Sansar about to launch in open beta

The Sansar website

The VR virtual worlds platform Sansar.

Sansar, the virtual reality worlds platform of Linden Lab (the company behind Second Life) will be in open beta this Spring. Keywords are “social” and “collaborative creation”. The video shows fascinating worlds – Sansar seems to be not one virtual world, but a platform where one can create interconnected worlds (even though there will be a unifying and convertible “Sansar dollar”).

I’m all for interactive social VR and user-generated content, so I totally hope the platform will be a success. I asked for access, but right now it seems the world is only for builders and scripters, so I guess I’ll have to wait some more months.

I guess Linden Lab wants to be sure that the marketplace for virtual goods is well stocked and the “real virtual economy” is functioning before letting in the general public.

Earlier press reports indicated that the economy of Sansar will be different from Second Life: Linden Lab will get its revenues mainly by a “tax” on in-world transactions rather than by taxing “property”.

Interesting to note in the video are the avatar expressions: the face muscles move naturally with the voice, so it’s more sophisticated than “just” good lip syncing (but no face tracking is used).

More details on UploadVR.

Philip Rosedale wants to improve upon the real world

The Financial Times runs an intriguing portrait of Philip Rosedale, the founding father of Linden Lab and Second Life and these days building a VR-compatible virtual world called High Fidelity.

The article not only focuses on the virtual world ambitions of Rosedale but also on his renovation and building projects in the real world of San Francisco, where he lives in the very exclusive Pacific Heights neighborhood.

One of the remarkable quotes of the article (written by Hugo Cox) is this:

If you could work, play, meet, go to school, if you could do all these things in a virtual world then why would you not think that these spaces could become more important than this [real] one?

The idea seems simple enough but many interesting questions arise:

  • What are the reasons people would prefer a virtual world above this one? Is it because a virtual world is more convenient – for instance, one can teleport around rather than commute endlessly, one can ignore the laws of physics in colorful creative surroundings.
  • Or is it (also) because the “real life” cities and living conditions are disappointing for the majority of people who cannot afford to live in such an expensive place? Is there an implicit rejection of the injustices of the “real world” by an exodus to the virtual world? (read also the works of synthetic worlds economist Edward Castronova).
  • How “real” is real and how “unreal” is “virtual”? In the above mentioned quoted “real” is added between square brackets – I guess by the interviewer. But if one routinely works, studies and lives in a virtual world, would it not become as real to me as the current real world? Especially when augmented reality (adding digital layers to the physical surroundings) and mixed reality (adding digital 3D-objects seamlessly to the physical world) go mainstream, blurring the distinction even more?
  • Is life in a virtual environment the way out for many in a possibly jobless society, where work will be done by robots and AI agents, except for either low skilled labor which remains somehow out of reach for robots or for very skilled labor (developing the AI agents and coordinating humans, cyborgs and AI-agents)? [I have my doubts about this vision of disappearing jobs, at least for the coming ten to twenty years]
  • One should contrast a purely “virtual” vision with an “augmented” one – rather than retreating into a synthetic environment in order to get an education or go to work, one could imagine people staying in a mixed reality world, being in the physical world yet also at the same time using the affordances of virtual reality.

Even though I’m an avid reader of the Financial Times, I read first about this article on the New World Notes.

Facebook as the Mixed Reality which really matters

This blog remained silent for more than a year. I continued writing my column Legrand Inconnu for my newspaper De Tijd – about the impact of technology on society and the economy. Part of my writing is about Virtual Reality, Virtual Worlds and Augmented Reality.

I’m still fascinated by VR and VW even though I’m convinced it’s a niche activity. VR tries to seduce hard-core gamers and even that is an uphill battle. Pokemon Go had its moment of mainstream glory, and maybe Apple will give it another boost if reports are true that the next iPhone would enable higher quality AR. Microsoft’s HoloLens seems fascinating but not yet ready for the consumer market.

Mixed Realities is still young and provides endless subjects for thought experiments. What if I could blend my international friends into my physical environment as realtime holograms, enabling them to observe and interact as if they were here? What if I could visualize in AR the emerging Internet of Things around me? Robert Scoble tells us on Inside AR&VR that mixed reality interfaces will be used for all those things: AI, cryptocurrencies, robots, drones, self-driving cars… But it’s still early day.

Conclusion for this blog: it makes little sense to focus on Second Life as I did when I started about ten years ago. Linden Lab, the company behind Second Life, is working on a VR compatible virtual world, and founding father Philip Rosedale has his own VR project, but in my view this will attract mainly a subset of current Second Life users. Technically it will be superior to the current Second Life environment, but will it add new philosophical dimensions to the virtual experience? I’m not sure, but I may be proven wrong.

Facebook

What about the impact on society? I bought an Oculus Rift because Facebook is behind it. I do believe Mark Zuckerberg has this great ambition of making  VR and AR mainstream – in ten years time. For now he has more urgent worries.

Zuckerberg wrote a very interesting Manifesto, Building Global Community. He seems very worried that the dream of an ever more connected world turns into a nightmare of tribalism, political and cultural wars and hate.

He wonders how we can experience each other online as full human beings and not just as partisans of the opposing political group. Maybe VR and AR can help in the longer run, but for now it will be a matter of better designed groups, AI orienting people to groups which could be very important to them, detection of extreme behavior before it really escalates (while still promoting encryption) and stuff like that. The redesigning of our online social structure will be quite a challenge but much-needed. Zuckerberg wants to promote the ‘very meaningful groups‘  (about parenting, patients, education, religion…) which constitute for their members a major part of the online experience but are also crucial for the physical existence of people (hence mixed reality).

The real mixed reality world out there could very well be Facebook/Instagram/WhatsApp with it’s more than 2 billion users. That constellation matters politically and economically, and yes, VR and AR will be part of that, somewhere in the future. As I’m most interested in that societal impact, right now I’m more interested in how Facebook will redesign it’s social infrastructure than in the latest VR rand VW releases.

Immersive journalism puts you in the middle of the news

How would immersive journalism look like? Immersive as in ‘immersing the reader/viewer/participant into a situation in such a way she learns something new’? Actually there exists a website immersivejournalism.com where journalist and scholar Nonny de la Peña discusses her work and ideas about this topic.
I first encountered this work of hers in Second Life in 2010:

But you’ll notice how she evolves and now uses virtual reality tools for her newest projects, about food banks…

…or about Syrian refugees:

Immersive video

Now I learned about a project by another team “which will be centered on live video, delivering an experience that feels more like documentary and photo journalism than a console game.”

They use new experimental cameras which are able to capture live motion 360° and 3D virtual reality footage.

The kit is made from 12-16 cameras mounted to a 3D printed brace, and then stitched onto a virtual sphere to form a 360 degree virtual environment. These new kits are also stereoscopic, adding depth of field.

The project is a partnership between Frontline, The Secret Location, and the Tow Center. You can read more about it on the Tow Center site.

Oculus Rift can be a Tool for Data Visualization (and Marketing of course)

Last week a colleague at my newspaper told me about Oculus Rift experiments by data visualization experts. It seems logical to use virtual reality for data visualization – after all that’s what people also did and I guess still do in virtual environments such as Second Life and OpenSim. Personally I never did much more than 3D brainstorming by putting up media billboards showing videos and websites about a certain topic. I (my avatar) walked around those things and meditated, making all kinds of associations.

I did some browsing to find more compelling examples of data visualization, and these are some must-read articles:

– Mike Wheatley at SiliconAngle.com explains how Virtual Reality brings Big Data visualization to life. He talks about engineers using OpenSim for visualization experiments and the development of a 3-D data browser based on the Unity3D game development engine “capable of rendering 100,000 data objects in about 15 seconds onto a bog standard 2011 Macbook Air”.

– Andy Greenberg on Wired wrote about the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) turning Oculus into a Weapon for Cyberwar. The real use by soldiers is still years away, but the researchers envision a future in which similar devices could be used for offensive hacking as well as defense and reconnaissance.

Fidelity Labs, Fidelity Investments’ R&D think-tank, has launched StockCity, a virtual-reality view of an investor’s portfolio. I still have to test it, it seems something between a useful visualization tool and a marketing gadget, but here is a video:

Arch Virtual ran a story about City Planning and Urban Design with Oculist Rift and they published an e-book about Unity3D and Architectural Visualization (including a chapter about the Rift).

So lots of experimenting going on, still early phase.

 

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!

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;
http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/1920s%20Berlin/243/207/753

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;
https://www.facebook.com/oculuslife


With regards,

Jo Yardley
The 1920s Berlin Project

It sure is a place to keep an eye on…

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.

 

 

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.

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

oculus

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.