Google’s New ‘Labs’ Team Brings AR/VR, Project Starline & Area 120 Under a Single Roof

Google is shaking things up with the reorganization of its AR/VR efforts, Project Starline, and Area 120 in-house incubator, dubbing the internal team ‘Google Labs’.

As first reported by TechCrunch, Google is shifting a few of its notable forward-looking projects into a single team and bringing them under the leadership of Google veteran Clay Bavor.

Before taking the reigns of Google Labs, Bavor led the company’s AR/VR team where he oversaw the 2016 launch of its Android-based Daydream VR platform. It was an ambitious undertaking, although it was subsequently abandoned in 2019 due to a disappointing reception to its slot-in smartphone efforts and poor market performance of its 6DOF Daydream headset, Lenovo Mirage Solo. The team also helped develop ARCore, the augmented software development kit that brought smartphone-based AR to millions of Android devices.

More recently, Bavor led Google’s Project Starline, an experimental light field display system that the company envisions as a “magic window” of sorts, allowing far-flung users to speak in a more natural way than video conferencing apps can provide—and all without the need of a headset or special glasses.

Both Project Starline and its AR/VR efforts have a shared lineage within the company, but it seems Google is adding an entrepreneurial flare to Labs with the inclusion of Area 120, the in-house tech incubator that has seen the successful launch of several startups including Threadit, Stack, Adlingo, Gamesnacks, Avera AI, and Orion WiFi.

An no, this doesn’t mean the company is reviving the 2000s-era Google Labs, which was used as a public testbed to demonstrate new projects like Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Wave. An internal company memo obtained by TechCrunch states the reorganization is “focused on starting and growing new, forward-looking investment areas across the company.”

“Central to this org is a new team called Labs, focused on extrapolating technology trends and incubating a set of high-potential, long-term projects,” the memo said.

As a result, it appears Area 120 is being elevated with its incorporation into Labs. TechCrunch notes that the incubator was “three layers deep in terms of reporting to Google CEO Sundar Pichai — even though Pichai himself had to sign off on its every exit.”

Google hasn’t officially announced Labs, however the company tacitly confirmed it by acknowledging Bavor’s new title, calling it “an expanded role” that will focus on “long-term technology projects that are in direct support of our core products and businesses.”

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‘Cosmonious High’ Coming to Quest 2 & SteamVR This Month, Gameplay Trailer Here

Google’s Owlchemy Labs, the VR studio behind Job Simulator (2016), announced that its upcoming game Cosmonious High finally has a release date for launch on PC VR and Meta Quest 2.

Update (March 4th, 2022): Owlchemy Labs announced Cosmonious High is slated to launch on March 31st for Meta Quest 2 and SteamVR headsets.

Owlchemy Labs hasn’t said anything yet about PSVR availability, however there’s no doubt in our minds that the pioneering VR studio (also now owned by Google) has a PSVR 2 developer kit.

The studio also included a new gameplay trailer, which we’ve linked above and below the article:

Original Article (September 21st, 2021): Revealed today, Cosmonious High launches you into an alien high school where you unlock powers in order to fix up the place post-disaster, and meet a quirky cast of characters who attend classes with you along the way.

Characters are said to respond to natural gestures such as high fives and fist bumps, which feels a bit like a natural extension of what we saw in Vacation Simulator (2019), which brought more user-to-NPC interaction to the table by way of gestured interactions. Here it seems you’ll also be able to select emotes from a speech bubble.

Image courtesy Owlchemy Labs

And like Vacation Simulator, Owlchemy Labs is offering up another “biggest space” it’s ever built with Cosmonious High, making for “one big interactive playground for your powers,” the studio says.

“With Cosmonious High, we’re breaking all the bounds. Players can go anywhere, interact with any character they see, and use their powers to resolve—or cause—as much chaos as they want,” says Chelsea Howe, product director at Owlchemy Labs.

Owlchemy Labs CEO Devin Reimer says it’s all about “interaction, inclusivity, and accessibility. We continue to push the boundaries of VR and we cannot be more excited to launch our first new IP in five years.”

Cosmonious High is said to support SteamVR headsets and Oculus Quest, and will arrive at some point in Spring 2022. There’s still plenty more to learn, and we’ll have our eyes peeled as Owlchemy Labs continues the drip of info leading up to launch.

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Google Studio Owlchemy Labs Affirms Work on New VR Game, Details Expected This Year

Google-owned Owlchemy Labs, the studio behind VR classics like Job Simulator and Vacation Simulator, has confirmed that it’s working on a new VR project after running quiet for much of the year.

Owlchemy Labs has been around since the early days of the modern VR era, with the studio’s first major title, Job Simulator, bundled as a launch title for the HTC Vive in 2016.

After being acquired by Google in 2017, the studio went on to release Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality (2017) and Vacation Simulator (2019), with most of the studio’s games being ported widely across VR platforms.

Since Vacation Simulator, and a few post-launch updates, Owlchemy has been pretty quiet about what might be next. Especially considering Google’s hasty retreat away from VR, it wasn’t necessarily clear that there even would be a ‘next’.

Luckily the lauded studio has affirmed that it’s alive and well and working on its next project, which the studio has confirmed to Road to VR is definitely a VR game.

“Owlchemy is working on a brand new game and we can’t wait to share details in the coming months!” the studio says. Owlchemy is currently hiring five new positions to support ongoing development.

It remains to be seen whether the studio will continue to build on the success of its Simulator franchise, or branch off into something new. It wouldn’t be surprising if they stick to what works; Owlchemy is one of the only studios to consistently have two titles among the 20 best rated Quest games, and has topped many charts over the years.

Hopefully it won’t be too long yet before we find out exactly what’s in development. The studio said fans can expect to here something concrete about its next game some time this year.

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Icosa Gallery Beta Launches For As Open-Source Replacement For Google Poly

Icosa Gallery, a community-built, open-source replacement for Google Poly, has launched in beta, just seven days before the latter service shuts down for good.

It offers VR artists a way to store their creations online, including environments and models built using Tilt Brush and its new open-source counterpart, Open Brush.

In December last year, Google announced that Poly, its 3D object sharing service, would be shutting down on June 30, 2021. Just over a month later in January 2021, Google then announced that it would also be ending official development of popular VR creation tool Tilt Brush and making it open-source, so that the community could continue to tinker and play with the software in lieu of official support.

Since then, community solutions and replacements for both Poly and Tilt Brush have sprung to life. Open Brush offers an open-source, free version of Tilt Brush for PC VR and Quest users via App Lab. Meanwhile Sketchfab’s CEO encouraged creators to upload 3D models to the successful site in Poly’s absence. Likewise, Psychic VR Lab’s platform Styly added direct uploads for Tilt Brush creations in March, which can be viewed both in VR via a native app or online in browser.

Icosa Gallery is the latest option for Tilt Brush creators, with the ability to upload GLTF and GLB files from Tilt Brush sketches and have them display and animate online in the same way as they would in Tilt Brush. There’s also plans for direct integration with Open Brush in the future, as well as support for the .tilt sketch files. It’s also possible to import all of your current Poly creations into Icosa Gallery before the service shuts down in a week’s time.

You can view Icosa Gallery’s beta site here and download Open Brush for Quest via App Lab and PC VR via Steam.

Google’s Project Starline is a Light-field Display System for Immersive Video Calls

This week Google revealed Project Starline, a booth-sized experimental system for immersive video chatting, purportedly using a bevy of sensors, a light-field display, spatial audio, and novel compression to make the whole experience possible over the web.

This week during Google I/O, the company revealed an experimental immersive video chatting system it calls Project Starline. Functionally, it’s a large booth with a big screen which displays another person on the other end of the line at life-sized scale and volumetrically.

Image courtesy Google

The idea is to make the tech seamless enough that it really just looks like you’re seeing someone else sitting a few feet away from you. Though you might imagine the project was inspired by the pandemic, the company says the project has been “years in the making.”

Google isn’t talking much about the tech that makes it all work (the phrase “custom built hardware” has been thrown around), but we can infer what a system like this would require:

  • An immersive display, speakers, and microphone
  • Depth & RGB sensors capable of capturing roughly 180° of the subject
  • Algorithms to fuse the data from multiple sensors into a real-time 3D model of the subject

Google also says that novel data compression and streaming algorithms are an essential part of the system. The company claims that the raw data is “gigabits per second,” and that the compression cuts that down by a factor of 100. According to a preview of Project Starline by Wired, the networking is built atop WebRTC, a popular open-source project for adding real-time communication components to web applications.

As for the display, Google claims it has built a “breakthrough light-field display” for Project Starline. Indeed, from the footage provided, it’s a remarkably high resolution recreation; it isn’t perfect (you can see artifacts here and there), but it’s definitely impressive, especially for real-time.

Granted, it isn’t yet clear exactly how the display works, or whether it fits the genuine definition of a light-field display (which can support both vergence and accommodation), or if Google means something else, like a 3D display showing volumetric content based on eye-tracking input. Hopefully we’ll get more info eventually.

Once hint about how the display works comes from the Wired preview of Project Starline, in which reporter Lauren Goode notes that, “[…] some of the surreality faded each time I shifted in my seat. Move to the side just a few inches and the illusion of volume disappears. Suddenly you’re looking at a 2D version of your video chat partner again […].” This suggests the display has a relatively small eye-box (meaning the view is only correct if your eyes are inside a specific area), which is likely a result of the particular display tech being employed. One guess is that the tech is similar to the Looking Glass displays, but Google has traded eye-box size in favor of resolution.

Image courtesy Google

From the info Google has put out so far, the company indicates Project Starline is early and far from productization. But the company plans to continue experimenting with the system and says it will pilot the tech in select large enterprises later this year.

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Google Ends Cardboard VR Sales

Google has removed all listings for Cardboard VR headsets, the last bastion of its early VR efforts, from the Google Store.

The Google Cardboard product page now redirects to the Google Store homepage and displays a message that “the page you are looking for is not available, you have been redirected.”

Both Google Cardboard and Daydream View were early efforts from Google to break into the smartphone VR space. In the same vein as Gear VR, these headsets allowed you to put a mobile phone into a headset shell and experience rudimentary 3DOF virtual reality. Cardboard was on the decidedly lower end of the scale given that, as the name suggests, the headset was made out of folded card.

Google Cardboard was compatible with many different smartphones, whereas Daydream supported Google Pixel devices specifically. In 2019, Google confirmed that its then-newest flagship phone, the Pixel 4, would not support Daydream and that Daydream View headsets would no longer be available for purchase. At the time, Jamie Feltham wrote that Daydream’s death didn’t mark the end of the VR dream, but a sign that it was just growing up.

A month later, Google announced that it would also be open-sourcing the software behind the Cardboard platform in the hopes that third-party developers could continue to support the platform. Previously, Google had also released manufacturing specifications for the cardboard headset with the same intention — so that third party manufacturers could produce their own units and encourage wide support.

Up until recently, Google continued to sell its official Cardboard headsets on the Google Store, likely just to get rid of leftover stock. However, with the listings now gone, Google has officially ended all support for hardware and software of its Daydream and Cardboard VR platforms.

Google Makes ‘Tilt Brush’ Open Source as Active Development Comes to a Halt

Google announced it has stopped active development on Tilt Brush (2016), the company’s VR paint app. All is not lost though. As the team pivots to creating immersive AR experiences, Tilt Brush has officially gone open source, allowing anyone to modify or even clone the app in its entirety.

Even before Google discontinued its home-spun Daydream platform in 2019, it was fairly apparent that the company’s interest in developing both VR hardware and software had substantially waned. At Google I/O earlier that year, Daydream headsets were nowhere to be seen, revealing the company’s rapidly decreasing enthusiasm for the medium.

Fast forward a few months, and now Google is not only shutting down its 3D object platform Poly, which was announced in December, but it’s also stopping all active development on Tilt Brush. In retrospect, Tilt Brush co-creator Patrick Hackett departing Google earlier this month may have been writing on the wall that the VR paint app was on the chopping block.

In a bid to let Tilt Brush live on, the team has released an open source github repo of the app’s code, allowing others to use, distribute, and modify it for use in other projects. The team says in its build guide that while Tilt Brush is a Google trademark, developers are even free to clone it completely as long as they choose a different name.

Now that developers are free to browse, at least one previously planned feature on the to-do list has raised a few eyebrows in the community, namely the missing addition of multiplayer mode.


The team says in a Google blogpost that Tilt Brush will “always remain available in digital stores for users with supported VR headsets,” however the move to open source the app will allow “everyone to learn how we built the project, and [encourage] them to take it in directions that are near and dear to them.”

Originally created by indie studio Skillman & Hackett, it wasn’t long before the studio and its impressive 3D art app were snapped up by Google; a 2015 acquisition proceeded the app’s launch on HTC Vive a year later.

Although it eventually went on to launch on all major VR headsets, development noticeably slowed over the past two years, starting back in 2018 when Google was still enthusiastically pushing its Android-based Daydream VR platform.

Tilt Brush’s most recent feature update came in March 2020, which brought to the app a new Camera Path Panel, Sketchfab, and a beta version of Google Drive backup. The app has only had a few bugfixes since then despite releasing concurrently on PSVR.

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‘Tilt Brush’ Update Adds Direct Sketchfab Export Function

Tilt Brush (2016), the VR art app from Google, now has the ability to directly export VR creations to Sketchfab, the popular online repository for 3D models.

Tilt Brush has had the ability to import from Sketchfab for some time now, although the process of exporting has been manual.

The Tilt Brush team says in a Steam update that uploading to Sketchfab works similarly to uploading to Google Poly, its own 3D model repository, calling it an “equal combination of easy and fancy.”

If you haven’t uploaded a VR creation to Poly before, here’s the entire process as described in a blog post by Bart Veldhuizen, Sketchfab’s head of community:

  • In Tilt Brush, select ‘Upload’ and then click Sketchfab Sign in.
  • Take off your VR headset and complete the sign-in process on your desktop – a browser window will be waiting for you. If your browser is already signed in to Sketchfab, you only need to allow Tilt Brush to use it.
  • Enter VR again and return to the Upload menu. Your Sketchfab username and avatar will now show. Click them to upload your model.
  • On the desktop, you will now see your Sketchfab model. Wait for it to complete processing, add a title and description, apply some tweaks in the 3D editor as needed and publish it!

Tilt Brush is available on most major VR platforms including Quest, Rift, and SteamVR-compatible headsets. Notably, the only missing platform thus far is PSVR, although that may be arriving sooner rather than later according to recent findings obtained from PSN.

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Google’s ‘Tilt Brush’ Finally Comes to PSVR Today

Google has taken its sweet time bringing its VR creation app Tilt Brush (2016) to PSVR, although having recently slimmed down the app to fit on the modest mobile chipset of Oculus Quest may have given the company needed incentive to finally launch on PSVR. It’s available starting today.

Update (March 27th, 2020): Tilt Brush for PSVR lands on the PlayStation Store today. Original creator Patrick Hackett says in PS blogpost that the PSVR version will feature a Showcase of art and the ability to upload creations to Google Poly, Google’s online 3D asset viewing platform.

US residents will also be able to buy a PlayStation Move Motion Controller Two-Pack & Tilt Brush Bundle will be available exclusively on PlayStation Direct for $100 starting today, which includes two PS Move controllers and a digital code for Tilt Brush.

Check out the new trailer below:

Original Article (March 6th, 2020): PSN data obtained by Gamstat indicates that a listing for Tilt Brush has been recently created for America, Europe and Japan regions.

All games on the PlayStation Store have an identifier code which is listed in the game’s URL. Gamstat has recovered the following store identifiers for Tilt Brush:

America – CUSA18125_00
Europe – CUSA18231_00
Japan – CUSA18283_00

An image was also scraped from the listing, noting that Sony Interactive Entertainment is the app’s publisher.

Image courtesy Gamstat

Although Google has yet to officially announce Tilt Brush for PSVR, the reported data seems to strongly indicate a nearby release on the platform.

Originally launched on PC VR headsets in 2016, Google’s Tilt Brush has become fully-featured VR creation tool, boasting integration with Google’s other 3D VR creation tool Blocks (2017), and the ability to export creations to Sketchfab Google Poly.

It’s uncertain how much of this interoperability the PSVR version will retain, or what Google has done to mitigate the platform’s less accurate motion controls, although it appears we’ll be finding out soon enough.

Special thanks to Twitter user Max Ledroom for pointing out the news.

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Unity Updates XR Platform to Improve Multi-Platform Offering on 2019.3, Removes Gear VR & Google VR Support

Videogame engine Unity has supported the XR industry from the early days of virtual reality (VR) through to the current crop of augmented reality (AR) hardware. That has included a lot of different hardware support, some of which is still relevant while others less so. This week has seen Unity update its XR platform, removing support for some devices whilst reaffirming official functionality for the latest headsets. 

Unity Supported Platforms

Affecting Unity 2019.3 and beyond, the company has confirmed that Samsung Gear VR and Google VR support will end due to the fact the relative companies have moved their interest away from these products. It’s worth noting Gear VR and Google VR will remain supported in Unity 2018 LTS for developers working on existing projects.

Additionally, built-in OpenVR will be deprecated in 2019.3 because Valve is using Unity’s XR SDK to develop its own OpenVR Unity XR plugin for 2019.3. As such, Unity confirms in its blog that: “Until that plugin is available, built-in support of OpenVR will continue to be functional and available in 2019.3, and we will support our users with any critical fixes.” Just like Gear VR, and Google VR, OpenVR will remain supported in Unity 2018 LTS.

When it comes to what is officially supported in Unity 2019.3 and beyond, it’s now: ARKit, ARCore, Microsoft HoloLens, MagicLeap, Oculus, Windows Mixed Reality and Playstation VR. These are all part of Unity’s “Build once, deploy anywhere” motto, allowing creators to easily deploy content across a range of platforms.

Currently, Unity 2019.2.19 is available as the official download version for projects in development. Or you can test the beta version, Unity 2019.3b, the final edition before the official launch.

Unity is one of the most popular videogame development engines for VR and AR, available for free for beginners and small indie developers. As further improvements to Unity are made, VRFocus will keep you updated.