IR2022 Virtual Reality Session Information (in collaboration with TFOM)
In order to explore what the future of meetings may look like (Moss et al. 2021), we are collaborating with The Future of Meetings and will set up a few social sessions for IR 2022 that will take place in a virtual reality environment. We intend to AltspaceVR. You will be able to join with your desktop computer (Windows or Mac), but for the fully immersive experience you will need virtual reality headsets like an Oculus Quest 2 (or a PC-powered VR).
A new Oculus Quest 2 sells for about 350 €. Used ones are available on eBay for 150-200 € and renting companies lend them for 100-150 € for two weeks. If you are interested in joining us in VR, we recommend to purchase or rent a VR headset as soon as possible since delivery times may vary and it is highly recommended to have a couple of days to play with the new hardware.
Since probably not many of you have such headsets, we have secured 1000 € of funding to offer accessibility grants of up to 150 € per attendee for the purchase of a VR headset (you can keep the device after the meeting). The amount that we can spend per person will depend on the number of requests and we will apply equity considerations in the distribution of the money. We recommend purchasing the Oculus Quest 2, as this is a standalone headset that requires no other hardware. However, if you have questions about purchasing or headset choice, please reach out to us! We also have a FAQ below, which we will put online and update in the future.
Please feel free to contact the IR2022 VOC with any questions at the following email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Virtual Reality F.A.Q.
Why virtual reality (VR)? One of the main criticisms of online meetings has been the lack of the serendipitous conversations during social hours that are said to often trigger the most productive collaborations from a conference. Virtual reality is one way to tackle this, providing an immersive environment to interact with people online that is as close as can be achieved to an in person interaction. While this is an obvious advantage, we also feel the benefits of VR into the future extend beyond this application.
With the ability to design any environment, virtual reality has the potential to offer something beyond the in person experience. For example, when describing the samples being gathered by NASA’s Perseverance Rover, why not conduct your talk in the Jezero crater? (e.g. "https://www.mars.gallery/") Or on the surface of asteroid Ryugu, where the Japanese Hayabusa2 mission recently returned samples of rock? (e.g. https://tinyurl.com/yemwesh9)
3D models could also help discuss the structure of giant molecular clouds, a protoplanetary disc, the interior of the Earth, or visualise the optomechanics of a proposed instrument or telescope. There are also features currently being trialled for VR events in the near future, such as automatic subtitling or live translation that would further lower barriers between researchers. Virtual reality therefore has the potential for a new kind of engagement that would be exciting for both research and education.
Like current online meetings, VR also offers accessibility in removing the need for high travel budgets which typically limit the reach of junior researchers, those from less well funded institutes and researchers outside Europe and US where most meetings are held. The cost of a VR headset is a fraction of the price of a plane ticket.
These are some of the reasons why we thought it would be interesting to explore one of the interaction spaces currently used in VR for this meeting.
What is happening at the VR events?The main purpose for the VR sessions is to relax and chat with other conference participants in an environment we hope is fun to explore! When you join the VR event, you’ll find a series of rooms including two displaying posters from the conference and associated presenter videos, and one room with exhibits from recent and upcoming space missions by JAXA. There will also be a short talk on the Wednesday sessions on virtual reality so participants can experience what it might be like to attend talks in VR.
Joining the VR Sessions
Do I need a headset to participate in this event? No! While we offered a subsidy on the purchase of a headset, we have selected a social platform that is accessible both in virtual reality and through a desktop or laptop running Windows or Mac OS. While VR will provide the most immersive experience, you will still be able to interact with people and get a feel for the software from your computer.
Joining the events on AltspaceVR. The VR events will be held on a social platform called AltspaceVR . AltspaceVR can be run on a variety of VR headsets, Windows and Mac computers. It hosts a large number of different events every day ( https://account.altvr.com/events/main ) from lectures, concerts, games and networking events.
All new users will need a Microsoft account to access the platform (AltspaceVR was recently taken over by MS). If you already have a Microsoft account, you should be able to use this to log into AltspaceVR. You can check this by trying to log into AltspaceVR on their website: https://account.altvr.com/users/sign_in
Download the AltspaceVR app from https://altvr.com (big green button at the top of the screen). The Mac version does claim to be a “beta” edition, but seems to work fine when we tested it.
Start the AltspaceVR app either on your computer or headset and log in. On the left-hand menu panel, you should see an option for “enter code”. We will provide a code for our events (similar to a zoom invite, please do not share this publically) and you’ll be able to head into the virtual conference!
It always takes longer than expected to download and log in for the first time. If at all possible, we therefore recommend doing this on Monday before the first VR session on Tuesday.
I cannot log in with my Microsoft account!
We have seen problems with work-based Microsoft accounts (i.e. ones
associated with your institute email address) on AltspaceVR. Our best
workaround is to create a second Microsoft account and use this for
One additional trick is to open your web browser in “incognito” mode, so that it does not automatically try to log you back into your original work Microsoft account.
Loading is slow. The first time you enter the VR event, it can take a little while to load.
This is also true when you visit the other rooms for the first time (e.g.
the poster room or the JAXA room). Once you have visited the first time,
subsequent loads will be faster.
Due to 3D models and videos, the JAXA room can be particularly slow to load on the Oculus Quest 1 VR headset (Quest 2 headsets do not seem to share this problem).
Other problems. Our estimation is that while hopefully most people will effortlessly be able to start AltspaceVR and join the sessions, some will hit unexpected technical issues. This is always immensely frustrating, but it is an inevitable part of spearheading new tech. As a first action, we recommend the old standby of “turn it off and turn it back on”! Here this means completely closing AltspaceVR then logging back in.
If you do encounter difficulties then please let us know on the slack channel, #helpdesk_virtual_reality. We will do our best to sort it out. (And please do not be put off!)
About VR headsets and purchase subsidy
What headset should I buy? At this time, we strongly recommend the “Oculus Quest 2” which currently dominates the home virtual reality scene. The Quest 2 is a powerful standalone headset that does not require you to own a gaming PC to run software. The one caveat is you will need to have a Facebook account (Oculus is owned by Facebook), but setting up a blank dummy account just for the headset use is possible (although a little care has to be taken with purchases).
Note that for the social platforms we are considering, Google Cardboard, Oculus Go and Playstation VR are not compatible. Oculus Rift, Valve Index and the Vive headsets should be fine, provided you have access to a suitable pc to power them.
Do I need a computer capable of supporting VR? No! Assuming you purchase the Oculus Quest, no additional computer is needed. The headset is completely independent and standalone. That said, if you have a PC supported VR and a suitable PC to run it, the event will also be compatible with most PC powered VR headsets and also accessible via desktop pc.
The development of a powerful standalone headset that does not require tethering to a gaming PC has been one of the major changes in the virtual reality scene over the last few years. Aside from making the entry point much cheaper, there are also no cables to trip you up!
What do I do with my headset after the conference? The headset is yours to keep forever! We hope you use it to explore what is possible in virtual reality. The Quest offers a plethora of activities, from social platforms hosting a wide range of talks and experiences from lectures to church services, apps that help you keep fit or learn new skills, and imaginative games from combat to puzzle (anyone remember ‘Myst’? VR is how that game is meant to be played!) played solo, with friends or online.
Do many people become ill in VR? VR sickness used to be a common complaint. Similar to travel sickness, it occurs because your brain thinks you are moving but your body believes it is stationary. The problem was exacerbated in the typical VR experiences available in malls or arcades, which focused on extreme motion to provide a “shock” factor, a little like how the early 3D movies all seemed to involve being kicked in the face by a horse.
We cannot guarantee that you will not feel motion sick. But most people get their “sea legs” within a few short sessions of using VR. For this reason, we do recommend new users try the VR set a few times before the meeting for short periods of time, and use the teleport feature (and other anti-nausea "comfort options") when first using VR. There’s also a lot of tips online for overcoming this issue.