Infinity 2021 In Laputa

Here in Imaginea, we have used this platform for conducting the tech fest “Infinity” 2021. This virtual platform named LAPUTA consists of an open space with many stalls. Each stall exhibits multimedia contents like a video that demonstrates the idea of the respective team and banner images to help promote those ideas. The stalls also have been linked to individual Zoom meeting rooms, where people can use it for deeper discussions with the respective team members.

The main idea is, people who are presenting their innovations can enter this space and walk to their booths by controlling their avatars and wait for the visitors. Other people who are entering the space as visitors can walk to different stalls, see the demo videos and images, interact with the teams through the chat and if they want to have a deep discussion, they can have a zoom meeting by clicking the zoom button. If the visitors like the team’s idea, they can vote for that team by clicking the voting button.

Design to improve the experience

Gestures to communicate the emotions
As this is a collaborative platform, people need to convey their emotions quickly and effectively to others. For example, in real time if we meet our friends or colleagues anywhere, we’ll quickly wave our hands saying “Hi” or if any one does a good job, we’ll clap our hands to appreciate. To achieve this sort of communication, there are few buttons on HUD mapped to different gestures which helps us in communicating our emotions quickly. The following are the gestures that are used in this platform
Waving single hand or both hands
Clapping hands to appreciate the team members
Bow to thank others
To have a fun element in the experience the people can dance using their avatars

Teleport quickly to the destination
People who are entering the space are initially placed in the lobby, where team names are listed in the sign board. The visitors can simply walk to the stall which belongs to the team by controlling the Avatar using a keyboard or can teleport to the respective stall by clicking the team name. This teleport feature helps the visitors to travel quickly to the stall instead of spending more time walking towards the stall.

Font visibility in virtual space
Each stall has a name board that mentions the name of the team. As the font size is too small, the visitors who are far away are not able to see the team names. If the font size is increased, the name cannot be accommodated within the board. Hence there is always a necessity to display the team name bigger so that the distant visitors can notice the location of the stalls and navigate accordingly.

Channels for Chat
As mentioned earlier, each stall consists of a video and images demonstrating the innovation. In addition to them, to have sample Q&A with the team members, the chat feature is enabled. To have these chat conversations within the scope of the particular team, Channels are created in the name of the same. These channels are enabled and disabled automatically based on the distance of the visitor from the stalls. In other words, when a visitor is near a stall, the channel of the particular stall is enabled and other channels are disabled because other channels are not necessary at that point.

Volume based on the distance
As this tech fest event consists of many video elements placed in different locations. It leads to a very bad experience if a visitor is able to hear the audio of all the video elements at all the time. To improve the experience, the volume of each video is mapped to the distance of the local visitor. For example, the volume of the nearest video is made maximum and the volume is made zero in the reverse case.

Fun Elements
In addition to the dance gesture, the following are the interactions that are used to contributes more as a fun element

  • The visitors can interact with the objects in the refreshment corner like, interacting with coffee vending machines and cups etc.
  • The visitors can also sit on the chairs that are placed in the virtual space.

Tools Used
The overall collaborative platform is built using Unity 3D and Photon Engine (PUN and Chat)

Future Work
This platform can be scaled to have more and more people,
This can also be integrated with VR platforms like Oculus Quest, Rift, GO and even mobile platforms