Vyuu wants to be a YouTube for virtual reality content

Vyuu homepageVyuu is a start-up with lofty ambitions: creating a YouTube for surround media content. The company is based in Antwerp, Belgium, and will soon invite 5,000 people to test the platform, so my newspaper, De Tijd, learned.

The founder, Guillaume de Sadeleer, at first developed a VR-headset which would use a smart phone screen (in the meantime Samsung did something similar by developing Gear VR). De Sadeleer changed plans and developed a YouTube-like platform for content suitable for viewing using Oculus Rift or other VR gear. He was joined by the innovation agency bundl and the software developer Appstrakt.

Vyuu will also focus on combining virtual reality and livestreaming.


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Is the Oculus Rift a Gothic Cathedral?

“Performance philosopher” Jason Silva brings us yet another interesting video, talking about the The Revered Gaze, explaining how immersive technologies are linked to our need to experience transcendence. As such the gothic cathedral and the Oculus Rift are very similar technologies.

I do admit there is the very real possibility of experiencing this Revered Gaze using immersive technologies, but for me personally that’s not really the most important aspect.

What is important to me is the sense of connection and of sharing the same space with others, wherever in the world they are physically located. It’s about exchanging points of view, projects, ideas and yes, emotions. That’s something very different compared to being overwhelmed and in complete awe for some experience which happens to you. So for me the Rift is not really a Gothic Cathedral where one has mystical experiences – it’s a tool for connecting to others to have great discussions and for exchanges of ideas using immersive media.

(Hat tip to VRPat on reddit for starting the discussion there)

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Five conditions for a perfect Virtual Reality experience

I had some very nice Oculus Rift experiences. I tried Titans of Space, an exploration of our solar system. The head tracker of the DK2 proved very useful: I could use the dashboard of my small spacecraft by nudging and tilting my head. Here you find a video by VR Review:

You find Titans of Space on the share section of the Oculus site.

Another beautiful experience is Lighthouse Lost Mansion which seems to be an adventure in several episodes. Very beautiful start scene on a rock in the sea with dark skies. I found this download at The Rift Arcade Market where you can actually buy Rift experiences (or sometimes get them for free).

I also continued my exploration of Second Life using Oculus Rift. I went to the Linden Endowment for the Arts (LEA) and walked around at the Welcome Area (SLurl, requires viewer download) and visited Sister Planet (SLurl), to thoroughly enjoy the scenery. Looking up at the vegetation above my head was very nice – really very immersive and realistic. Here you see a picture of the place in a normal view:

Sister Planet on Second Life

I got the idea of visiting these areas on the Oculus Rift DK2 Intergalactic Space Station (SLurl) where you’ll find more suggestions for Rift inspired visits. The Intergalactic Space Station also lives on Facebook.

Even though I’m just a beginning Rift explorer, I’ve some ideas about what is needed for a great virtual reality experience.

– The obvious: being surrounded by a high quality environment.

No hassle. Right now different downloads often require tweaking display settings of your laptop or desktop.

– A bit less obvious, but feasible: great 3D audio.

Haptics! Have a look what this could mean these days (hat tip to Chris Baranluk on NewScientist):

– But what’s also needed is a social dimension. I saw very nice Rift cinemas. You can sit in a very nice virtual cinema and watch a movie, but ultimately what would be fun is meeting others. The social dimension is also very much something the new owner of Oculus Rift, Mark Zuckerberg, wants. Ultimately the Rift must bring us together.

Right now, in this very early phase, most Rift experiences seem to be a bit spooky: the visual effects are powerful, yet without haptics and others who join the experience online these experiences lack some fundamental dimensions.

The fact that one can experiment with the Rift in Second Life is cool for exactly this reason: even though the environment is far from perfect (there is a reason why Linden Lab builds a new virtual platform), the fact one can actually meet other people in en open-ended environment is fabulous.

This could be a competitive advantage for Linden Lab: the fact they already work with this huge virtual world community and have quite some experience with being a platform for many different communities.

Do you see other conditions for a good VR experience? Let me know!

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The dark side of accelerating technological change

Virtual worlds and virtual reality make us dream about telepresence and the death of distance. Some even suggest the concept of citizenship may change as we’ll be citizens of nation-states and of virtual worlds. But then again, we should consider also the reality out there: technology is a crucial element in the power struggle between nation-states and between states and groups (or networks).

Colin Lewis on RobotEnomics tells us about a report by James Kadtke and Linton Wells II about Policy Challenges of Accelerating Technological Change: Security Policy and Strategy Implications of Parallel Scientific Revolutions. Consider the advances in robotics and artificial intelligence. It becomes conceivable that swarms of drones operate without human intervention while they try to achieve objectives such as securing territory or destroying enemy forces.

The technology required and the cost for building these systems become more achievable for others than the US military – authoritarian regimes and terrorist groups will probably try to build their own robot warriors.

The same worries exist about biohacking for instance – another technology becoming more affordable and the knowledge is spreading around fast. DIY-groups act responsibly, but then again, there is no guarantee that all groups will have noble intentions, which is rather inconvenient as the technological possibilities of individuals and groups will only increase. Add to this similar concerns about nanotechnology and about the combinations of all these technological breakthroughs.

I wrote a column about these issues today for my newspaper, titled KillBots (in Dutch). For similar thoughts expressed in a more poetic fashion, read Jason Dorrier at SingularityHub.

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Oculus needs smaller avatars in Second Life

This is the Berlin 1920 area in Second Life is testing for Oculus Rift. They scaled part of the environment to fit the Oculus Rift immersive environment. It also implies one should downsize one’s avatar (avatars are typically unrealistically big in Second Life) – but one can use the Oculus Rift headset everywhere in this virtual world, even though it is not really optimized for it. What I noticed here was that some objects did not render in my Oculus (some furniture such as a couch in an otherwise interesting Berlin 1920 house).

picture of the test area of the Berlin 1920 area in Second Life

This is the notecard about this place:

Welcome to the Oculus Rift and Real Scale Test area.

In this little corner of Second Life you can explore a street, a bar and a house that have all been build to a real world scale.
A lot of places in Second Life have been build to different ideas of scale, often just guesses or estimations based on how large some of the avatars are.
By using a realistic scale, things feel more natural.
We use the scale of the “prim”, the building blocks of Second Life, translating real world scale straight into Second Life Centimeters.

When using the Oculus Rift, realism and realistic scale becomes very important.
You will be seeing Second Life trough the eyes of your avatar, while normally you would see the virtual world trough a camera view high above the head of your avatar.
This makes visiting a lot of places in SL a strange experience as doors and ceilings appear to be made for giants.

This Test area allows you to see what the use of realistic scale looks and feels like without having to change your avatar or your avatar’s clothes so you can visit the actual 1920s Berlin sim.
If you would like to visit an entire city build to this scale and with immersion as one of its main goals, please change into some of the (free) 1920s clothes and get on the train behind the little station.

If you want to return to this place at a later time, you can use this slurl or this landmark;

I’d appreciate it if you wrote down your experiences and shared them with me, perhaps for my blog.
And if you’re interested in discussing the potential of using the Oculus Rift in Second Life, join us on facebook;

With regards,

Jo Yardley
The 1920s Berlin Project

It sure is a place to keep an eye on…

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Peter Diamandis: you will (also) be a virtual world citizen

The Belgian newspaper De Tijd has a great interview (Dutch language) with Singularity University co-founder, author, entrepreneur and futurist Peter Diamandis. When asked about the short-term evolution, Diamandis referred to virtual worlds. He expects interesting stuff to happen there as those worlds become more “real”. People will go there for work and entertainment. Citizenship will no longer be reduced to one single state. One will be a resident of a nation-state but at the same time resident of a virtual world. Kids experiment now already with such a double role in their game worlds. People will also experiment with new forms of government in virtual worlds. Diamandis mentioned Philip Rosedale, founder of Second Life: he considers him to be a pioneer. Diamandis predicts people will ask their governments in the physical world tough questions as they pay taxes but increasingly will take care of their own transport, health care and education.

My own opinion: I think nation-states and companies could also use virtual environments in other ways, for instance to facilitate “virtual immigration”. I remember that back in the hype-period of Second Life we had feverish discussions about immersing non-US residents in American virtual environments where they could work and contribute to the US economy and culture without actually entering the “physical” United States, thus avoiding political discussions about immigration levels.



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Oculus Rift and Leap Motion are made for each other

My next investment will be a Leap Motion. Have a look at this, and notice how the Leap Motion makes building in an Oculus Rift enabled environment possible. However, don’t forget that Oculus and Leap Motion are still rather early phase – it all seems very slick in this video, but I had not yet the possibility to test World of Comenius myself as it’s not yet released (and I still have to buy and integrate the Leap Motion). It seems self-evident that this kind of technology will be used for the next Second Life platform and the High Fidelity project.

You can follow World of Comenius on Facebook.

Read also this post on Road to VR about the Comenius project at a school in the Czech Republic.
Another must-read post is the interview with CEO Ebbe Altberg on VentureBeat about the next generation platform for Second Life. Altberg mentions Leap Motion and Sixense as tracking tools.
For anwell-researched report on the secretive Magic Leap project, have a look at Gizmodo.

It’s obvious that the whole Virtual Reality / Virtual Worlds / Alternate Reality / Augmented Reality industry is about to make a real big leap… I’ll try to cover the developments on this blog, with a focus on education and learning.

You can find more on my fledgling Netvibes page about virtual reality.

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#SUsummit Amsterdam showcases the augmentation of everything

Virtual worlds are often weird environments. The innovators in that industry have a broad view on our future. Conferences and community conventions offer fascinating insights and discussions. I remember how futurist and technologist Ray Kurzweil gave a (virtual) presentation during the Second Life Community Convention 2009 in San Francisco. Afterwards I rushed to the Green Apple bookstore to buy his book The Singularity is Near (2005). Wikipedia explains:

Kurzweil describes his law of accelerating returns which predicts an exponential increase in technologies like computers, genetics, nanotechnology,robotics and artificial intelligence. He says this will lead to a technological singularity in the year 2045, a point where progress is so rapid it outstrips humans’ ability to comprehend it. Irreversibly transformed, people will augment their minds and bodies with genetic alterations, nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence. Once the Singularity has been reached, Kurzweil predicts machine intelligence will be infinitely more powerful than all human intelligence combined. Afterwards, Kurzweil says, intelligence will radiate outward from the planet until it saturates the universe.

Fast forward to December 2012, when Kurzweil was hired by Google “to bring natural language understanding to Google”. He was involved in various education and learning projects, one of the most interesting is the Singularity University (SU) which he co-founded with Peter Diamandis (2008).

The headquarters of the SU are at Moffett Federal Airfield (NASA Research Park), California, but in Europe we can attend two-day Summit conferences. Last year I attended the Singularity University conference in Budapest, Hungary and I (together with other participants) built a mind map about the state of the future at that time, topics of that mind map include ambient intelligence (sensors, ubiquitous computing, networks), robots, energy, artificial intelligence, 3D printing, synthetic biology, health and medical services, organizational change. In short, it’s about how the augmentation of the human intellect materializes itself and disrupts about everything.

This year my newspaper colleague Peter De Groote went to the Amsterdam Summit. He reported in De Tijd that the fully self-driving car will be available in ten years time, that robots are still toddlers but are growing up fast (and they can read your emotions), that artificial intelligence evolves from disappointing to disruptive, that we no longer should limit ourselves to wearables but that implantables are next in line to augment us:

Virtual Worlds

So… nothing about virtual reality and virtual worlds in this disruption overview? Yes there was. First let’s take a step back: in September Jason Dorrier posted on SingularityHub about Virtual Reality – will it become the next great media platform? He showed this inspiring video:

The idea is that technologies such as Oculus Rift and the new generation of virtual worlds (think High Fidelity) will make it possible to visit the worlds in the other person’s head. We make our dreams accessible, quite literally. Which brings us to brain-to-brain communication and yes, this is a Singularity topic. One example being discussed: University of Washington researchers can transmit the signals from one person’s brain over the Internet and use these signals to control the hand motions of another person within a split second of sending that signal.

Rob Nail talked during the conference about exciting applications like allowing a surgeon to operate from 10,000 km distance, to a pilot assisting a non-pilot to land an aircraft. Or how we network and augment our brains very literally…

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Discover Isovista, a place for 3D art and education

This video illustrates two things: first the interesting stuff the Isovista people are doing and second how difficult it is to translate the Oculus-experience into a 2D-video.

What is obvious is how one can immerse oneself into a virtual art exhibition and use clever tricks to navigate around (follow a green path) or to show various art works one after another (walk through ‘boxes’ to trigger the appearance of new art).

The environment is also rather original as they experiment with for instance floorless spaces rather than trying to imitate physical world buildings.

Isovista.org is a group of 3D-design people who build and show art accessible using an Oculus Rift but you can also visit the gallery in your browser (powered by Jibe and using the game creation system Unity 3D) and eventually meet other people there.

Bringing together Jibe and Oculus in one project seems interesting. For now you walk or drift alone in the Oculus-experience while the Jibe-environment of this project feels like a primitive version of Second Life or OpenSim – but sophisticated enough to meet others and to text chat and speak. So wouldn’t it be nice to have collaborative and social futures inside an Oculus Rift environment?

After Facebook acquired Oculus Mark Zuckerberg mentioned that this technology would enable students and teachers all over the world to share a classroom. These days one can use the Oculus in collaborative spaces such as Second Life, but the interface is not yet adapted for an easy and natural user experience – we’ll have to wait for the new Second Life to get that, I guess.

The site has a very interesting page about literature and theory.

These are Isovista’s goals:
– Provide opportunities to show virtual work and help students, recent graduates and young professionals develop their design skills in virtual media.
– Create new innovative 3D virtual works in Data Visualization, Interaction Design, Education, Music and Social Interfaces through a blending of HCI/Usability and Digital Fine Art.
– Record the rich history of virtual design, connecting the broad academic disciplines that have explored the domain of 3D virtual space and design.
– Connect educators, professionals, and students to support innovation, create opportunities, share examples, and break the new conceptual ground.

Isovista wants to become a 501(c)(3) charity and create a library and marketplace for 3D work and educational content. “Becoming a self-sustaining non-profit that supports independent innovators, students, and the community as a whole is our overarching goal.”

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Oculus Rift in Second Life: nice to have but not enough for a breakthrough


So I bought an Oculus Rift virtual headset and ventured into Second Life using the special viewer. This was rather frustrating using a MacBook Air 1.7 Ghz, Intel HD Graphics 5000, but things went a lot better with a MacBook Pro 2.5 Ghz and an Intel Iris Pro for graphics.

I got no motion sickness as the environments were rather slow – a tranquil Japanese sim, an Italian one, a stunningly beautiful beach scenery with a few avatars. It was captivating to be immersed  this way, looking down into a fascinating tropical sea, up to birds in the sky and high rocks. Or flying and looking deep down. On the other hand the interface is still difficult to use as you cannot see the keyboard, the first person view is imperfect as one looks down without seeing legs and feet. Small imperfections in the scenery or the scale of the objects seem to become more important as it stops the “suspension of disbelief“.

I guess it will get better, especially as there is a new Second Life in the making. Yet  I wonder whether a virtual headset version, even perfectly implemented, will attract that many more users. The immersion into another body and into artificial paradises appeal to a niche. We live in times of short attention spans and people love to integrate the digital closely into the ‘real’ physical environment, so mobile augmentation possibly has a future on a mass market, but this is not what this Second Life virtual experience is about. My guess is that virtual headsets will make user-generated virtual worlds even more appealing for the existing fan base, but they won’t convince the mainstream to embrace these environments – unless new applications and use cases are discovered.

Update:  I also noticed how important audio is in such a highly immersive environment. The Oculus makes you notice so much more of the virtual environment. It’s as if when you use one of your senses more, you also need using at least one other sense more intensely.


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