Sansar and VR / AR in the press

AppliedVR: VR support for hospital patients. Credit: AppliedVR (see below)

This month has seen some interesting press pieces popping up concerning VR and Sansar since the opening of the Creator Beta. However, three in particular have so far caught my eye as they appeared, as they offer interesting perspectives and discussion points both on the Lab’s new platform and on VR and AR as a whole.

The first – and most recent, is Barely into Beta, Sansar is making social VR look good, by Alice Bonasio, which appeared in The Next Web on August 18th. The title caused some to question Sansar’s social capabilities, but the article itself was more about Sansar’s overall status and development, rather than zeroing directly into the medium of “social VR” per se. In this respect, it opens by clearly underlining the platform is still in its early days, and there is still much to be done, using a quote from Peter Gray, the Lab’s Director of Global Communications, to do so:

We wanted to make Sansar available to everyone as early as possible, and there are still a lot of features and capabilities that we’re excited to add to the platform soon, as well as many improvements to the current featureset.

Alice Bonasio: looking at Sansar

From here, Ms Bonasio makes the point that despite the lack of features and capabilities which will be needed to fulfil on its promise of being a social hub, it already looks good and offers a lot to see, much of which points to the platform’s potential.

The piece also delves into some of the technical and economic factors which set Sansar apart: such as Linden Lab’s partnerships with IKinema and Speech Graphics. The former is key to the Sansar avatars utilising Inverse Kinematics in an advanced way, and which are and will play a key role in the Sansar avatar’s development. The latter is key to synchronising facial animations automatically to match speech patterns, a capability key to many of the social interactions Linden Lab hope will be occurring within Sansar.

The article also touches on some of the key differences between Sansar and Second Life, the ability Linden Lab has to take fourteen years of running a virtual world to help shape the philosophy and approach it takes with Sansar. Passing – but important – mention is made of the Lab’s ability to self-finance Sansar; given the topsy-turvy situation with Altspace VR (which may have been saved from having to close), this is an important fact to keep in mind.

As noted above, the piece has received some feedback questioning the “social” element of Sansar at it stands at present, which given the broader thrust of the article might be considered a little out-of-context. However, it is fair to say that right now Sansar does currently lack elements which could be regarded as essential to supporting larger-scale social activities. Similarly, while social interactions are possible – as demonstrated through the daily meet-ups held “in-worlds” – it’s also fair to say these can be confusing and limiting for some. For example, undisciplined voice chat can mean that that multiple conversations in a single locale can overlay one another and become confusing to those not used to voice chat.

Hopefully these issues will be addressed, along with the provision of other social elements, and I’ll doubtless have more to say on them myself in the future 🙂 . In the meantime, this article provides a good summation of Sansar for the curious / those wishing to catch-up on things.

Samantha Cole examines VR’s role in conference calls

Over at The Fast Company, Samantha Cole uses Sansar to ask Will Virtual Reality Solve Your Conference Call Nightmares?

I’ll say up-front that I’m one of the non-believers that VR will become ubiquitous for business-style conference calls for a number of reasons, and its fair to say that Samantha Cole does a balanced job of presenting both sides of the argument – whilst also offering side pointers to those areas where VR is already showing benefits (and which I’d suggest Sansar could leverage).

Much has been made of VR’s abilities to add body language, hand movements, eye movement and contact – all vital elements in adding subliminal feedback / context to our day-to-day, face-to-face interactions to one another – to give more depth and meaning to tele- and video-style conferencing. In doing so, the likes of the telephone and “traditional” means of this type of conferencing have been somewhat “demonised”. Emphasis is laid on things like network latency, or the extra mental effort involved in reading into people’s words when you can only hear their voice or see their head / shoulders, as “limiting” such interactions.

But the truth is, we’ve been using the telephone for decades as a business tool. It’s fast and convenient, and as adults, we’re all pretty adept on picking-up on vocal nuances. We’re also, in a business context, far more prepared to communicate directly with colleagues; if there is something worrying / irksome within a work environment / business project, most of us are pretty willing to make thought known, be they over the ‘phone, face-to-face or via e-mail. So even with the faster, lighter, better VR technology we’re promised will be coming down the pipe, is it really any kind of “killer app” for business conferencing?

Eric Boyd, a professor of marketing at James Madison University points to emerging trends within the workplace as a whole being more a deciding factor here. Many companies have experimented with remote / home working over the past 2 or so decades, and the pendulum tends to swing back and forth. Right now, as the article points out, one of the first to enter the arena of remote working, IBM, is currently backing away from it. Thus, if working practices remain centralised, it’s hard to see VR overturning technologies already in place and supported by existing corporate infrastructure, no matter what the perceptions of their “limitations”. But for those organisations continuing to embrace remote working, VR could become a useful meeting tool.

Certainly there would seem to be far better uses VR could be put towards within a business environment: prototyping, training, simulations, and so on, which seem far more likely to drive its adoption by business and industry far more than the humble conference call. In this, Cole’s pointing to VR’s potential in training and simulation and in architecture is very salient; these are very much markets well suited to VR / AR / MR – perhaps more so that conference calls.

Amitt Mahajan – taking the temperature of the VR / AR market

Writing for Xconomy, Bernadette Tansey sits down with Amitt Mahajan, a Managing Partner at Presence Capital to take the temperature at VR / AR at mid-year., which also touches on the potential for both as business platforms / tools.

While Sansar is only mentioned in passing (together with the downs and ups of AltspaceVR), the article is interesting as it encompasses the viewpoint of a company investing in VR and AR start-ups with funding in the US $100,000-500,000 range – which is small when compared to the likes of the big players, but has allowed the company to bask some significant start-ups, including STRIVR, who are in the VR training a simulation field mentioned above.

The article opens which a rapid-fire overview of the VR / AR market – including its niche status at present, which could be said to be largely down to the limitations of the current hardware (or lack thereof in AR’s case, although that is beginning to change) rather than anything else. However, the meat of the piece is where Mahajan sees the technologies going over the next several years.

What’s interesting here is that within Presence Capital, they are moving away from consumer-focused VR endeavours and more towards business and business-to-business (B2B) / enterprise VR applications as well as for AR; he points to the likes of AppliedVR and their development of an immersive platform to help comfort patients  undergoing painful procedures, and also underlines VR’s application in training.

This year’s swing towards AR is also examined: Google, Apple and Facebook are all looking to develop AR platforms, and the discussion looks at these and at the questions of standards, formats, and enabling technologies. In this, Mahajan points somewhat towards the eventual merger of AR and VR to produce Mixed Reality, indirectly pointing to how AR – augmented reality – could actually become an enabler of VR (something the likes of Qualcomm are working towards with Android and their snapdragon chipset), simply because it will allow both to coexists as tools people can switch between according to needs.

All three article make for interesting reads, presenting a broad range of perspectives not just on Sansar (in the case of Alice Bonasio’s piece) but on VR and AR as whole.

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11 thoughts on “Sansar and VR / AR in the press

  1. When the Sansar beta opened and the general user was allowed in I checked it out. My initial reaction was less positive and flowery than Ms. Bonasio.

    As a long time, user of Second Life (SL) I wondered with all the lab’s experience with virtual worlds and three years of development was what had they been doing all this time! I was very DISAPPOINTED.

    While the individual experiences are impressive looking but they are not that much better than using the advance graphics option in SL. A user can’t do much more than look. Too many obvious things like a way to organize the Atlas were missing.

    A constant refrain is, “It’s still early days.” After three years of effort it is not early days anymore!

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    1. Depends on how you look at it. Three years isn’t a long time given Sansar is a system built from the ground up, which has also incorporated leading edge software capabilities from other companies as a core part of its foundation and extensibility. And had it emerged on the scene “fully fledged” with all the capabilities the Lab felt were needed cut, dried and in place – doubtless there would be complaints that the Lab is ignoring the lessons of Second Life and the value of involving users.

      As it is, it was felt the line had to be drawn somewhere – and while I personally felt there would have been no harm in waiting a little longer and putting a few more elements in place – it’s been drawn. Now is the opportunity to see how the platform develops and continues to attract interest – and even play a part in its development. All I need to do is remember the times of the weekly development meetings!

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      1. Let’s see how it develops and attract interest. In special way the interest from costumers and the costumer retention, which is what eventually counts for its success.
        So far what we can see from Google Trends and SL stats doesn’t appear so encouraging.
        Google Trends shows only a tiny peak – that quickly fades out after the announcement – and barely stands atop the background rumor of unrelated searches.
        https://trends.google.it/trends/explore?date=2016-08-21%202017-08-21&q=%2Fm%2F02sz9d,Sansar
        Furthermore it is a little fraction of the already few SL searches, in spite of the media coverage. Note that this can’t be compared to Second Life in 2003, as SL had this kind of coverage much later, while Sansar had some coverage on every tech news website even before this first release, plus pre launch teasers
        Meanwhile SL stats haven’t been touched by the release, even if SL users are among those most interested in Sansar.

        Reasons could be many: not so famous yet, despite the coverage. Requirements that restrict the user base. Some issues. Some disappointment (announced to allow Kms wide spaces, it can take up to 15-30 minutes to download a room at the respectively recommended 10 – 5 Mbps; announced to allow – unlike SL – loads of avatars per space, it’s limited to 35 and the frame rate goes down anyway; said there were some wonderful social experiences already, lol did I miss it? And so on and on) there isn’t much to do unless you are a creator (at whom the release was aimed, I suppose, given the name) of course many things are still basic. I don’t mean simple (I like the KISS principle), I mean that even the creation tools windows feels alpha, you can’t even move them around etc.

        After months from now however things could be different and Sansar could be further developed. Meanwhile Linden Lab issued surveys to Sansar users (or creator-users at least) and from the questions they seem aware of at least some of the current issues. The survey also asks for feedbacks, so they should have received some feedbacks and ideas.

        Talking about ideas, what if we gather some idea and suggestion here in your blog and you bring them to the weekly development meetings, when you happen to go there? Just an idea of course.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes, it does depend on how you look at it. I still look at Sansar as very disappointing.

        But something you said did raise my hackles. When you said in your response, “Sansar is a system built from the ground up” I was surprised. Even such a strong negative critic of Sansar as Ebbe Linden might disagree since he has said the lab’s advantage over other virtual world developers is that the lab is not starting from ground zero but can build on its knowledge gained from Second Life while building Sansar. I don’t look at that as starting from the ground up either.

        (BTW how do you indicate irony in a blog post?)

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        1. I’d respectfully suggest you’re now nit-picking.

          Knowledge is one thing – doesn’t change the fact that Ebbe, Bjorn, Widely, et al have repeatedly said that none of the code base from SL has been used in Sansar – that it is an entirely new platform, utilising its own dedicated engine, its own physics, etc. Ergo, whether you like it or not – it *is* built from the ground up, code-wise. This all takes times, as does the work in testing things like Amazon cloud delivery, integration of leading-edge tools (IKinema, etc.). Knowledge may well inform you as to the preferable ways to do something, but it doesn’t mean you can simply skip over the code writing, testing, re-writing, etc. As such, I suggest you (e-)read Bjorn’s comments on Sansar’s development, e.g:

          “Well, first of all Sansar is built on a whole new code-base. There is not a single line of code that is the same [as Second Life]. We’ve taken a lot of lessons from Second Life, a lot of the initial planners of Second Life were involved in Sansar; but we’ve rebuilt everything. That’s why its taken time. We decided not to use Unity or Unreal; we decided to build our own platform and create our own destiny.

          “One of the thing for that is about users. User creation in Unity and Unreal is extremely hard; we’ve seen that. For example, if Unity were to do a big upgrade, or Unreal, all the user creations [in Sansar] would break [and] they cannot fix that. That’s why we wanted to create our own destiny. We built out own platform … its taken a few years, but now I see its been worth it. ”

          – Bjorn Linden, July 2017.

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          1. “I’d respectfully suggest you’re now nit-picking.” Oh, I’m nit-picking sorry. Respectfully maybe it’s time someone picked some nits rather than just accepted what the lab says as unimpeachable.

            When we did a system audit one the first thing we looked for concerning their computer systems was a data flow diagram. Usually it is on paper or maybe even on the wall in public organizations. That is the basis of the system not the code. It’s not going to change much whatever coding system you use.

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            1. Sorry, you’re nit-picking.

              A DFD provides an initial route-map. It’s not necessarily indelible, it may not even particularly elaborate or deep in terms of the detail it gives. It shows what kind of information will be input to and output from the system, how the data will advance through the system, and where the data will be stored. It does not show information about process timing or whether processes will operate in sequence or in parallel, and so on. Doesn’t change the fact Sansar is an entirely new platform with an entirely new engine behind it, etc., etc., all of which has taken time to develop, as Bjorn notes.

              Your argument also presupposes that any SL DFDs were sufficiently relevant to be of use within Sansar’s core coding. And that’s really all I have to say on the matter.

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  2. Oh, BTW while three years is a considerable time in the development of a RL project. But in the world of computer software it is looked at basically a generation.

    So, will something newer and better than Sansar come along before the public opening?

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