Helsinki XR Center 2020 wrap-up – The year of the Pandemic

Feb 24, 2021
HXRC Team

As we have slowly adjusted to the new year of 2021, it is time to take a moment to reminisce how the year 2020 – the second year of our operations – was like for Helsinki XR Center!

One of the Helsinki XR Center team members sitting, showing a peace sign and smiling with mask on

Needless to say, year 2020 was very unusual, as the COVID-19 pandemic emerged across the globe and affected everybody’s businesses. Despite this horrible incident and its various impacts on all of us, we still managed to keep on going and even create some new things along the way!

In this post we are describing shortly what the year 2020 meant for us and what we managed to do in spite of it all. To put it short, during the year of 2020 Helsinki XR Center created our own, brand new virtual venue in AltspaceVR and arranged its first major virtual event there, took part in as many as 33 projects, said welcome to 8 new hub teams, purchased new equipment, published two different series of articles and much more!

Read more about it all below!

 

Research & Development

In 2020 we took part all in all in 33 projects and project preparations with many different universities, companies and other organizations. Collaborators in these projects included Aalto University, Haaga-Helia, Turku University of Applied Sciences, Helsinki University and YLE – Finnish Broadcasting Company, just to mention a few.

Some of these project preparations did go through, some didn’t, and some are still in evaluation. Below you can read more about a couple of the latest active projects from 2020 that Helsinki XR Center is part of.

INSPIRE, A Business Finland Co-Creation project, related to intelligent professional driving. We aim to build new tools and services for professional driving and driving education, and analyze the environment and driver to reduce the cognitive load and increase safety. We are partnering with Tampere University here, and are currently building the consortium for Co-Innovation project next year.

King’s Renascence is a SEFRCBC funded project in collaboration with XAMK and partners from St. Petersburg. We are figuring out how to improve and showcase tourist attractions and other services along the old King’s Road area between Helsinki and St. Petersburg. We will build a web-based service to which companies can add information and content from their attractions, such as 360- or AR-content.

Synthetic Streamer is a project with YLE – the Finnish Broadcasting Company. We are building a realistic virtual human, which can be utilized to replace a real human, for example, on streaming content. Actor’s facial expressions and speech are transferred to the virtual human. The main goal here is to see whether we can get over the uncanny valley or not, and how the viewers react to a virtual human.

We are always looking for new research projects and partners. If you have an interesting idea, or you are looking for a partner, please be in touch with our Research & Development Lead, Technology Expert Santeri Saarinen: [email protected]

A woman trying out a virtual reality headset and reaching out. Two other people are helping her to find a chair to sit on.

A picture from Extending Design Realities event in 2019.

Developer Hub

Needless to say, our developer hub teams were the ones who got the biggest hit due to COVID-19 regulations. In March 2020, we, just like everybody else in Finland, had to forbid the usage of our Helsinki XR Center headquarters, and instruct everyone to work from home. As a result of the pandemic, many projects had to be put on hold or canceled due to social distancing and lockdown measures, and especially teams working with international clients and on-site projects had difficulties in 2020. Luckily, none of our 15 XR Hub teams did go under, and all adapted extremely admirably to the new, difficult situation!

During the year 2020, our teams and associates delivered 29 different projects and products and developed 28 on-going or unreleased projects and products. In addition to this, our teams got 5 international awards and nominations, and managed to collect 550 000 € in funding, and 200 000 € in revenue.

During the year 2020, we also created an interview based article series of our hub teams with the intent to introduce them a bit better. We highly recommend you to read these interviews, if you haven’t already done so!

Read more about how the year of 2020 was like for our teams from the ‘Helsinki XR Center developer hub Roundup for 2020’ article that was released in December 2020.

Want to hear more about Helsinki XR Center’s startups and teams and how to get in touch with them? Want to become part of our hub? Please contact XR Curator Santeri Suominen ([email protected]).

Open Call for developer teams 2021 is open at the moment! Click here to read more and apply for our XR Hub!

A great buzz of people at the booths of our XR Hub teams at Match XR 2019 on 20 November 2019.

Great buzz at the booths of our XR Hub teams at Match XR 2019 on 20 November 2019.

Match XR & other events

As the health of our partners, guests, visitors, staff and team members is our highest priority during the COVID-19 times, we decided to cancel or postpone all events, visits and group meetings for the year 2020. As the time passed and people got a bit more adjusted to working from home, we decided to move some of our events and meetings to virtual reality. For this, we tried out many different virtual platforms, of which you can read more from our ‘HXRC working remotely’ article series.

For us, the biggest event related question for the year 2020 was: what do we do with Match XR, our flagship event and the biggest virtual reality focused event in Finland? As the news was filled with event cancellations, we, too, decided to trash the plans of arranging a live event, and make a completely virtual event instead!

Arranging a virtual event was a new and exciting challenge for us. We started the whole process with building our very own virtual event space to AltspaceVR, so we could arrange Match XR 2020 in this new space. As virtual reality events do not have all the same possibilities for mingling and matchmaking as real live events do, we also needed to rethink the whole concept of the event. We decided to go with a full day event filled with interesting talks from Finnish XR industry experts and showcases of Finnish XR creators. We even changed the name of the event from Match Up to Match XR, rebranded it, and created an own website for the event: www.matchxrhelsinki.com.

The Match XR 2020 program consisted of 17 presentations from 23 experts of the Finnish XR industry, and 17 virtual partner worlds that were open for visitors during the whole event. Our crew – from the start of the preparations to the end of the event – consisted of 9 main members and 9 volunteer students from the XR Design Degree.

In the end, the success of Match XR 2020 exceeded all of our expectations! Match XR 2020 gathered an astonishing 900 attendees from 36 different nationalities, of which about 20% attended via AltspaceVR and the rest watched the event via a YouTube livestream. The recording of the Match XR 2020 event and a small tour of VR Pavilion Finland is still available on our YouTube channel, if you are interested to see what the event was like!

Read more about how Match XR 2020 went from this article!

Watch the Aftermovie and see how Match XR 2020 looked like behind the scenes!

 

Two men sitting behind a computer desk. They are following the livestream of the Match XR 2020 event.

Two of our volunteers supervising the live stream of Match XR 2020 event.

Facilities & remote work

As the COVID-19 situation affected our daily work routines dramatically in March 2020, we needed to quickly change our plans, and due to this, we decided to test out several different virtual reality (VR) platforms with our team during the springtime. We were trying to figure out how they would work for formal or informal collaboration and remote meetings, and wrote articles about this journey to share our insights. Is working in virtual reality more efficient than in regular videochat meetings and workshops? We tested and wrote about Glue, a virtual collaboration tool, and social platforms AltspaceVR, Bigscreen VR, Rec Room and VRChat, as well as Mozilla Hubs. You can find the whole article series here.

Even though the COVID-19 situation seemed a bit better during the summer as the government regulations were eased, and it seemed that some of the teams could have started to work a bit more from Helsinki XR Center premises, we still had some bumps along the way. The building where Helsinki XR Center is located had major renovations going on, and naturally it caused a lot of noise pollution. The noise made it almost unbearable to work at the office, and due to this, remote work continued being the norm for us. In the end, this turned out to be a good thing, as the COVID-19 situation quickly became a lot worse, and regulations became more strict again. We could say that the inconveniences of the renovation really helped us with being a bit more safe!

Also one thing that has helped to keep our spirits up despite the quarantines and noise issues is the promise of new Helsinki XR Center premises! That’s right: Helsinki XR Center will be getting brand new facilities in 2021. We will be informing more about this matter later.

And speaking of brand new, we also did some equipment purchases during 2020. We obtained Microsoft Hololens 2 for mixed reality development purposes as they are the best MR devices for the developers at the moment. On the VR equipment side, we updated our device pool with Oculus Quest 2, the newest standalone headset, and HP Reverb G2 headset. In addition, we made a deal with the Finnish XR-headset developer Varjo to have their VR-1 on loan for development and showcasing purposes. All of these are available for our developer teams to use, even during the pandemic (with proper hygiene regulations, of course).

 

All in all, we had many wins during this awful year, but it wasn’t easy for anybody. Now that the year of 2021 has started with lots of new hope and positive energy, we are eagerly waiting for the time when we can all get back to the office and see each other again!

Meanwhile, stay tuned for our events and news, and generally what is going on here at Helsinki XR Center, by following us on social media: Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter!

Nine members of the Helsinki XR Center team are standing in front of blue curtain, smiling.

Helsinki XR Center team saying hi, photographed in 2019.

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