I have been in the virtual reality (VR) industry for the past four years, manufacturing more than three millions headsets for Google through my company Knoxlabs, and launching a VR/AR web development platform, Rodin, through Techstars Boulder ’17.
I have witnessed firsthand how we gradually used the tools available to us to forge new tools, ideologies, and devices. And for how far too often we have let these instruments of convenience forestall leaps of true magnitude. There is a big issue in this sphere; everything is disconnected and everything is either an extension of desktop tools and paradigms or that of mobile. In order to truly create a that which is born of the VR medium for the VR medium, we must first forego the paradigms and tools of the old, unlearn and then continue building.
We made this mistake with Rodin: it required a keyboard to code: and to code within. Amazon launched a similar platform, Sumerian. Even though I have heaps of praise for their team just from the name they chose (Sumerian was the name of the first written language; Sumerian for a new language of VR) we both erred. We built a platform that allowed any frontend developer with just soft coding skills to build cross-platform VR applications and experiences. We had templates you could begin with, had a library with scenes, objects, and interactions that you could quickly call upon without having any 3D modelling expertise and with a few clicks generate apps for all the headsets, web, and mobile. Look, that was fine and dandy, but we are building for a completely new medium and using the current paradigms of how things are built is just not good enough. I understand that those are the tools that we had, the keyboard, the desktop, and development languages, but it’s just not enough. It is similar to the days of Windows Phones and Palm Pilots. They were just desktops crammed into mobile form and put in your pocket. As versus the iPhone, which was born as a mobile-first device then a phone layer on top. It was born from the mobile medium for the mobile medium. Similar to hybrid cars, which use off the shelf components to extend the car as an electric vehicle (EV); it’s a cheap attempt at it, a masking of sorts. But with Tesla, it’s born as an EV platform first, bred pure, then a car layer on top. Born from the medium for the medium. We need to think similarly for VR.
This same issue is plaguing our VR habitat. The Facebooks, HTCs, and Googles are building their own headsets with their own ecosystems, all disconnected and all masked with off the shelf paradigms of the tools of now.
We need to rebuild our tools first, tailor them medium-specific in order to be able to sculpt a completely new ecosystem. The first prime suspects are these little things that I am using now to relay information. We need to unlearn language and letters and everything that comes with it.
Pictographs then characters were born to capture descriptions of the world around us and interactions between them. They were created for a 2D paper world. Now we use those same characters in keyboard form. In order to capture an idea, we have to go through so much buffer. Thoughts to fingers, to letters, to words, to a keyboard, to a function in Unity to model a sphere, to an app, to experience. My idea already went through so many steps with each involving its own set of structures that stripped my idea to fit within its paradigms in order to relay it. Its like dial-up for thought to creation. Same with trying to relay emotion through these archaic characters. Look how much I had to type to communicate my frustration and joy.
I think we must revisit those pictos and gestures that capture them. How I would communicate with you in person, how I show you the direction of the mountain and raise my arm to show how high it is. Regardless of culture and language, these gestural notions are already embedded in us, because we all have the same senses which we are born with (some stronger or lacking, but they are absolutes in that a smell not being able to be described with vision and taste as sound). And using these senses we subjectively see an objective world. Now we need to find a way to capture these subjectives in an objectively subjective way. One that does this well are emojis. Regardless of culture or language, you know what a smile is and they can blend with this character 🙂 to make that character happy. We need to apply the same ideology and recreate a gesture-based and physically flexible captural blocks. Character-based words that back peddle to invoke an image or emotion in my brain for me to understand what you are trying to communicate are just too stoic and not fat enough (throughput-wise to carry emotion and idea). These blocks must also carry mathematical properties. For when if invokes a function for that. My block should already carry that function, for when chained together, I should iterate++.
And we still need a physical device that is born out of the mobile and VR medium for the VR medium, One that can seamlessly transition between screens, whether it be mobile, Oculus, or desktop. The solution is a set of wristband controllers with optical muscle displacement sensors paired with an AI, voice, and gesture-based creation tool that reduces the bandwidth between thought to fingers to creation, allowing to create and move between screens.
Imagine that, but on every screen through a sleek set of wristbands that you constantly wear paired with your L’Enjinir AI (your AI sculpting assistant). You have an idea while out walking? You have to use archaic letters designed for a 2D paper world to hone your idea down and try to capture in a notepad? No. Use your hands, voice and an AI sculptor to give you Berlin with all the buildings painted red where there is a telephone booth that’s a hybrid of a rotary phone and a duck and that runs Android and pulls Twilio with your desired area code. Captured. Move to your Oculus and sculpt it more with your L’Enginir — instant interactive environments. No code, no 3D tools, no nothing, just you. The goal is to reduce the friction about getting excited about an idea to sculpting it on the spot. For this new generation of creativity, there should be no box, create on any device you already have. The bracelet coupled with your L’Enjinir, not the headset is one born from the medium of mobility and AI for mobility and magic.
Imagine how much more we can share and learn from each other when the bandwidth from thought to creation is increased exponentially by removing the keyboards, the letters, and everything in between.
You. You are enough. The tools need to be extensions of yourself not limit you. Tools powered by thought and Expecto patronumed through your fingers.
Annnd let’s take a hard dive:
We also need to take the creators way above and give them the ability to see their world that they are building for. In order to create truly meaningful human scale apps, tools, and experiences, the creator/developer first needs to see the world from above in real time through a mesh of VR satellites.
We need to elevate the developer in order to elevate the tools which they will build to tackle the preservation of the environment and give meaning to anything they create, to see it at a human one world level.
I am proposing a swarm of satellites with VR lenses and a plethora of other sensitive equipment as a satellites as a service that can be reprogrammed to give the ability to build space apps.
The VR component is vital for the overview effect. When you look down and you see this fragile planet, which supports life on its surface, in the face of the harsh hostility of space, you become much more sensitive to the need to protect it, doing so you awake emotion, and emotion that drives change.
We can also certify developers that have taken the VR astronaut flight through specially built free floating chairs as devonauts that have gotten that unique overview perspective and have felt it on a visceral level that this is the living Earth. So whatever they build, they build with Earth first in mind.
Life evolved out of the ocean and took one small step into land. That was one small step for an animal but a giant leap for life on earth. VR evolved out of your mobile screen and took one small step into the Gear. That was one small step for a Daydream[er] but a giant Magic Leap for xR on screens. We don’t have to stand by and look at Vive’s war with the Zuck, we can help. We have to.
Taron is the founder of Knoxlabs, which has produced over 3m Google Cardboards. He previously founded Rodin - the fastest and easiest way to develop VR/AR applications and graduated Techstars Boulder building academy. He likes long walks on the beach and serious bios. On a long and walking note, I got into A/x/Vr (all the ‘eted hyphen hyphen realities) by being the first to sell vr cardboards and got stuck loving it because it gives me a chance to bring romance and philosophy back into tech. I am currently working on evolving character based language into a more natural human alphabet for the hyphens.