Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Head Mounted Displays and Augmented Reality Headgear

 The idea of immersing ourselves deeper into an augmented and or virtual reality has captivated many of us thanks to sci-fi books like Snow Crash and Rainbows End. It has also created an explosion in growth the past few years of Head Mounted Displays (HMD) and augmented reality glasses projects. AR glasses and HMDs have been around for some time but people really started to get excited about augmented reality headwear when Google announced Glass back in 2012. So let's start the review here.

Google Glass:
Before the recent announcement of it being discontinued but now "graduating" from the Google X experimental projects incubator to become its own independent division (that will report to Nest's Tony Fadell), Google Glass was a $1,500 type of wearable technology with an optical head-mounted display (OHMD). It was developed by Google with the mission of producing a mass-market ubiquitous computer. Tailored mainly to work with Google products, Google Glass displays information in a smartphone-like hands-free format.

The Promise:

The Reality:

 Despite the public backlash to Google Glass as seen in the Daily Show clip, there is an increasing number of HMD and AR glasses coming onto the market. Sony debuting Morpheus and Facebook buying Oculus Rift for a couple billion certainly got folks serious and interested in the subject and it seems lately everywhere I look some company is releasing or someone is Kickstarting a HMD unit or AR glasses. Let's take a look at the head gear currently available, coming soon, and in the future.

Oculus Rift:
  The poster child for VR headsets, the Oculus Rift is a VR success story and by far the most popular HMD not yet on the commercial market. With an original goal of raising $250,000 on Kickstarter back in 2012, the Oculus team raised over $2.4 million with that campaign and then were acquired by Facebook back in March 2014.
Dev Kit 1
Dev Kit 2

I was a backer of their Kickstarter campaign and that got me a DevKit1. The DevKit2 is now available to developers but it has been reported the commercial unit will not ship until February 2016. Facebook has not said what they plan to do with Oculus yet, but recent VR related acquisitions and these comments by Mark Zuckerberg keep the excitement strong for what is coming next regarding immersive technologies and the world's largest social network.

 Technical Illusions' castAR is another Kickstarter success story I have reviewed before. According to the Technical Illusions team, castAR is mixed reality mode glasses, allowing for social Projected Reality and fully immersive Virtual Reality.

The castAR system is available to developers for pre-order starting at $345. This package includes the castAR glasses with its built in tracking system, a magic wand, and the 1 meter by 1 meter surface. No date has been set for when a commercial product will ship.

Samsung GearVR:
 In collaboration with Oculus, Samsung developed their own HMD called GearVR, which they released to developers late last year. GearVR is a $199 cordless head mount that turns any Samsung Galaxy Note 4 into a virtual reality headset. I personally rate this one as the best mobile VR unit to date.

Atheer One
 Atheer Labs is the creator of Atheer One, a pair of AR glasses that are supported by their platform called Augmented Interactive Reality (AiR). Their SDK is built upon the Android APIs and supports 3rd party toolkits such as Qualcomm’s Vuforia SDK and the Unity3D engine. Claiming to be the only portable and immersive smart glasses supporting natural interaction, the One and AiR platform combines immersive 3D augmented reality with natural gesture-based interaction for AR that you can touch.

  Formed in 1997, Vuzix has been in the HMD and AR glasses space for a while and has a variety of glasses products. Currently, Vuzix is under contract with DARPA to design and build a next generation heads up display for military ground personnel.

With primary focus on the gaming industry, OSVR (Open Source Virtual Reality) is an initiative to bring open source VR to the masses. Comprised mainly of hardware vendors, it is an ecosystem that strives to be fully open-source with their OSVR Hacker Developer Kit schematics and drawings for the headset available for download so one can quickly build their own or improve on existing VR-Glass designs. OSVR software supports multiple operating systems, plugs into leading game engines and is freely available under a Apache 2.0 license.


MoverioSmart Glasses:
 Japanese electronics company Epson (Seiko Epson Corporation) has had a pair of Augmented Reality glasses on the market for a few years now. According to Epson, "The next-generation Moverio BT-200 smart glasses are designed to change how you experience the world around you. With new and improved features and a more compact size, these innovative smart glasses are setting the new standard in Augmented Reality."

Meta's SpaceGlasses:
 Meta claims its initial product, called SpaceGlasses, is meant more as a tool for app developers than as a gadget you’d want to actually wear. Like other AR glasses, it needs to be physically tethered to a computer in order to work. It includes a see-through projectable LCD for each eye, an infrared depth camera, and a standard color camera, as well as an accelerometer, gyroscope, and compass. The Meta 1 Developer Kit is available for $667.00.

Cardboard HMDs:
By far the cheapest option for a HMD on this list, cardboard VR units turn any supported smartphone device into a virtual reality headset. It was with the debut of Google Cardboard at Google's I/O conference that got others looking at this low cost alternative and it didn't take long for other cardboard clones to hit the market. Based in San Francisco, DODOcase has entered the VR space by manufacturing a line of their own cardboard units and with a successful Kickstarter campaign for DIYVR (Do It Yourself Virtual Reality).


Sulon Cortex: (Not yet released)
Sulon Technologies released at CES 2015 its Cortex AR/VR headset. Though it's still early days for the company's standalone Cortex AR/VR headset, it's managed to merge immersion and augmentation in some pretty fascinating ways. When it releases to developers, it plans to cost $500 a unit.

Microsoft HoloLens:  (Not yet released)
Microsoft recently debuted their entry into the AR glasses and HMD space with a device they have named HoloLens. It is great to see them get excited about immersive technology and I highly recommend a visit to this article on the Verge about their first hand demo with the unit.

Magic Leap: (Not yet released)
 Saving the most mysterious for last, Magic Leap is making waves in the augmented reality space with their recent raising of $542 million dollars and hiring of Sci-Fi author Neal Stephenson as their ‘Chief Futurist’. Magic Leap has been secretive about how their system works technically, but a plethora of disclosures in their filings provide the broad outline. A lightweight head-mounted device will house a tiny projector comprised of bespoke prisms and lenses that will beam images onto the user’s retinas creating a “dynamic digitized light field signal.” Infrared positioning cameras, GPS modules, and multi-axis accelerometers will assist in blending images and video with the real world. Let's hope it lives up to the promise.


 Quite the list and this is by no means all the headgear devices and HMDs coming soon or available to developers now. While it is still too early to say which devices will reign supreme, it can be said that with this many HMDs and AR glasses coming to the market that our digital and real lives are about to become a lot more immersive and much faster than most anticipate. :)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Open and Interoperable Augmented Reality

  In my travels over the years I have had the opportunity to meet some amazing people that are champions for technology open standards. Sure this may not be the most interesting part of a technology's ecosystem but it is among the most important. True most people I talk with agree that standards are important but the passionate individuals I speak of now not only understand the importance of standards, they also advocate for and are actively involved with how the standards evolve. In the realm of augmented reality, Christine Perey is such a champion and heroine.

 I could write a whole article on the amazing work this lady has done for AR over the years but this post is a shout out to the AR Community for Open and Interoperable Augmented Reality Experiences, an international grassroots community she organizes. Now on their 12th AR Community meeting, this group is made up of members that wish to utilize open interfaces and standards in their AR projects and/or contribute to the advancement of initiatives which promote open interfaces and interoperability to reduce barriers to growth of the AR industry. While open to anyone that wants to contribute, the community comprises some of the biggest names in mobile, desktop, academia, AR, and standards organizations.

 Seems there is a lot going on this year regarding the topic of AR standards and here is what Christine has to say. "Greetings and Happy New Year! Fasten your seat belts! 2015 is off to a great start and promises to be a banner year for open and interoperable Augmented Reality. The AR Community virtual meetings help people to engage with and contribute to the activities of the AR Community between our in-person meetings. Our virtual community meeting program and schedule is described on this page." More on this group can be found at their website and the AR Standards Meeting Youtube Channel.

I highly recommend anyone that truly cares about AR being a part of our everyday to join this community. This is the group that is making the world that TechCrunch bloggers and other media outlets promise when they talk of our augmented reality future. It is for this I say thank you AR Standards Community and thank you Christine for all that you do. I am excited to see what 2015 brings for open AR!

Friday, January 9, 2015

3D Web Performance Festival - Merging Art & the 3D Web

  My first post of 2015 touched into how this is going to be a great year for web3D and the 3D Web. Now while there is a growing number of web developers already evolving flat websites into those with web3D content or into fully interactive 3D Web applications, games, and environments, there is still a lack of 3D Web art that one can visit online. Other than Chris Milk's "3 Dreams of Black" and a handful of other experiences that leverage web3D, there really isn't much out there in the art-meets-music-meets-web3d realm. I encourage my readers to please provide links in the comments section to any web experiences that fit this criteria that you know of and like.

 So why aren't more artists collaborating with web developers to make crazy cool web experience art like 3 Dreams of Back? Well it seems I am not the only person asking this and with that said, I am thrilled to announce the 3D Web Festival.

 The 3D Web Festival will showcase websites that are the best mixture of music, art, and technology by those inspired by what’s possible from the best of the best of the 3D Web. The website states the festival will, "bring together the best of the 3D Web - presented as Live Performance Art – amazing, delightful, surprising and at times disturbing". There will be creations by selected artists and developers of all kinds showing off their best 3D web sites live with musical accompaniment. Guests will also get to participate in a panel session with selected performers on the future of the 3D Web including audience Q&A. The show will be held Wednesday May 13, 2015 in San Francisco, and in true support-the-arts fashion the ticket proceeds from this event will go to the oldest working theater in San Francisco - the Roxie.

 Leading up to the May event will be a series of 3D Web Fest Mixers where artists, musicians, and web developers can meet, brainstorm, and work on creations to submit for the festival. January 20, 2015 kicks off the first meeting for the 3D Web Festival in San Francisco at the Folsom Street Foundry. Make sure to check out the event's Facebook page and website for dates and locations of this and future 3D Web Fest Mixers.

 The mixers and festival are organized by members of the art and web3D communities with premium sponsors like Autodesk also supporting this art movement. So if you are an artist or musician that is looking to make a cool 3D Web experience, these are the mixers and event for you. Submit your work and get the chance to take make history with the world's first showcase performance art festival for this new style and medium. I am going to make sure I get my ticket as this is going to be exciting!

Friday, January 2, 2015

2015 - The Year of Web3D & the 3D Web

I can say it with confidence in 2015,"The 3D Web is finally here!" I have been involved with and covered web3D tech for years but it has only been since last year's support of WebGL (a JavaScript API for rendering interactive 3D & 2D graphics) by all the major browser vendors that web3D is truly ubiquitous on all desktop, tablet, and mobile devices. Gone are the days of having to download and install a plugin or app to run interactive 3D content via the web.

The super exciting thing for me is that this web3d tech development has created a groundwork within HTML5 for the highly anticipated 3D Web. What is the difference between web3D and the 3D Web you may ask? I see web3D as all tech related to the delivery and rendering of static and interactive 3D content on the Internet. Google Earth, World Of Warcraft, 3D online gaming, virtual surgery, and military simulations are some examples of web3D applications. Unity3DFlashX3D-Edit, and Sublime Text are some examples of authoring tools developers use for creating web3D content. VRML/X3D, WebGL, X3DOM, GLAM, and three.js are examples of web3D languages. Even web-based virtual reality, or WebVR, that connects the web with head mounted displays and smartphone HMDs is. All of this is web3D.

The 3D Web is simply the 3D representation part of the Internet that like the 2D part is built on open source and open standards such as HTML5, CSS, JS, etc. The 3D Web breaks web3D free of traditionally walled technology garden experiences. Sure this is something that web3D standards achieved decades ago, but even the standards required a player for viewing content. As a web developer, building for the 3D Web provides me a certain level of comfort around my content's longevity and the freedom from being subject to the whims of proprietary web3D platforms.

I'm keeping this post short but expect to see more from me this year on various 3D web companies, websites, applications, and news. I am even putting together a video series about it all on my MetaverseOne Youtube Channel (mainly for my folks) as these are very exciting times for the Web and the open Metaverse. Happy 2015 all!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Enter VR - The podcast for virtual reality news

  It has been great to see the influx of fresh faces and new energy into the web3D space thanks to the popularity of virtual reality. In the Bay Area alone there are several meetup groups around the topic of VR and it was at the San Francisco VR Meetup that I met Cris Miranda.

 Cris is the host of Enter VR, a podcast with some pretty amazing interviews with industry leaders about virtual reality at the intersection of gaming, technology, business and society. I recently sat down with Cris to chat about VR in an interview he named, 'Discussing the Internet of Things, Connected Cities, and Virtual Reality with Damon Hernandez'.

 Thanks again to Cris for the fun opportunity and make sure to check out the Enter VR blog with his other podcast interviews. I am off now to listen to 'Rehabilitating the Mind with Virtual Reality, Using Big Data in VR and more with Dr. Mike Aratow'. Like the name says, Enter VR is a great resource for those that want to know the latest and greatest as they enter into the world of virtual reality.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A Weekend of Making Virtual Reality Very Real

It was only a matter of time before it happened but October 17-19, 2014 was the first SF/Bay area Virtual Reality Hackathon held at the Gray Area Theater in San Francisco's Mission District.

Initiated by those from the SF/Bay Area Virtual Reality community and with big help from the Web3D Consortium and LEAP Motion, the hackathon brought together developers, designers, and other enthusiasts for a weekend of collaboration on various virtual reality projects.

It started Friday night with a VR Mega-mixer and a couple presentations before diving into hackathon logistics. with plenty of demos for visitors to try out including my favorite from Sixense who brought their Star Wars Jedi trainer app that uses their new Stem controllers.

NASA's JPL team presented on a collaboration they did with Sony on a prototype VR system using their Morpheus headset to control robots for mining asteroids, and CTO David Holz from Leap Motion gave an interesting view with his presentation 'A Quick Peek at the Future of Wearable Displays and Inputs'. 

Projects from the Saturday and Sunday hackathon ranged from immersive 360° video, games, VR controlled underwater UAVs, mobile VR experiences, and more. Check out the VR Hackathon Winners' page to see the teams that won in the different categories.

Not all the teams have shared their projects but here are some I have info on.

Best Open Web VR Project winner Project Med Explorer used the Oculus Rift, Javascript, WebVR, X3Dom, and Leap Motion for a medical image Gallery Demo.

Best of Show and Best Unity VR Project winner team 1-800-Reactive made an awesome VR Ghostbusters game. This is among my top favorite VR experiences as seen in the video below.

Definitely worth checking out is Kean Walmsley's blog Through the Interface that has a nice writeup here about the event and his time there with Autodesk. Also make sure to visit the website's Hackathon Winners page to see all the category winners and the Web3D Consortiums page for additional information. 

As one of the organizers I want to take a moment to thank all of our sponsors, the great community that participated, the various meetup groups that helped spread the word, and a very special thanks to Dr. Mike Aratow, Eriks Strals, Elizabeth Ruscitto, Anthony Lerma, Edwin, and Cade from LEAP Motion that did all the magic to make this event happen. The next event is being planned for April and I am very much looking forward to it. Hope to see you there!