Universal Translators in Virtual Worlds and Social VR Spaces

welcome-905562_1920.png
Image by Tumisu on Pixabay

你好! What language has the most irregular verbs?

I’ll answer that at the end of this blogpost, but first I wanted to talk a bit about languages and virtual worlds.

Virtual worlds such as Second Life attract people from all around the world, who might not speak the same language as each other. (The Second Life website itself is available in English, Japanese, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Turkish and Russian.) Automatic translator software (such as this popular item on the SL Marketplace, which works with Google Translate) is often used to bridge the language gap between users chatting in Second Life.

But text chat is not used as often as voice chat in the newer social VR spaces such as Sansar and High Fidelity. Waverly Labs has already created an earpiece called the Pilot, which fits inside your ear to translate foreign languages in real-time, much like the babel fish in Douglas Adams’ science fiction novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In my opinion, it’s really only a matter of time until this sort of technology makes it into social VR platforms.

(A related challenge is to provide voice-to-text conversion so that, for instance, a deaf person can participate in social VR discussions. Thankfully, this is already commonly available using software such as the Dragon line of products. It just needs to be integrated with the various client software used to navigate the newer metaverse products.)

Seamless communication between people of all languages may be coming sooner than you think! 再见!


And now the answer to the question I posted at the start of this blogpost: according to this discussion thread on the WordReference forums, the language with the highest number of irregular verbs is Latin—or perhaps Portuguese.

Advertisements

Pluto VR: A Social VR Dashboard App

Pluto VR is a software product by a small Seattle-based company that has a distinctly different take on social VR: it’s a dashboard app that you load while you are running another SteamVR program. Last year they raised almost $14 million in funding. Here’s a picture from that report, showing three avatars from the perspective of one who is in Paris within the Google Earth VR software program.

PlutoVR 11 May 2018

Now, there are still some limitations. You can see other people and talk to them while you’re in a SteamVR program, but they can’t see what you’re seeing (in other words, the other two avatars can’t see Paris). You can only see the head and the hands of the other avatars, and you can talk to each other.

Here’s a few questions and answers from their FAQ:

How do I use Pluto once it’s running?

Pluto runs as a dashboard app, which means if you open the SteamVR dashboard you will see our icon along the bottom of the SteamVR dashboard.  Select it and you can interact with Pluto to call your contacts. If you receive a call the dashboard will open automatically, and show you Pluto’s UI.

Can people I’m talking to see what I see?

Not yet. Several organizations including Pluto are actively developing technology to let people see more of what each other is doing. In the meantime, Pluto gives you the ability to see and hear each other no matter what app each of you are currently using.

What can we see about each other?

You are able to see the heads and hands of those you are talking to (if their motion controllers are on). We currently limit what we show based on the tracking information that most people have.

Here’s a YouTube video that probably describes Pluto VR better than I could. Notice that, at the beginning of the video, one avatar is in Google Earth and the other is in Tilt Brush, but each cannot see what the other sees. (One avatar did send the other one a screenshot of their Tilt Brush creation, though.) At the end of the video, there is a sort of weird mashup of Pluto VR and Rec Room, where it wasn’t clear to me whether or not each avatar could actually see what the others were doing. (And, if you’re all playing together in Rec Room, why would you use Pluto VR anyway?)

This is an intriguing concept, but I’m still not sold on how practical or useful this would be. Pluto VR is currently available through the Early Access Software program on Steam, and they are actively looking for alpha testers with VR headsets. So if you’re interested, download the software and give it a try.

Question: What happens when you use Pluto VR as a social VR overlay in a social VR app on SteamVR, like VRChat? Would it be like when John Malkovich enters the portal into his own head in the movie Being John Malkovich? 😉

Sansar Dives Into Esports with a Partnership with the Overwatch League

Sansar_OWL_Team_Partnerships

Today, Linden Lab announced a partnership with multiple professional teams from the Overwatch League (OWL), including the Houston Outlaws and the San Francisco Shock. According to the press release:

This first-of-its-kind collaboration goes above and beyond what traditional two-dimensional chat and streaming allow, and will give gamers a deeper way to connect and communicate – enabling fans to interact one-on-one with popular players and personalities, stream matches in virtual watchspaces created by their favorite teams, and show their support through exclusive branded merchandise.

Sansar’s latest offering arrives right as the global demand for esports reaches a new peak, and while teams everywhere face increased pressure to deliver memorable fan experiences, VR has remained noticeably absent from the broader conversation – until now.

Sansar offers esports fans an immersive, interactive viewing experience on par with a real-life event – complete with virtual photo opps, meet-and-greets, and exclusive giveaways. Fans can use Sansar on both PC and VR to connect in their team’s branded virtual watch space, tune into live stream matches, and buy custom skins and merch. Other features coming soon include real-time stats integration, in-match player audio sharing, and more.

“We’ve seen a real need in the esports market for a deeper, more engaging fan experience – something that can go beyond normal spectatorship to really draw people in,” said Ebbe Altberg, CEO at Linden Lab. “We feel social VR is perfectly poised to meet this need, and we’re thrilled to find forward-thinking esports partners that feel the same – trailblazing teams that recognize VR’s potential and are willing to evolve and innovate to deliver world-class experiences. Their investments in Sansar are investments in their communities.”

Now, I am not an esports expert, and frankly, I’ve never heard of the Overwatch League before today. (Why, yes, I do happen to live under a rock! Excuse me while I take a swig of Geritol and shake my cane at those darn kids on my lawn!) Here’s an introduction to Overwatch, which is apparently a very popular video game:

How popular? Well, according to reports from a year ago, they have over 30 million players, and they also have a very active Reddit community. So Linden Lab is obviously hoping that there’s a market for Overwatch fans to gather together in VR and watch gamers play against each other.

Here’s more from the Esports Observer blog:

  • Linden Lab’s Sansar announces partnerships with multiple Overwatch League teams.
  • Houston Outlaws and San Francisco Shock will help to create virtual watch spaces where fans can interact with players and personalities.
  • Sansar’s future esports integration will include real-time match stats, and in-match player audio sharing.

Linden Lab, the creator of Second Life, has decided to deliver virtual reality experiences to esports fans. It will partner with multiple teams in the Overwatch League to build virtual watchspaces through their VR social media platform, Sansar.

In the announcement, it was stated that the Houston Outlaws will name its virtual clubhouse “The Hideout,” while the San Francisco Shock will have a VR arena called the “Epicenter.” With both spaces, fans will be able to buy custom team-themed skins and merch for their Sansar avatars. Both OWL teams will open their virtual hangouts with real-life launch parties in their home cities.

My ears did prick up at the mention of “skins”. We’ve been waiting for custom skins for Sansar avatars for a while now. Could that be coming soon?

NOTE: You can install the Sansar software client, if you don’t already have it, at https://www.sansar.com/download

Somnium Space: A Brief Introduction

SomniumSpace.png

Theanine gave me a heads up on Twitter about a new social VR space called Somnium Space, so I went over to their website to download the beta software and try it out. (I think “Somnium Space” is a very strange choice for the name of a virtual world; it sounds like a sleeping pill!)

In the email message I received once I signed up, it stated that Somnium Space was in open beta:

Somium Space 1 6 May 2018.png

According to their website, they plan to offer support for all the major platforms: Android App, Daydream, GearVR, Desktop VR (Vive and Oculus), and a PC Client. Right now there’s just a VR client for the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Windows Mixed Reality headsets.

Setting up your avatar is pretty straightforward. It’s basically the same as the Oculus Home avatar, just a head and shoulders, which you can tint any colour you want:

Somnium Space Avatar 6 May 2018.png

I did have a chance to wander around a bit in their first city, called Waypoint. There’s a cinema, a shopping mall (more of a mock-up than a true retail setting), and a working bowling alley. There were helpful signs posted at the spawn point, that explained how to use the Vive and Rift Controller buttons to move around and turn.

I had difficulty getting some good screen shots, because there didn’t seem to be a snapshot feature in the VR client software, and there didn’t seem to be any desktop mode yet. So I had to hold up my VR headset in one hand, and grab a screenshot with SnagIt with the other from what I could see in my VR headset reflected on my monitor! Here’s the Arcade Hall where the bowling alley is located.

Somnium Space Arcade Hall.png

As I have said before, the social VR space is getting very, very crowded! Here’s another product to keep an eye on.