SolipsAR attended the 2017 Unity Conference in beautiful downtown Austin TX. Given the appearance of the trade floor, I was uncertain if this was a VR/AR conference, or a game development platform conference, which says a lot about the direction of the Unity software, and the excitement in the industry overall about the VR adoption and emerging Augmented Reality (AR) capabilities in all the ubiquitous devices/platforms. If I say “coool” too much in this article – I apologize – can’t help it.
Being a sci-fi buff in general, I am of course a big fan of Neill Blomkamp. Still, I had to wonder why a movie director was a featured speaker at a gaming platform conference. Turns out this little gaming development platform has become so unstoppable that you can produce (amazing looking) CGI films now. Which Blomkamp did. https://unity3d.com/pages/adam
They also demonstrated Cinemachine which I have to say, if I was an Art Director, I would be over the moon about – and probably would not emerge from my computer room for a month after first exposure. Fortunately I am not, and I can just sit and ogle like the rest of the devs.
From the Augmented Reality standpoint our focus here at SolipsAR, the “remote AR execution” capability of Unity 2017.2 looks like a huge boon – we can’t wait to try it.
Windows Mixed Reality
I mention this first because, although it was a vendor showcase item and not a Unite2017 session, it was arguably the most exciting part of the whole conference.
Microsoft was there in a big way, holding a large space for people to get a taste of the Windows Mixed Reality (MR) Platform, using (at least the one I tried) an Acer headset something like this.
While walking around a “virtual home” I interacted with various apps pinned to different walls. There were 3D icons which when clicked launched different experiences. 3D 6 DOF videos, VR games, and basic apps. While this might sound a little silly – even gimmicky – it was a very impressive experience. Sure, it might be less efficient than what I’m used to just clicking icons on a desktop, dock, or start menu – but it was fun, and immersive, and I can see interfacing this way for a couple hours a day just to break up the screen drag.
I was also privileged to try an unofficial Hololens demo from one of the folks in the Microsoft room. It was IMPRESSIVE. Between the Hololens demo and the MR platform (VR) demo, I got the distinct impression that Microsoft might be ahead of the game this time. The Hololens demo had the usual flashy game stuff – but the portal that anchored itself firmly on the wall in front of me for aliens to fly out of was really there. It didn’t jag, jitter, or float. It was just there.
Most impressive however, was when my presenter asked “now look at the couch, do you see anything on it?”. Certain of a breakdown in the product I said, “nope”. (Did I sneer?) Then – “Now look behind the couch, do you see anything there?” Sure enough, a lion was behind the couch. The device was able to do such a fantastic job of merging its physical and virtual worlds that it knew I wouldn’t be able to see the virtual lion because it was “behind the couch” in my physical reality. Chills, baby. That’s really good.
The trade show floor had representation from a lot of vendors, nearly all of them pitching tools for some aspect of AR and VR, and many giving demos. To be honest – I didn’t spend enough time here – there was too much else to do, and oddly the floor was closed until sessions started and before they wrapped for the day so – I was busy with sessions.
This entry is already too long, so I’m just going to list a few highlights here –
Much to my surprise, my favorite session was “Creating a VR Storybook Look for Rainbow Crow” with Nathaniel Dirksen of http://www.baobabstudios.com/
I attended the session because SolipsAR is hard at work on an AR storybook for one of our clients and I hoped some of what they were sharing about the VR space would be applicable to the Augmented Reality space. Lots of good discussion here about the overall process of getting from idea and art direction to finished product.
I also enjoyed Creating A World Scale AR Experience Using Geospatial Data with Mapbox – https://www.mapbox.com/unity/ is a viable integration between Mapbox and Unity, and with Unity’s drive to be the one-stop-shop for AR SDK integrations, this looks very promising! I think it will give us the ability for even my grandparents to follow mobile device directions!
Other than that I stopped into the nerdier of the talks around what’s up and coming in Unity C# and Dotnet for Unity development, which I’ll be kind and not bore you with, dear reader.
I had thought of Unity as a game development platform. SolipsAR has its key focus on Augmented Reality interfaces, but we love games and animation too. I attended this conference on a whim, and and learned that Unity has a key role in AR as well. They have ambitious goals to be the go-to development platform for all of the primary targets of AR and VR technologies, handset or headset.