Friday, June 21, 2024

Canon Takes Its First Step Into Consumer VR Software with Kokomo

First unveiled at CES 2022 early last year, Canon has now taken its first step into consumer VR software with Kokomo, its fledgling social VR platform. Compared to more full-featured collaboration apps, Kokomo isn’t there yet, but it’s a start in a new direction for Canon, which up until now has been mostly focused on XR hardware aimed at enterprise.

The Japanese optics and imaging giant announced that early access to its Kokomo social collaboration software for Quest 2 is now available in beta in the US and Canada.

If you didn’t hear about it at CES 2023 back in January where it had a pretty big outing, here’s how it works: you first use a mobile companion app to scan your face while making several expressions to generate a model of your head. Combined with the camera on your phone, you invite a friend to jump into Kokomo’s social VR environment where your avatar is essentially a mixed reality projection of you, replete with that face scan you did earlier to cover where the Quest 2 would normally obscure your eyes.

Realistically, the app still needs a lot of work. There are only a few virtual environments, which although plush, are simple backgrounds without much utility beyond looking nice. Moreover, the face scanning and projection on the mixed reality avatar feels a little too uncanny to give that face-to-face vibe the Japanese tech giant is going for right now. The fail state of Kokomo’s headset replacement is pretty funny too, as your mug can sometimes end up pasted awkwardly in mid-air.

Kokomo failing to position a face scan correctly | Image courtesy TechCrunch

Granted, it’s still in open beta, so we’re hoping to see some improvements in the near term before considering it over professional collaboration apps like Meta’s Horizon WorkroomsSpatial or Immersed.

And why Canon? The Japan-based company accounts for nearly half of all global camera sales, putting it in a good position to look for ways to integrate its high-quality optics in service of metaverse immersion. For now, it’s far from the most functional social collaboration tool we’ve seen, although the company’s commitment to sidestepping some of the inherent weirdness of avatars today (Zuckerberg has fake legs for you) by using what you already have in your pocket may show some real results with time.

Contrasted with something like Google’s Project Starline, which provides a stereo correct 3D chatting experience thanks to its host of sensors, light-field display, spatial audio, and computer vision—more akin to a telephone booth from the future—Canon’s Kokomo certainly takes accessibility to heart.

On the flipside, Canon has a number of XR devices which are largely focused on the Japanese enterprise market. Its most recent MREAL mixed reality headset is still very expensive—think 10s of thousands of dollars—making Kokomo the first step in an entirely new direction for the company.

We’ll be checking in on Kokomo as it progresses in the coming months. In the meantime, you can try it out for yourself by downloading the free app on Quest’s App Lab, and free companion app for either Android or iOS device.


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