Nathie Looks at YARTVRA Apps: Nineteen Virtual Reality Apps for Remote Work and Education

Yes, I am still on my little one-man crusade to make the acronym YARTVRA a thing!

For those of you who are new to my blog, YARTVRA is short for Yet Another Remote Teamwork Virtual Reality App, that is, any social VR platform primarily intended for business use, to bring together people who may be working remotely into a shared virtual office space.

Nathaniël de Jong (a.k.a. Nathie) is a well-known Dutch YouTub influencer with over 558,000 subscribers, who often posts review videos of the latest and greatest VR hardware and software on his channel. A couple of days ago he decided to take a look at, yes, YARTVRA. Obviously, this market segment has received a lot of attention lately because of the global public health emergency caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which is probably why Nathie decided to make and release this video.

Nathie actually manages to squeeze no less than 19 different platforms into this 20-minute video, which unfortunately means that he only talks about each platform in a very brief and general sort of way for about minute, before he promptly moves on to the next one.

After a while, the relentless succession of all the look-alike business-oriented YARTVRAs, in particular, tends to overwhelm rather than inform. (ENGAGE still manages to stand out from the crowd in this video, though. And Oxford Medical Simulation definitely gives me some rather creepy uncanny valley vibes.)

Oxford Medical Simulation (image taken from their website)

Nathie appears to have taken as his starting point the recent Road to VR article, 34 VR Apps for Remote Work, Education, Training, Design Review, and More, and, much like the article, he breaks the various platforms down into four groups as follows (with links to their websites, courtesy of the credits in his YouTube video, and also links to where I have written about the products previously on this blog):

Team Collaboration and Presentation Platforms
– MeetinVR https://meetinvr.net/ (which I blogged about here)
– Glue https://glue.work/ (which I blogged about here)
– Connec2 https://connec2.nl/en/ (which is new to me)
– MeetingRoom https://meetingroom.io/ (which I blogged about here)
– Dream https://dreamos.com/ (which I blogged about here)
– VSpatial https://www.vspatial.com/ (which I blogged about here)

Social VR Platforms (those which Nathie thinks could, at least theoretically, be repurposed for business use)
– AltspaceVR https://altvr.com/ (blogged here)
– Bigscreen https://www.bigscreenvr.com/ (blogged here)
– Mozilla Hubs https://hubs.mozilla.com/ (blogged here)
– Facebook Horizon (currently in closed alpha testing, and a non-business-oriented product, so I’m rather mystified as to why Nathie chose to include it in his overview; blogged about here)
– VTime XR https://vtime.net/ (blogged about here)

Education and Training Platforms
– ENGAGE https://engagevr.io/ (which I blogged about here)
– Oxford Medical Simulation https://oxfordmedicalsimulation.com/ (which I blogged about here)
– Rumii https://www.dogheadsimulations.com/rumii (which I blogged about here)
– Acadicus https://acadicus.com/ (which I blogged about here)
– Wonda VR https://www.wondavr.com/ (which I blogged about here)

Design, Creation, and Prototyping Platforms
– Sketchbox https://www.sketchbox3d.com/creation (which I have not yet covered)
– The Wild https://thewild.com/ (blogged here)
– Softspace https://www.softspace.io/ (which is also new to me)

So between Nathie’s video and the Road to VR article, I now have a whole bunch of new YARTVRA to explore! Expect more blogposts soon, to add more products to my ever-growing list of social VR platforms and virtual worlds.

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Aardvark: A Brief Introduction

Housekeeping Note: I know that I have been devoting a lot of coverage to Second Life lately on my blog, which has seen a significant bump in both new and returning users during the coronavirus pandemic, particularly in jurisdictions under some form of lockdown/quarantine/social distancing. However, I will still endeavour to write about the many newer projects and developments in virtual reality, such as Aardvark. My coverage will even out over time, I promise!


An example of a simple Aardvark “gadget” within Steam VR Home

I first heard about Aardvark via a frustrated tweet by Avaer Kazmer, lamenting the current fractured state of mutually-incompatible social VR plugins. (And yes, I do agree with him.)

Aardvark reminds me a bit of a project I had written about in May 2018, called Pluto VR. Like Pluto VR, Aardvark is sort of an overlay over existing Steam VR programs. According to the project’s GitHub:

Aardvark is a framework for building augmented reality “gadgets” that run on top of virtual reality experiences. Gadgets are constructed using a bunch of custom React components (from the @aardvarkxr/aardvark-react package) and run in the Aardvark application. Gadgets use these components to show interactive models, 2D UI, or other stuff that will draw on top of any VR applications you run. You can attach these gadgets to your hands and bring them with you in your favorite VR apps.

This is perhaps best explained by a short YouTube video demonstration by one of the developers, Joe Ludwig:

Again, like Pluto VR, you can actually communicate with other people who are in a completely different virtual environment from you. In this video, Joe happens to be in his Steam VR Home, but he can see his friend Jared’s “gadgets”, even though Jared is running Beat Saber!

While Aardvark is perhaps more of a curiosity, a proof-of-concept, than a viable product at this time, it is still an intriguing project. Visit their GitHub if your curiosity has been sparked, and you want to tinker a bit with Aardvark yourself! All the code is there.

And I will be adding Aardvark to my long-neglected, overflowing, comprehensive list of social VR apps, platforms, and virtual worlds. I know, I know...I said I was going to reorganize and categorize it! Yet another project for these days of social isolation….

Lessons Learned from the Educators in VR Conference

Lorelle VanFossen, one of the organizers of the wildly successful six-day Educators in VR 2020 International Summit, recently wrote up a very detailed blogpost outlining the experience of setting up and running a virtual conference on AltspaceVR and four other social VR platforms.

Here’s a link to the entire article on the Educators in VR website, and I would very strongly encourage you to read it in full. However, I will highlight just a couple of things that the Educators in VR group co-founders Daniel Dyboski-Bryant and Lorelle VanFossen, and their hard-working team of volunteers, learned along the way.

Their original plan was only to have 40 to 60 speakers, but that ballooned to 170 speakers in over 150 events spread over 6 days (happening at time zones around the clock for a global audience). Because everybody volunteered their time and energy for this free-to-attend event, the total costs for the entire six-day virtual conference were only around US$300! (Try doing that for a real-world conference!)

Most of the events were held in AltspaceVR:

As our home-base is currently AltspaceVR, we worked with our Educators in VR team and the AltspaceVR events team to ensure our event spaces would be safe and high performance to accommodate a variety of devices. While other virtual social and event platforms are usually limited to 20-50 attendees, AltspaceVR could be easily coaxed to larger room numbers and features the Front Row tool that allows for the mirroring of events spaces, allowing hundreds to thousands of attendees to view the experience from separate identical event spaces, improving overall user and device performance. Accordingly, we hosted the majority of our events in AltspaceVR.

In fact, the team behind AltspaceVR learned so much from hosting this conference that they just announced a slew of new features, including links to Patreon and EventBrite to allow for ticketed events in future!

I’m sure that many new users were introduced to AltspaceVR because of the Educators in VR conference, and both parties benefited from the partnership! The summit also gave ENGAGE, Rumii, Somnium Space, and Mozilla Hubs an opportunity to show off their platforms to those who never experienced them before, too.

Other conference organizers were quick to take note. HTC decided to have its annual Vive Ecosystem Conference in ENGAGE. And both Mozilla Hubs and AltspaceVR were used for the recently concluded IEEE VR 2020 conference, which, for the first time, was held entirely in virtual reality (and opened up for free to the general public) due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Hearty congratulations to Lorelle and Daniel, and a special shout-out to Donna McTaggart, the tireless Summit Coordinator and Manager, and her team of 75 volunteers!

I leave you with a one-and-a-half hour YouTube video where the organizers share what they learned behind the scenes, a must watch!

Lorelle ends her article by saying that they are now taking what they have learned from running the Educators in VR Summit and making that expertise available to others as consultants:

We’re developing training courses to help you produce your own virtual events of all sizes. The Educators in VR team is already providing consultation services to companies exploring virtual meetings and conferences, and negotiating production of virtual conferences and workshops for a variety of companies globally. We planned on taking our time, but with the demand for alternatives due to the COVID-19/coronavirus, we’re stepping up and into this as part of our range of services for working with business and academia to integrate virtual technologies.

If we can assist you, please contact us for more information.

Pictures from Yesterday’s Libraries in XR Meetup in AltspaceVR

Yesterday evening, over a dozen people gathered at the second weekly Libraries in CR meetup in AltspaceVR, which I first wrote about here.

The presentation was by Australian brothers Scott and Steven Mundell, who paid a 30-day visit to libraries in California and who have set up a website, https://augmentedlibraries.com/, which serves as a searchable, curated collection of VR/AR/MR hardware, software, and experiences for libraries. Users can filter the collection by technology, theme or cost.

Here are a few pictures of last night’s meeting:

The Libraries in XR group has members from all around the world, who are interested in applications of VR and AR to public and academic libraries. The group plans to hold regular meetings in AltspaceVR, so check the Events Calendar for the next meetup! You can also join their Discord server (here’s an invitation). See you at the next meeting!