Visit Our Gadget Lab Virtually over the Web

This is 2016, and seems this is the year for VR. Of course, we at the AppsLab can’t miss the beat!

While Osvaldo (@vaini11a) started to look into Unity based VR capability and prototype, I wanted to take a look into the WebVR based approach. The prospect of delivering VR experience in a browser, and over the web, suddenly makes VR so much more accessible – WebVR can be designed in a way to work with or without a VR headset. In a sense it is an extension of responsive web, to adjust to different renderers/viewers gracefully.

Longtime friend of the ‘Lab, Ed Jones (@edhjones), gave us a shout about A-Frame, which was released very recently. As its tagline puts, it is “building blocks for the virtual reality web”, using markup and Javascript! Now it makes creating VR contents so much more accessible too.

The first thing came to my mind was to VR-enable some of our visualization demos, and I picked John’s Transforming Table for the first try. After a series of hacks, I got a half-baked, and non-functional result; if we had the Oculus Rift, we could get it working. A-Frame is at a very early stage, and there is still a lot to be desired.

I realized I needed a perspective change – instead of fitting the existing presentation and behavior into VR, WebVR/A-Frame is better suited to create a new presentation and behavior that blends with VR naturally.

Jake (@jkuramot) and Noel (@noelportugal) had just come back from a trip to Sydney, and told us a story about someone following our team and reading our posts, from far far away – the other side of planet 🙂

And wouldn’t it be nice if they could see our Gadget Lab too?

So after a couple of days, here is it – our gadget lab in VR.

Oracle Campus and Gadget Lab in VR

Oracle Campus and Gadget Lab in VR

You may step in Gadget lab, and step out to Oracle campus. While you are in the virtual Gadget Lab, you can see several stations I have labelled to show some human-machine interfaces we are investigating.

I don’t have fancy stereoscopic 360 camera rig, so I just used an old Android phone to produce the scene of Oracle campus and Gadget lab interior. The phone is a little bit under-powered, so you may see some blanked-out areas because the phone would reboot when I tried to create the entire scene.

A-Frame simplifies the VR content creation. I pretty much only used A-Frame markups to glue scenes and labels together, and used some JavaScript to add some behavior while you look around. Since our gadget lab is a long narrow shape, it is hard to see the corners in far background, I may improve the VR scenes a little bit so you can “walk” over to the far end to view those stations.

Let me know what you think in comments.

Editors’ update: To experience this virtual tour of our Gadget Lab, simply navigate to http://theappslab.com/vr/appslab in any browser. Even if you don’t have a VR headset, you can get a feel for the space and see a little bit about the demos.

In a desktop browser, you can use your mouse to look around the room. On a mobile browser, you can tilt your device to pan around the lab, and if you want the full VR experience, tap the glasses icon in the lower right-hand corner, and pop your phone into a compatible viewer, e.g. Google Cardboard.

The future is now.

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