Publishing Articles at UploadVR

Going forward, some of my more major articles may be published through UploadVR. Articles that are published through UploadVR will appear on the Metaversing site shortly thereafter.

UploadVR

UploadVR

You may wonder what is behind this agreement. Have I decided to start writing for financial compensation? No, not at all.

From my side, this arrangement is practical. I gain access to an editor to review and enhance my work, I gain a better insight into the process of writing for a public audience, and I reach a far greater number of viewers than I would on my own website.

From their side, they gain first access to some very unique material, since most of my writing contains original research. I’m already seeing the value of this partnership, and I’d expect this arrangement to remain in place as long as it works out well for both of us.

So, this is just a heads-up. If you see some of my work promoted on UploadVR and linked to their website, that’s just fine by me. We both benefit from working together.

IBM Patent Claims to Invent Group Travel, Except “in the Metaverse”

IBM is no stranger to virtual world patents.

Last year, we looked at how we would implement travel between unrelated virtual worlds, when we accidentally stumbled across an IBM patent from 2013 which touched on that very concept. IBM described a system that would read your personal profile (friends, interest, age, etc) and teleport you to a region in your destination that compliments your profile.

This month, the US Patent and Trademark Office published a new patent application from IBM, called System and Method for Group Control in a Metaverse Application. In short, it looks like a standard method for online group travel, except, “in the Metaverse”.

The concept is simple. The patent details an innovation where a “group link engine” allows users to be invited into a group. Once inside the group, a leader can control their actions. They then add in additional obvious claims, such as the ability to transfer leadership, to temporarily remove a member from the group, to send out invitations to the group, and to record movements.

Are we witnessing the start of patents which take an obvious concept and then claims that it is something new because it is “in the Metaverse”? One can only hope that the USPTO can see through such obviousness.

A Review of Portals in Virtual Worlds

BACKGROUND

A year ago, we started to look at how we might travel from one virtual world (anything from a simple program launcher to a more complex program like JanusVR) into a completely unrelated virtual environment.

As I searched for some consensus on how portal should look and operate, I wasn’t able to find any good guides which cover the topic. (The extensive use of the word portal by web-based companies has made it a particularly difficult topic to search.) This article is a (non-exhaustive) review of portals as a popular method used in virtual worlds today to transport the user to entirely different regions.

What are portals? Portals are typically objects or areas in the environment which advertise the ability for a user to approach and engage them in order to be teleported to a new location. Traditionally, they are placed vertically along a well (and walked into), but they can be placed horizontally along the floor (and stepped onto). An additional activation step may be required.

Portals won’t be the exclusive means of long-distance travel within and between virtual worlds. What portals have going for them is that they’re already commonplace in virtual worlds, they can be visually integrated into many themes, and they’re easily understood by players.

In JanusVR, portals take center stage as the method used to connect otherwise unrelated virtual worlds.

In JanusVR, portals take center stage as the method used to connect otherwise unrelated virtual worlds.

Read More…

The Valve/Oculus Layered Compositors (Magic Glue for VR)


UPDATE: The speculation didn’t last long. Valve has just released their OpenVR SDK which includes documentation for the Compositor. The actual implementation differs in some interesting ways, but the Use and Features section, below, is still a good summary of what Valve and Oculus are trying to achieve here. More details are at the end of this article.


INTRODUCTION

In March, Valve released a new concept into SteamVR called the VR Compositor. Like everything else at this point, the specification is not yet public. (So insert the standard speculative disclaimers here. If I flubbed something, please be forgiving, but let me know.) It shouldn’t be too hard for us to tease together what its function and purpose might be.

VR Compositor:

  • This is a new component of SteamVR that simplifies the process of adding VR support to an application.
  • Continues to draw an environment even if the application hangs.
  • Simplifies handing off from one application to another without full screen context changes by owning the window on the headset.

-Programmer Joe (Valve)

Let’s break that down a bit. The compositor grabs the VR display, owns it, and continues running. When a compositor-aware application wants to use the HMD, it goes to the compositor to request access to the HMD. The compositor hands a buffer to the application and tells the application to render into that buffer. Read More…

Is Valve Flirting with Augmented Reality?

The story of how Valve let two of its engineers walk away with the company’s augmented reality tech is well known to the VR crowd. The impression we came away with was that Valve has shifted all of their attention to virtual reality and hasn’t looked back since. Or have they?

In last month’s series of articles on Valve’s Lighthouse, we reviewed what was known about their new tracking technology and covered some potential uses of the tech.

The Lumus DK-32 Wearable Display Development Kit

The Lumus DK-32 Wearable Display Development Kit

A curious finding was that not only was Lighthouse compatible with augmented reality, but that it actually helps solve some of the critical problems which continue to plague the fledgling industry. It was hard to think that this fact could have escaped Valve’s notice.

On April 23rd, Valve finally included their Lighthouse driver in the SteamVR beta. While the API remains unpublished, an examination of the new component revealed a very curious set of strings…


STEREO_DEV_NVIS_ST60,
STEREO_DEV_NVIS_ST50,
STEREO_DEV_NVIS_ST50_MARK2,
STEREO_DEV_VUZIX_STAR_1200,
STEREO_DEV_LUMUS_DK_32,
STEREO_DEV_LUMUS_DK_32_DUALCB,
STEREO_DEV_DANHAT_EMAGIN_SXGA, STEREO_DEV_BENCRUSHER_MICROVISION, STEREO_DEV_BENCRUSHER2_MICROVISION, STEREO_DEV_DEANPHOTONBLASTER, STEREO_DEV_ST1080_FLIP_FORWARD, STEREO_DEV_ST1080_FLIP_UPWARD, STEREO_DEV_ST1080_UPWARD_GLUE_GUN_SPECIAL, STEREO_DEV_OCULUS_RIFT_FLIP_UPWARD, STEREO_DEV_JERI_RETRO_MARK1


We see references to the nVisor ST50 combination AR/VR head mounted display, the Vuzix Star 1200 augmented reality glasses, the Lumus DK-32 augmented reality glasses, the Silicon Micro ST1080 HMD with 10% see-through display, and a number of development units named after microdisplay manufacturers.

There are also “flip” models of various displays including the Oculus Rift. Could these be AR/VR combo devices? Finally, we have what seems to be a reference to one of the AR prototype displays that were created by former Valve employee Jeri Ellsworth.

To recap: with Lighthouse, we have a new technology which has the potential to offer breakthroughs in augmented reality. Listed inside the windows device driver (which actually implements the technology) are specific models of AR and AR/VR combo devices.

We still don’t have proof, but we have enough pieces to start asking the question: is Valve flirting with augmented reality?


EDITED May 16, 2015: It is possible that the flip models are made to allow the user to easily see and interact with the real world simply by flipping the display out of the way.


Metaverse Observations and Beliefs

This article contains a listing of some metaverse observations and beliefs.

There do not appear to be any similar lists to compare this to, so your feedback on this list (and what is missing) is appreciated. I know that many of you can be tough critics, but constructive criticism is welcome. On the other hand, if this list strikes you as boring and unchallenging, that’s welcome news for me.

Observations

VR hardware and software is evolving rapidly.

  • Hardware and software solutions are not stable
  • Large investments can quickly become irrelevant
  • Poor solutions are quickly replaced by better ones
  • Continued investment is needed to stay current

There are limited rules for deciding what a metaverse is or how it should behave.

  • Many definitions exist
  • Fundamental definition is the ability to experience and perform actions with others in shared virtual spaces
  • Guided by previous attempts at metaverse implementation
  • Guided by current metaverse implementations
  • Guided by existing virtual worlds
  • Guided by science fiction

It is difficult to create a metaverse.

  • Barrier to entry is high
  • Expectations are high
  • Investment period is long
  • Significant investment required in money, people, and resources
  • VR ecosystem is rapidly evolving, adding to risk
  • Return on investment is unproven and uncertain

Competition already exists. There will more than one metaverse.

  • Stranded content
  • Fragmented userbase
  • Increased innovation
  • Increases risk for metaverse providers, developers, investors
  • Increased choice for users, developers, advertisers, investors

There will be many different possible sources of revenue for a metaverse provider to choose from.

  • Transactional advertising (“click here for our store”)
  • Brand advertising (long-term exposure to brand “Nike!” “Nike!” “Nike!”)
  • Connection or usage fees by users
  • Connection or usage fees by commercial developers
  • Premium content (models, features, events)
  • Premium services
  • Special placement of content/locations/events
  • Rent, building or land ownership, and development
  • In-world currency and in-world transactions
  • Cloud storage services
  • Cloud hosting services
  • Consulting services

Beliefs

  • For most companies, the metaverse will be used as an opportunity to extend their existing business models.
  • In the short term, major metaverse platforms which intend to use surveillance or data mining of their clients are less likely to fully disclose that information for fear of backlash and reduced adoption rates.
  • In the long term, major companies which are currently engaging surveillance and data mining of their clients are expected to continue that practice on a metaverse platform.
  • A metaverse does not need to limit itself to real-world constraints just for the sake of closely simulating reality.
  • The more complex and integrated a platform is, the slower that innovation becomes.
  • Users and developers are dependent on platform providers for technological innovation.
  • While competition can result in waste, it still remains a net positive for metaverse development. A competitive market is good.
  • The choices made in the initial design of a metaverse are critical to its character and its success.
  • A general-purpose metaverse cannot succeed inside of a self-contained bubble. It must interface with the real world to be successful. (Novelty will bring the users in, but utility will keep them.)
  • A metaverse could be embodied in different forms which have yet to be demonstrated.
  • A metaverse is most likely to be created and maintained by a small team effort, web-based company, or gaming company (rather than the telco or an organzied non-profit model as given in science fiction).

How do you Solve the Metaverse Problem?

When you meet someone who has a metaverse or virtual world project, ask them what they’re creating. If their answer is something like, “I’m creating a engine in C++ that uses a distributed computing to present an interactive world that is defined by point clouds”, they’ve only described their solution. Do you fully understand the problem that they’re solving? More important: do they?

An artist's interpretation of the Systems Engineering process. Source: Penn State Lunar Lion Team

An artist’s interpretation of the Systems Engineering process. Source: Penn State Lunar Lion Team

I came across a great quote about systems engineering at Wikipedia. “The systems engineering process must begin by discovering the real problem that needs to be solved; the biggest failure that can be made in systems engineering is finding an elegant solution to the wrong problem.” When we’re making a Metaverse, what is it that we’re trying to solve?

When I read the quote above, it resonated with me. Why don’t we make a fresh attempt to start with needs and then work towards a technical solution? Who’s problems are we trying to solve, what are they, and how important at they?

We are going to try to understand the needs behind something that is very thorny: a metaverse project.


It is worth pointing out that even though we’ll start our focus with needs and we’ll end up at solutions, we’re still following the same path that has been made many times before us. We’re going into this by saying that our solution is a metaverse. The only uncertainty is what form that metaverse will take.

The mistake? We’re defining the problem in terms of a solution. At least this time we recognizing that fact up-front. Perhaps this illustrates yet another reason why the very attempt to intentionally create a metaverse can result in its failure.

Now, back to determining needs…


The Users

To understand the needs that drive a metaverse, we could start by asking people what they want or need in their everyday life. (Finding an expert summary would make more sense.) It might be hard to turn their answers into something useful, but I think there is a lot of insight into basic human needs and desires that shouldn’t be easily dismissed. Read More…

A Call for Shepherds in the Virtual Reality Community


This is the third and final article (in a series) on the issues that face the virtual reality community as it finally enters a period of rapid and sustained growth. If you need additional context, please begin with the first article in the series, “Before the Eternal September of Virtual Reality“.


Developers

You are a developer, right?

That’s the impression that many of you gave Oculus when you agreed that you were purchasing a product that was intended for developers. If that is actually not the case, we’d like for you to stick around.

Given the amount of time that the development kits have been available, and the introduction of other “innovator” products (like Cardboard and Gear VR), I think that it is a safe bet that software developers are already a small minority in the VR community.

This time around, nobody is holding your order hostage until you click the checkbox with the correct answer. Do you mind giving this unscientific poll a quick response?

 

Only a year ago, we were using the original Oculus Rift Developer’s Kit (DK1). The community could be an unfriendly place for non-developers. Do you know how we tended to respond to those who were having problems finding good games and getting them to work? Repeat the mantra from the caption below.

“The Oculus Rift is Intended for Developers Only”

The image above is clearly a fake, as is the quote, but the sentiment was (and to some degree, still is) true. Even today, the Oculus Rift is intended for developers, and it works well for Oculus not to be sandbagged with end-user support at this time. Read More…

A Review of Earlier Articles… and a Return to Metaverse Issues

Nine months ago, I wrote my last article on the Metaverse.

It was a short piece, mostly referencing an email from Fabian Giesen, a demoscene coder (and more) who was doing some VR work at Valve as a contractor. I’ll be honest, his message was a real downer for me, and I had my own Notch moment. Why was I working towards something that, if successful, would ultimately be used just to provide value to Facebook?

Over the past nine months, a surprising number of you have told me how those early Metaverse articles had actually been very helpful to you. A few of you said that you had a Metaverse effort going, but most of you were creating multiplayer virtual environments. Thank you all for your feedback and support!

I think the moment that it all crystallized and brought me back to Metaversing was seeing the return of Valve with the HTC Vive. Suddenly, it seemed like there were possibilities once again. Thanks, Gabe. I’m looking forward to learning more about your shared entertainment universe… perhaps a non-traditional Metaverse? Read More…

Trademark Battle: Oculus VR vs Oculus Info

oculusinfo

Oculus Info logo

The company formerly known as Oculus Info reported that in 2013, the United States Patent and Trademark Office refused to register Oculus VR as a trademark, and as a result, Oculus VR initiated proceedings with the USPTO to try to cancel Oculus Info’s existing trademark.

This isn’t the only trademark-related court case with Oculus VR, the first being Oculu vs Oculus VR.

Our original research unveiled more about this new case which barely made it into the public eye. In the end, the two parties reached a confidential settlement with undisclosed terms, and the case was dismissed with no further litigation. The trademark for Oculus Info was cancelled. Oculus Info became Uncharted Software Inc in February 2015.

If you would like more information about case, it was filed as a civil case in the Virgina state court, case #1:14-cv-00436-AJT-TRJ. You might find additional interesting information inside some of the supporting documents.

Timeline of events (as seen in public records and as told by Oculus Info):

  • 2008 July – Oculus Info applies for a trademark
  • 2011 May – Oculus Info’s trademark is registered
  • 2013 February – Oculus VR applies for a trademark
  • 2013 May – Oculus VR warned of issues by USPTO, given chance to respond
  • 2013 November – Oculus VR responds
  • 2013 November – USPTO communicates with Oculus VR, sends suspension letter
  • 2013 November – Cancellation proceeding initiated (reported to be on behalf of Oculus VR) at USPTO against Oculus Info
  • 2014 April – Oculus Info takes Oculus VR to court on trademark issues
  • 2014 June – Settlement agreement between Oculus Info and Oculus VR
  • 2014 August – Oculus Info’s trademark is cancelled
  • 2014 December – Oculus VR’s trademark is registered
  • 2015 February – Oculus Info becomes Uncharted Software

Was Oculus VR trying to bully a smaller company? Was Oculus Info trying to leverage a weak or improper trademark? Did Oculus VR pay Oculus Info for the trademark? These are good questions, but we do not expect to find those answers. It ended in a confidential settlement agreement.

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