Virtual teaching has become the new norm at post-secondary institutions during the current pandemic. As instructors adapt, SFU researchers Steve DiPaola and Jeremy Turner see opportunities to push virtual worlds further—as they are doing this semester by enabling their students to become avatars.
Students and instructors are using Tivoli Cloud VR in classes led by DiPaola, a professor in the School of Interactive Arts and Technology, and Turner, a Cognitive Sciences instructor, to set up their own personal avatars and join the virtual classroom. The researchers are using the new, open source virtual reality platform to experiment with advanced and cutting-edge VR techniques.
In the virtual classroom, users can navigate about the room and talk to other users. The platform is built to have fully functional media surfaces, allowing users to display slides, media files, and show videos within the virtual classroom.
DiPaola, who specializes in virtual reality at SFU’s School of Interactive Arts and Technology, said students “attend” class by logging in to the open source virtual reality platform, or they can stream the class on Twitch.
The technology is also being used to train nursing students in Australia, allowing them to complete their practicums virtually, because they’re not currently allowed in hospitals.
“We’re starting it in Australia where we’ve got approval to do it,” DiPaola explained, “and we’re doing it in simulated ways with simulated avatars.”
What’s next? The professors said it is not out of the realm of possibility for an instructor to recreate environments such as dig sites for an archaeology class, for example.
“We think there’s advantages for all kinds of training,” DiPaola said.
For now, Turner teaches two cognitive sciences classes, each of which has between 80 to 100 students.
I’m looking forward to see what Steve and Jeremy do next!
Today, on a bitterly cold, -20°C winter day up here in the frosty Canadian prairie hinterlands (which felt more like -30°C when you factored in the wind chill from a strong wind), I was able to spend a convivial hour sitting around a campfire on a warm, tropical desert island, chatting with Caitlyn Meeks of Tivoli Cloud VR and a few other avatars (including a personable, OpenAI-controlled toaster named Toastgenie Craftsby, who every so often would spit out some toast, or even a delicious rain of hot waffles, during our delightful, wide-ranging conversation!).
Tivoli Cloud VR, a successor platform to the now-shuttered original High Fidelity social VR platform created by Philip Rosedale’s company of the same name (and based on HiFi’s open-source software code), has had a few new developments since the last time I visited, back in September! Among them is the full integration of Wolf3D’s Ready Player Me avatar creation system, as demonstrated in this two-minute YouTube video by Tivoli Cloud ambassador and well-known social VR personality XaosPrincess:
Using Ready Player Me, it is possible to create endlessly customizable human avatars—and Caitlyn tells me that you don’t even need to start from a selfie! You can just jump right into the program (as shown in the video above) and start creating your perfect virtual representation!
Here’s a thirty-minute interview with Timmu Tõke, the co-founder and CEO of Wolf3D (the creators of Ready Player Me), where he talks with Cristian-Emanuel Anton, the co-founder and CEO of MeetinVR, about VR avatars, meetings in virtual reality, and the metaverse. (MeetinVR is yet another social VR platform using Wolf3D’s avatar system to create their own head-and-torso-with-hands avatars!)
I suspect that we will see other platforms join Mozilla Hubs, MeetinVR, and Tivoli Cloud VR in using Ready Player Me avatars! Such corporate partnerships bode well for the future of the metaverse we will all live, work, and play in.
Yesterday, Andrew William and I paid a visit to Tivoli Cloud VR, the new, open source social VR platform based on the code from the old High Fidelity platform. Caitlyn Meeks and Maki Deprez, the friendly, geeky team who are the heart and soul of Tivoli, kindly gave us a bit of a guided tour, and showed off a few new worlds and a few new features.
We met up at the Squirrel Nut Café, where they hold a Tea Time meetup every Saturday.
Among the worlds Caitlyn took us to were Nostalgia, a wintertime Bavarian market with gently falling snow, created by Skimi, who brought over many of his models from Second Life:
Our next stop was Madder’s meeting place and art gallery, set in a futuristic cityscape environment (all of which actually runs quite well on a Raspberry Pi processor, with no less than six avatars wandering around!). Caitlyn informed me that all the art I saw on the walls was automatically framed and positioned, instead of each piece being placed by hand, using the scripting abilities of Tivoli.
We wrapped up our brief tour with a visit to a new project that Tivoli is working on with Simon Fraser University (SFU) in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada: a working lecture hall that boasts a fully-fledged, shareable virtual computer that can be used by the presenter to present slideshows and videos, but also to run other programs such as games!
This virtual computer runs on Linux and is called a Tivoli Shared Desktop, and Caitlyn informs me that they are working on a custom desktop environment, to make it even easier to use from VR as a more general-purpose virtual computer. The Tivoli Shared Desktop and this virtual lecture hall were created for a cognitive science course that is part of the School of Interactive Arts and Technology at SFU, that will be delivered both in-world and via Twitch, which some students will be using to view the lectures and interact with the instructor.
Caitlyn and I spoke about the importance of having an open source virtual world which is not controlled by Facebook/Oculus, especially in light of the announcement last week that a Facebook account will now be required for all Oculus VR devices. We discussed the ramifications of such a move, plus the fact that Facebook Horizon avatars would be linked to people’s real-life profiles (and the impact that could have on role play communities, for example).
Caitlyn told me that she saw it as Tivoli’s mission “to protect the future of VR from Facebook”, a sentiment which I support wholeheartedly. (Then she apologized to me if her statement sounded arrogant, which it wasn’t at all! If anything, I think it’s a confident, positive, and bold vision for the future. We need all the non-Facebook VR hardware and software we can get!)
One of their goals is to provide a really high-quality virtual reality experience, and her and Maki have been hard at work revising the original HiFi codebase to that end.
She told me that the Tivoli Cloud VR platform is growing slowly but steadily through word of mouth, and they have had an recent influx of Japanese users. In fact, one day recently they came across one Japanese user in VR who had actually fallen asleep in his headset! (Shades of VRChat! Or, as Caitlyn said, “Achievement unlocked!”)
Oh, and I forgot to mention that all TIvoli automatically users get one free gigabyte of file storage space for their own projects. I plan to move the avatar that I had created using the Virtually You app for the old High Fidelity—the files for which someone kindly saved for me—into my personal storage space. I’m looking forward to replacing the standard-issue, photorealistic Matthew avatar you see in these pictures with one that looks a lot more like me in real life!
I find it extremely cheering that Tivoli Cloud is rising like a phoenix from the ashes of the old High Fidelity platform, and I very much look forward to seeing it grow and develop over time. Caitlyn and Maki and their team are already off to a great start!
All pictures in this blogpost courtesy of Andrew William—thanks, Andrew!
Keep in mind that this isn’t the finished product and lots of changes are still coming their way. Expect new things to come and old things to go. We’ve been so busy working on the HiFi codebase, reverse engineering and redesigning the metaverse API, ripping out all the crap we think are friction points to VR and redesigning core parts of the program optimized for speed and efficiency. We really want to create a truly awesome social VR platform that’s fun, exciting and easy to use. We want to get the technology out of the way and just give people what they want.
Keep in mind that our early access is mostly targeted towards artists and developers but everyone is welcome. We want your feedback as much as possible and we’re here to help on our Discord.
In addition to Maki, other key people working on making Tivoli Cloud VR a reality are Caitlyn Meeks (the CEO) and Christina “XaosPrincess” Kinne (the CMO). But there are many people who are working on this project as volunteers as well.
So I paid a quick visit to Tivoli Cloud VR (you do have to set up a new account, by the way; I believe that your existing accounts on the old High Fidelity will not work). Your starting place is in the middle of a lush forest, with a pond and many little yellow ducklings wandering about!
You can pick up a free avatar from the Market, and I recognized many of them from my time in the old High Fidelity! I chose as my starter avatar the photorealistic Matthew male avatar (which, with a wizard’s hat, sort of became my standard avatar when filming episodes of the Metaverse Newscast in the old High Fidelity), and then I visited a stone temple world recreated via photogrammetry:
Looking pretty realistic! I have a good feeling about this project; it reminds me a lot of all the good things that happened in the old High Fidelity (and hopefully, without some of the technical, logistical, and organizational problems they encountered).