An end to the days of lightly snoozing during conference calls?

Avatars on VR Education's platform mirror participants’ movements

David Whelan, chief executive, and Sandra Whelan, chief operations officer, VR Education. Photograph: Shane O’Neill

David Whelan, chief executive, and Sandra Whelan, chief operations officer, VR Education. Photograph: Shane O’Neill

 

The days of lightly snoozing, trimming your nails or messily eating a sandwich during a conference call may be coming to an end, if VR Education, the best performer on the Iseq in the first half of 2020, has its way.

The company’s shares more than doubled as home-schooling surged during the pandemic. Now, VRE is using its technology to target companies adopting remote working, training and conferences. Rather than travelling to a single location or dialing into a call, participants strap on a headset or access an app to be virtually placed in the same room.

VRE’s Engage platform allows non-verbal communications via its avatars, which mirror participants’ movements, from shaking hands to drawing on a white-board, and body language. It’s also trickier to simply tune out by switching off the camera during a video call.

“There’s a reason why people go to classrooms, because you see who’s paying attention, you can really interact with people, you can get that eye-contact,” chief executive David Whelan said in an interview earlier this month. Using its technology, “if one of the students falls asleep, you’ll see their avatar will fall asleep, they’ll slouch over the desk.”

VR’s stock rose 100 per cent in the first six months of the year. Though it has since given up some of those gains, the company’s shares are still 60 per cent higher than the pre-Covid 19 outbreak level. Its technology has already been used for medical training at the Royal College of Surgeons and Oxford University, and for communication between Italian doctors. Opportunities may grow as the virus clouds the future of global travel.

“The cancellation of major international conferences and events across all industries forced corporates and educators to search for alternative mediums,” Shane Reilly, an analyst at Davy, said.

Strategic partnership

After hosting a conference for Taiwanese electronic consumer products company HTC this year, VRE entered a strategic partnership for the distribution and licence of the platform, with HTC making an investment of €3 million for 20 per cent ownership.

This month, VRE has signed a memorandum of understanding with Virtual College Limited to provide corporate and health and safety training in the UK and Middle East, and also agreed a multi-year licence agreement with Japan-based English education facility Tokyo Global Gateway.

“Even when coronavirus is eventually done and dusted, the world has really woken-up to how productive people can be from working from home,” Mr Whelan said. “The days of jumping on a plane for an hour long meeting, those days are behind us.” – Bloomberg