InterVR: The internet of VR
Almost every kid has a mobile phone these days. Driving their parents mad by having no eye for anything else. The little device in their hands is the most important thing in the world in their eyes. Their world circles around this device. For them it’s obvious. Parents just can’t understand.
When their parents were young, they drove their own parents crazy by spending too much time on their game console or Game Boy. And the generation before them, by watching too much television. And so on. The current kids probably won’t understand that their kids later spend so much time in VR.
But will VR reach this level of popularity? The answer to this question is unsure. Present day virtual reality is much like the internet of the early 90s. A time of pioneering. It’s actual a very exciting time to start creating and using VR. Some things just don’t work, while others are fascinating. Like the internet in the early days, this is the time when exciting things are happening.
More PC than WWW
There is one major difference with the World Wide Web of those days. VR started when available headsets became available. It’s still more hardware orientated like the PC market in the eighties. A PC is a practical device, but it became really exciting with availability of the World Wide Web and the access to unlimited information. This was not started by a hardware invention, but by making scientific information publicly available. Achieved was this by fundamental technologies like web pages (HTML), web addresses (URLs) and web links.
These were very fundamental and open technologies. What would have happened when the internet was only available for certain devices, monopolized by a single company or country? Microsoft for example flirted with the idea of hosting their ‘own’ internet. Fortunately that didn’t happen, but they held the internet hostage for a while with bundling Internet Explorer with Windows.
A lot of internet companies like Google and Facebook emerged on top of these fundamental technologies. They were not foreseen by traditional companies. The freedom and creatively is thus the cornerstone for the success of the internet. This is why VR haven’t taken off yet. It doesn’t have such a cornerstone. It’s still in the PC, hardware orientated era, instead of the internet era.
A strategy to make VR successful
Nonetheless VR is becoming more and more popular. With this development we see VR appear not only in games but also on the internet. You can browse the internet with a VR headset or watch content like a 360 degree movie. But in these cases VR feels like an alien technology. Can we imagine a complete internet where everything is virtual?
The future of virtual reality is not just about better specs or new headsets. The future of VR is also not about how big the market becomes or how many devices are sold. It’s not about that. It is more than a device, an app or even beyond being a platform.
Where is the future of VR really about? That reality and fiction can be virtualized and that there is a standard way to ‘build’ and to ‘browse’ this reality. So not VR on the internet, but an internet of VR.
To become a real powerful technology for the next generation, an internet of virtual reality, must emerge. A so-called: InterVR. How could this become reality? On a one hand it must have the right building blocks to create virtual experiences and on the other hand this ‘InterVR’ should blend naturally with our lives. The first point is something that Tim Berners-Lee had foreseen when he created the World Wide Web. The last point was something that Steve Jobs had foreseen when creating the iPhone.
Are both possible for VR? Will we have a device which is powerful and easy to use? Where we do not see the difference between reality and virtual reality? And will we at the same time have a network of linked spaces, like the World Wide Web are for linked websites?
Unfortunately, this is not in near sight. Most innovations come from tech or gaming companies who do not have solid strategy for VR. What you see is that on a one hand, companies like Intel, Google and Microsoft do invest and experiment with VR, but do not have a clear vision. Intel stopped its VR camera projects, Google stopped mobile VR (Daydream) and Microsoft doesn’t even want VR on the Xbox.
For an example of how it should be done, we can turn to Microsoft as well. The only catch is that this strategy is not about VR, but about the cloud. The company created a decade ago a cloud-first strategy that touched every aspect of the company. It became very successful with Azure, Office 365 and other cloud products. Microsoft and most other tech companies don’t have a clear strategy for VR that touches all aspects of the company. Others like HTC and Valve focus only on the high-end gaming market.
The only company with a clear vision is Facebook. With buying Oculus and with help of former CTO John Carmack it set a clear step-by-step way to put VR on a next level. You can not only see this in creating the user-friendly Oculus Quest, but also by investing in experiences. They are creating social apps, a VR browser, an app store and lots of content (games, movies and television). They also invest in the future where Oculus VR Labs researches fundamental (mostly hardware) technologies. So there is a broad package created by Facebook to bring VR forward.
A foundation for a worldwide VR
Open, simple and flexible technologies is what is needed. Everything can build on top of those technologies, independent of a particular institution, government or company. Where would we be if the World Wide Web hadn’t been invented the way it was? If it had just been an idea of a company? It might have taken off, but it would stayed small. Or at least small compared to what it actually became.
Facebook is open source minded and also pushing new standards further like OpenXR. But at the end it’s a commercial company that needs to make money. It’s hard to trust Facebook alone with the future of VR. Not of their lack of capabilities or because of their trust and privacy issues on their social media platform. But because VR needs a fundament that is deeper than a platform, a fundament which is more similar to the internet.
One big aspect is that virtual reality is not about 2D and text information, but about spaces. This make developing for VR very different. The OpenXR standard offers fundamental elements to provide for this. There API contains the following elements:
XrSpace: a representation of the 3D space
XrInstance: a representation of the OpenXR runtime
- System and
XrSystemId: a representation of the devices, including the Virtual reality or Augmented reality devices and controllers
XrActions: used to handle user inputs
XrSession: represents the interaction session between the application and the user
Who is developing such fundamental techniques? Who is the Tim Berners-Lee of InterVR? The science community, seems more occupied with AI than creating the foundation of this new virtual world. Like it once did with the internet and the web.
Travelling without moving
Gaming is currently the main focus of VR. With the current audience, gaming is the most lucrative for the market. Gamers have high demands, but also deep pockets. It’s a good testbed for how to interact with and within a virtual world.
There are so many use cases beyond gaming. Watching movies, documentaries, sports, concerts, museums etc. And also relaxation, porn, social interaction, designing, shopping, education & training, fitness, dating, second life, travel & tourism and adventure parks. The list is unendless.
A simple example of a non-game use case: booking vacations. When we went on vacation we used to go to a travel agency. Based on books and the advice of the travel agent (who hasn’t been on site as well) we made our final decision. The swimming pool looks nice, the reviews look good, let’s go to the Ibiza Beach Resort.
The travel business was one of the first branches which became popular online.. We are now used to buy a vacation and a lot of other things online before we see it. But with VR we can take a look at our travel destinations ourselves. Not as a virtualized form of brochure, but by making a live visit. In this visit we walk through the hotel, sit at the swimming pool and enjoy the beach view. The closer this experience gets to real life, the more we don’t need to travel at all. Travelling without moving.
How will InterVR look like?
Say you want to build a webspace in InterVR (in current day terms a website on the internet), how does this work? Let’s take a webshop as an example. We want our customers not to scroll our items, but we want every one to walk around in our webshop and see the products. A literal customer journey.
The webshop we want to build is for Zara fashion. A virtual twin of the most beautiful store of the retail brand. Like their current online webshop we need to program it. And like the webshop on the internet, the code for InterVR divides into three parts:
The structure is about the 3d structure of the space. Do we want an open field or a room? In this case it must look like a real shop of Zara. The structure is not only about the space, but also the objects within the space. We need a cash register, clothes, racks and mirrors.
The design is how the shop looks like, the colors, the texts, the lighting and so on. We are like an interior designer making everything attractive in the store. The only difference is that this digital design is the endresult, while the interior designer still has to have this built in the real world.
Last, but not least the logic of the space. The logic is about how you want interact with objects. How you want to pay or how the mirrors in the store work. Let’s say you chosen some clothes and added them to your shopping cart. By selecting them before the mirror you will see how they look on your body. Of course you need a avatar of yourself, otherwise it’s hard to see yourself in a virtual mirror…
Creating these webspaces should be done directly within a VR headset with an integrated development environment that is specialized in creating webspaces. When ready we deploy it to InterVR.
Walking in history
Another example. Consider the Roman world and its rich history. It would be great to see Rome as it was in the time of Julius Caesar. Unfortunately there weren’t camera’s yet, so we have no video of Caesar when he gave a speech. We have no photos when he met Cleopatra. Let alone experience life as if we were there ourselves.
How would it be like to walk around in Rome? Walk around and see the Colosseum, the Forum Romanum and other streets as they were just been build. The best thing we came up with yet is this detailed model:
There is already a place from Roman times, where we can walk through as if time stood still: Pompeii. The downfall of this city was a tragic event, but an extremely valuable source for historians. We learned a lot about Roman life as we could not have from written sources.
In our current world we have Google Streetview. Google has taken a lot of photos not only from a lot of places, but also in different years. So we can travel back in time in our own street online. One could argue that this will be a historic resource for future historians:
Does Google Street View have historical value in your opinion?
Answer (1 of 3): Yes, a huge historic value. Unfortunately, it's often considered unacceptable "invasion of privacy" so…
As the streets aren’t structural captured by the Google cars, using Streetview as a source may not be very scientifically accurate at the moment.
But beside this point, Streetview is part of our current internet. Google currently makes part of the landmarks available in 3d for VR. This makes it possible to virtually walk around in your own street. And not just in the last photo, but also ten years ago. Could a virtual Streetview become part of our future Internet of VR? Could the kids of our kids walk around in history?
This blog only contains text. In texts, like science-fiction, we can dream away. It’s like we have a virtual reality world inside our head. Now the technology of VR is at such a state that we can try to create it outside our head. Not in books or in movies, but in a virtual world. The main question is: do we want an entertainment device like a television or do we fundamentally create a complete virtual world like the World Wide Web? Could we virtually visit shops, watch sport games, go on vacation and fell in love? Will this all be part of the InterVR?
More reading in the VR series: