Two Classic VR Games From Google’s VR Studio Coming Soon to Vision Pro

Owlchemy Labs, the Google-owned VR studio, announced it’s bringing the chart-topping VR games Job Simulator (2016) and its sequel Vacation Simulator (2019) to Apple Vision Pro.

The studio’s seminal ‘Simulator’ franchise has had its fair share of success over the years, with both garnering over a million downloads across all major VR headsets. As testament to its staying power, the studio’s successful job place parody Job Simulator regularly shows up in the top most popular VR game charts since its launch on the original HTC Vive in 2016, with both titles making for great beginner VR experiences since they largely focus on family-friendly, room-scale fun that anyone can easily pick up.

Owlchemy Labs says both games—Job Simulator priced at $20 and Vacation Simulator at $30—will include their respective free content updates when they launch on Vision Pro, which are slated to arrive “soon,” the studio says.

Both games were originally designed around VR motion controllers, which the $3,500 Vision Pro notably lacks, which has put many developers in a pickle as they either seek to adapt their existing VR titles to Apple’s controllerless XR platform, or create a new IP entirely.

That said, it’s safe to assume the studio has adapted both titles to use the headset’s hand-tracking capabilities, which will not only be interesting to see since they’re such object-oriented experiences, but also to watch whether other VR studios follow suit to cater to the new platform that deemphasizes immersive gaming in favor of casual content consumption and productivity apps.

Founded in 2010, and later acquired by Google in 2017, Owlchemy is also known for the Emmy-nominated title Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality (2017), and its latest VR game Cosmonious High (2022). We’re still waiting to see what the studio has in store from its GDC 2022 teaser, which promised to be it’s first-ever VR game built from the ground-up for hand-tracking, and first to feature multiplayer. Whatever the case, it’s clear the studio is continuing its mission to release its most popular VR games on every headset possible.

The post Two Classic VR Games From Google’s VR Studio Coming Soon to Vision Pro appeared first on Road to VR.

Google Reportedly Shelves Multi-year ‘Project Iris’ AR Glasses

Google has reportedly shelved a multi-year project that sought to commercialize an AR headset, known as Project Iris.

According to Business Insider, Google shut down Project Iris earlier this year following mass restructuring, which included layoffs, reshuffles, and the departure of Clay Bavor, Google’s head of AR and VR. The report, which hasn’t been substantiated by Google, cites “three people familiar with the matter.”

According to a report from The Verge earlier this year that first mentioned Project Iris, around 300 people were purportedly working on the headset, which was said to expand by “hundreds more” as production ramped up.

At the time, the prototype was said to be a standalone, ski goggle-like headset providing onboard power, computing, and outward-facing cameras for world sensing capabilities—similar in description and function to headsets like HoloLens or Magic Leap. Project Iris was said to ship as early as 2024.

Two unnamed Google employees told Business Insider the company could actually resurrect Project Iris at some point, as teams experimenting with AR tech haven’t been completely disbanded. Still, it seems its Samsung XR headset partnership and AR software development has become the main focus.

Samsung Future, Daydream Past

With its own in-house hardware allegedly no longer in the picture, moving forward Google is set to focus on the software side of AR, which also includes an Android XR platform it could license to OEM partners. Google is now developing such a platform for Samsung’s upcoming XR headset announced in February, as well as an alleged “micro XR” platform for XR glasses, which is said to use a prototyping platform known internally as “Betty.”

Google is pretty well known for shelving projects all the time for a variety of reasons, so it’s not a big surprise that an expensive hardware project is getting iced during an economic downturn. It’s also possible the company saw the writing on the wall from its earlier VR hardware projects, which were early to the competition, but not persistent enough to stick around.

In 2016, the company’s Daydream VR platform was positioned to compete with Meta’s (then Facebook’s) own mobile VR offering, Samsung Gear VR. Headed by Bavor, the company looked to replicate Samsung/Meta’s strategy of certifying smartphones to work with a dedicated Daydream View headset shell and controller. Google certified a wide swath of smartphones to work on Daydream, including Pixel, LG, Asus, Huawei, and even a number of Gear VR-compatible Samsung phones.

And Google’s ambitions were, let’s say, very big. At its I/O 2016 unveiling, senior product manager Brahim Elbouchikhi said on stage that Google intended to capture “hundreds of millions of users using Daydream devices.” No modern VR headset platform has reached that number of users even today, with Meta likely leading with the sale of nearly 20 million Quest headsets between 2019 and early 2023.

Lenovo Mirage Solo | Photo by Road to VR

Despite big ambitions to own the space early on, Gear VR became the clear winner in the nascent mobile VR market. Undeterred, Google broadened its horizons in 2017 to open its Daydream platform to one of the first truly standalone VR headsets—or rather a single standalone headset—the Lenovo Mirage Solo standalone, which awkwardly mashed up 6DOF positional tracking with a single 3DOF controller. Lenovo Mirage Solo was a real head-scratcher, as its room-scale content was hobbled by a single remote-style controller, which critically wasn’t tracked in 3D space.

In the end, Google shuttered the entire Daydream platform in 2019 because it couldn’t attract enough developer support. On the outside, that makes it seem like Google lost the VR race entirely, but a majority of standalone headsets on the market today run on top of a modified version of Android. Granted, that standalone VR content revenue isn’t flowing into Google’s coffers since it doesn’t control the individual storefronts like it might with a VR version of Google Play.

But that could change with its new Samsung/Qualcomm partnership, representing a fresh opportunity for Google to finally stake a claim in the mounting mixed reality (MR) race.

MR Headsets Walk, AR Headsets Run

MR headsets are virtual reality headsets that use color passthrough cameras to offer up an augmented reality view, letting you do VR things like play games in a fully immersive environment in addition to using passthrough to shoot zombies in your living room, or watch a giant virtual TV in your real-life bathroom (for optimal user comfort).

It’s still early days for MR headsets. While devices like Meta Quest Pro ($1,000) and Apple’s recently unveiled Vision Pro ($3,500) are likely to appeal to prosumers and enterprise due to their high price points, there’s a mounting battle for consumer eyeballs too. Provided that still-under-wraps Samsung XR headset can land at a digestible price for consumers, its brand name cache and patented global reach may serve up strong competition to Meta’s upcoming Quest 3 MR headset, due in September at $500.

Apple Vision Pro | Image courtesy Apple

Price speculation aside, the companies that launch MR headsets today will be better positioned to launch all-day AR headsets in the future. Platform holders like Meta are using their MR headsets today as test beds to see what AR content consumers find most compelling. Apple will be doing just that when it launches Vision Pro in 2024 at arguably an even deeper level, as the Cupertino tech giant seems to be deemphasizing VR stuff entirely.

Whatever the case, Google’s decision to reportedly shelve Project Iris means it’ll be more reliant on OEMs in the near term, and its first volley with that Android-supported Samsung XR headset will reveal the size of its ambitions. It’s a strategy that could work out in its favor as it critically gauges when, if ever to resurrect its own Google-built AR glasses.

Google Reveals Latest Project Starline Prototype, Its Light-field Telepresence Platform

It’s been nearly two years since Google first introduced Project Starline, a telepresence platform designed to facilitate natural-feeling remote communication between two people. While we haven’t heard much about the project, the company recently confirmed it’s still ongoing, recently revealing a more compact and affordable system.

Project Starline was first revealed back at Google I/O 2021, with the goal of making it feel like you’re sitting in front of another person, even though they’re remote. Using a bevy of sensors, a light-field display, spatial audio, and novel compression, Google says it’s able to recreate a very immersive likeness of the person on the other end.

We haven’t heard too much about Project Starline in the intervening years, but last week at Google I/O 2023 we got a small update confirming the project is still ongoing and improving:

The update introduces the latest prototype which shrinks the system somewhat from a large booth to a more streamlined setup that appears to use commodity depth cameras and fewer of them. Google says that makes the latest prototype “more practical,” and says that select companies are trialing the new version.

“Our earlier Project Starline prototypes took up an entire room, requiring complex hardware such as infrared light emitters and special cameras to create a live 3D model of the person you were talking to. While the results were impressive, the size and complexity of the system made it challenging to bring to many of today’s offices,” the company writes in an update on the project. “So for our latest prototype, we developed new AI techniques that only require a few standard cameras to produce higher quality, lifelike 3D images. Thanks to these advancements, our prototype now resembles a more traditional video conferencing system—going from the size of a restaurant booth to a flat-screen TV—that’s more deployable and accessible.”

Despite shrinking things down, Google confirms the system still uses a light-field display which creates a true 3D image without the need for glasses. However we still don’t know much about the specific display being used.

The entire premise behind Project Starline is that representing remote participants more realistically leads to better conversations. To that end the company recently pointed out several studies providing evidence that the system can bring “improved conversation dynamics, reduced video meeting fatigue, and increased attentiveness.”

Built with Google’s Newest AR Tool, ‘Space Invaders’ AR Game Launches on Android & iOS

Earlier this year, Google announced an upcoming AR game, Space Invaders: World Defense, which is built as a showcase of the company’s latest AR tool. Now you can jump in and shoot down some of the game’s iconic block-shaped aliens yourself.

Google and developer Taito have launched Space Invaders: World Defense, releasing both on Android and iOS devices. The game’s titular space invaders spawn from buildings and rooftops, hide behind structures and hover in the sky, so make sure to play outside.

The studios also tossed out a new launch video, embedded below this update.

Developer Taito has offered up a first real glimpse of Space Invaders: World Defense.

The game is now available for pre-registration on the Google Play Store (and “coming soon” to the Apple App Store), but still doesn’t offer too many details on exactly how the game will work beyond pointing and zapping floating enemies.

SPACE INVADERS have returned to conquer the world, this time from a different dimension. Join the World Defense team to find, and defeat SPACE INVADERS in your neighborhood. As a member of the elite pilot force, you’ll defend your area from invasion in a first-of-its-kind immersive game experience. Engage in missions across dimensions from Augmented Reality to the parallel Invader world. Success will earn you a spot on the High Scores as well as special bonuses and power ups.

To be fair, building compelling AR gameplay that happens through a phone screen is tough. But games like this will have the opportunity to really flourish as head-worn AR devices begin to proliferate.

The original article, which covers the initial announcement of the game, continues below.

Original Article (May 11th, 2023): Over the last few years Google has been steadily working on its AR developer toolset, ARCore. This week at Google IO 2023, the company added a brand new tool to its kit called Geospatial Creator.

Geospatial Creator gives developers the ability to create world-anchored digital content that will appear in the same location for all users. Built on a foundation of both ARCore and 3D data from Google Maps, it’s competes with Niantic’s Lightship AR platform, and is getting integrations for both Unity and Adobe Aero.

To showcase the latest capabilities of ARCore, Google has teamed up with Taito Corporation, the original developer of arcade hit Space Invaders (1978), to build a brand new city-scale AR game called Space Invaders: World Defense.

Planned to launch later this Summer—fittingly aligned with the 45 year anniversary of the original game—Space Invaders: World Defense will purportedly have players “defend the earth from Space Invaders in their neighborhood,” and will “combine AR and 3D gameplay to deliver a fully contextual and highly engaging immersive experience that connects multi-generations of players.”

Sadly we’ve yet to see a glimpse of any real gameplay, so it isn’t clear just how the game will work, but with any luck we’ll eventually find more information from the game’s official website.

Additional reporting by Scott Hayden.

Google Discontinues Glass Enterprise Edition Smartglasses

Google Glass Enterprise Edition 2, the company’s work-focused version of its iconic but once maligned smartglasses, is being discontinued.

Google says in a device support FAQ that, starting March 15th, it will no longer sell Glass Enterprise 2, adding that it will only support the device until September 15th, 2023.

While the company says it’s not pushing out any more software for Glass Enterprise Edition after that date, however its most recent system images will remain publicly available until at least April 1st, 2024.

Launched in 2017, Google Glass for enterprise was a revival of sorts, as the company had ceased production of the storied device in 2015.

Google Glass Explorer Edition | Image courtesy Alphabet

Starting in 2012, the company was hoping to seed the device among prosumers with its Glass Explorer Editions, although public backlash spawned the term “glasshole,” putting a severe dent in Google’s ambitions to launch a more consumer-focused version of the device.

Google hasn’t explained why it’s killing off Glass for enterprise. In response to PC Mag, a Google spokesperson left this comment:

“For years, we’ve been building AR into many Google products and we’ll continue to look at ways to bring new, innovative AR experiences across our product portfolio.”

To be fair, Google probably has bigger fish to fry, and the aging smartglasses platform may well be replaced sooner rather than later. Google said last summer it would be conducting real world tests of its early AR prototypes, emphasizing things like real-time translation and AR turn-by-turn navigation.

There’s also the issue of emerging competition. Apple’s upcoming mixed reality (MR) headset is rumored to arrive sometime in mid-2023, while Meta is prepping multiple generations of its MR Quest headsets.

Granted, these MR headsets probably won’t be the model workhorses, although many companies see MR headsets as a steppingstone in preparation for the sort of all-day AR glasses industry is hoping to commercialize in the near future.

– – — – –

To be clear, Google Glass is a style of smartglass(es) and not an AR device as such; Glass provides a single heads-up display (HUD) that doesn’t place digital imagery naturally in the user’s perceived environment, like with HoloLens 2 or Magic Leap 2, but rather flatly projects the sort of useful information you might also see on a smartwatch. You can learn more about the differences between AR headsets and smartglasses here.

AI war breaks out between tech giants

(Image by Maria Korolov via Midjourney.)

After ChatGPT was released on Nov. 30, 2022, the world changed. Whatever you might personally think about AI, the events of last year showed that AI was capable of human-level creativity in art, music, writing, and coding. And, for the first time, AI demonstrated common sense. Or, at least, something close enough to common sense for all practical purposes.

Companies like Google that had been sitting on their AI projects for years, unwilling to do any damage to their existing business models, are having to rethink their plans.

Google announced a Code Red and brought cofounders Sergey Brin and Larry Page back from retirement. It has also invested $400 million in OpenAI rival Anthropic, which has its own version of ChatGPT called Claude, which is in closed beta but early users say it’s better.

Apple is holding an AI summit for employees next week, the company’s first live and in-person event in years.

Microsoft takes the lead

“The AI race starts today,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella at a press conference today.

The company announced that it’s integrating AI chat into the Bing search engine and its Edge browser — after it invested a reported $10 billion into ChatGPT maker OpenAI last month. The company has also previously announced plans to integrate AI throughout its entire portfolio products.

Adding AI chat to Bing, however, is a direct shot at Google’s bow.

“We can improve the way billions of people use the Internet,” said Yusuf Mehdi, Microsoft’s consumer chief marketing officer, in today’s presentation.

As of the end of 2022, Bing only had a 9 percent share of the search engine market. Google had 85 percent, and the rest was split between Yahoo, Baidu, Yandex, DuckDuckGo and other competitors, all of whom were in the low single digits.

So Bing has a lot of opportunity for improvement.

And speaking of Baidu, a Chinese search engine, it also plans to launch its own AI chatbot, called Ernie Bot. According to CNN, it’s expected to go live in March and is currently being tested internally.

‘The metaverse will be our slow death!’ Is Facebook losing its $100bn gamble on virtual reality?

The company now known as Meta has spent staggering amounts on creating an immersive successor to the traditional 2D internet. But what has it got to show for it, apart from 11,000 job losses?

What a difference a year makes. Last October, Facebook supremo Mark Zuckerberg could barely wait to show the world what he was up to. “Today, we’re going to talk about the metaverse,” he enthused in a slick video presentation. “I want to share what we imagine is possible.” Transitioning almost seamlessly from his real self into a computer-generated avatar, Zuckerberg guided us through his vision for the virtual-reality future: playing poker in space with your buddies; sharing cool stuff; having work meetings and birthday parties with people on the other side of the world; customising your avatar (the avatars had no legs, which was weird). Zuckerberg was so all-in on the metaverse, he even rechristened his company Meta.

This month, we saw a more subdued Zuckerberg on display: “I wanna say upfront that I take full responsibility for this decision,” he told employees morosely. “This was ultimately my call and it was one of the hardest calls that I’ve had to make in the 18 years of running the company.” Meta was laying off 11,000 people – 13% of its workforce. Poor third-quarter results had seen Meta’s share price drop by 25%, wiping $80bn off the company’s value. Reality Labs, Meta’s metaverse division, had lost $3.7bn in the past three months, with worse expected to come. It wasn’t all bad news, though: Zuckerberg announced last month that Meta avatars would at last be getting legs.

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‘Extinction is on the table’: Jaron Lanier warns of tech’s existential threat to humanity

The American computer scientist, who coined the term ‘virtual reality,’ cautions against online ‘psychological operatives’

Jaron Lanier, the eminent American computer scientist, composer and artist, is no stranger to skepticism around social media, but his current interpretations of its effects are becoming darker and his warnings more trenchant.

Lanier, a dreadlocked free-thinker credited with coining the term “virtual reality”, has long sounded dire sirens about the dangers of a world over-reliant on the internet and at the increasing mercy of tech lords, their social media platforms and those who work for them.

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