Category Archives: Other Worlds

Microsoft co-founder backs High Fidelity with US $11 million

HF-logoIn what is its largest round of funding to date, High Fidelity, Philip Rosedale’s virtual work start-up, received an additional US $11 million in a round lead by Vulcan Capital, the investment company founded and run by Ex-Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

This marks at least the second time Vulcan Capital has made an investment in VR technology recently. In October 2014, they were a part of a US $542 million round of investment in Magic Leap, the company developing a new augmented reality system, with an eye potentially on VR applications and virtual worlds as well.

The news of the funding was broken by TechCrunch on Wednesday, February 25th, after papers confirming the funding round were filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. Philip Rosedale later confirmed the news to Techcrunch, after the technology journal had placed an enquiry with High Fidelity on the matter.

Rosedale then went on to make a more public announcement on the High Fidelity blog, which included a fun and informative video on matters featuring himself, HiFi co-founder Ryan Karpf and the ever-popular Emily Donald. As this is unlisted on YouTube, I’m respecting High Fidelity’s wishes and linking to it, rather than sharing it via embedding, although I am sneaking in a still from it.

The US $11 million funding confirmation from High Fidelity includes a short video from Ryan, Emily and Philip outlining the investment news, what it means for the company and mentioning job opportunities at HiFi (image source: High Fidelity)

The US $11 million funding confirmation from High Fidelity includes a short video from Ryan Kampf, Emily Donald and Philip Rosedale, outlining the investment news, what it means for the company and mentioning job opportunities at HiFi (image source: High Fidelity)

The blog post leads with the statement:

We are happy to announce today that we have raised an additional $11M in funding, in a new round led by Vulcan Capital and with participation from other new and existing investors.  This is certainly great news for us, but also great news for the overall VR ecosystem as we continue to see more and more validation from the investing community that VR presents enormous opportunities.  With this investment, we will be able to substantially grow our team as we continue to develop and release our open source shared virtual reality software.

The amount raised is more than that had been achieved during both the first and second funding rounds for the company. These occurred in April 2013 (US $2.4 million) and March (US $2.5 million), and were largely lead by True Ventures and Google Ventures. In the video, Ryan Kampf gives some idea of what this latest round immediately means for High Fidelity:

The next step for us is going to be moving to a more open alpha stage to let you guys come in and create a lot of cool content that you see around you. We’ve had a lot of fun making it, and we look forward to seeing what you guys can create as well.

The video also covers the fact that High Fidelity is still hiring, with Emily Donald pointing people to the company’s job page, and her e-mail address.

Definitely worth smiling about: Philip Rosedale's High Fidelity gains a further US $11 million in funding

Definitely worth smiling about: Philip Rosedale’s High Fidelity gains a further US $11 million in funding

Following the March 2014 US $2.5 million round of funding, which came on the heels of Facebook acquiring Oculus VR, I idly speculated whether or not it might have put High Fidelity – until then point regarded as being something of a “stealth start-up” in the eyes of the technology media – more firmly on people’s radar. If it wasn’t the case then, a further US $11 million now should certainly do so. And that’s not just good for High Fidelity.

As Rosedale notes in the quote given earlier in this article, this latest investment in High Fidelity does much to further validate the VR / VW ecosystem as a whole as an investment opportunity. That’s got to be good news for any company working on a new VW platform / environment, and which may want to explore wider options and opportunities for possible funding in the future, even if it’s not necessarily a start-up like High Fidelity.

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High Fidelity tutorial videos

HF-logoEarly December saw High Fidelity slip out a series of introductory videos on their YouTube channel under a play list entitled Intro to High Fidelity: The Basics.

At the time of writing this piece, six video are included in the play list, which together run to a total of some 16 minutes, although individually they range from just over the minute mark to just shy of five minutes in length. All six are narrated / produced by Chris Collins from HiFi, and the topic areas covered are:

  • First time log-in
  • Edit entities
  • Stack Manager
  • Oculus Rift set-up
  • Hydra support
  • Leap Motion controller.

First time log-in: takes the user from the point at which they have downloaded and installed the High Fidelity client software – referred to as “the interface”, and have logged-in for the first time, arriving in the High Fidelity sandbox area.

From here, Chris takes users quickly through changing the appearance of the default robot avatar by using one of the available pre-sets (“Ron”, shown in the image above), and noting that people can also upload their own avatars. He also covers ensuring the audio is correctly set (microphone pick-up, etc.), and basic navigation between domains / locations within the High Fidelity topography. Interface customisation through the use of JavaScript elements is also touched upon (the entire interface is written in JavaScript and includes some additional elements, making it highly customisable).

Editing entities: the second video provides a very high-level overview of creating and editing content (entities) in High Fidelity, starting with making sure the toolbox is correctly displayed (if necessary). Importing pre-built elements supplied with the interface is covered, and the ability for collaborative building within a domain is mentioned as is using FBX animations, and editing object properties is looked over.

A quick overview is also given on uploading custom content (in .FBX format), noting that it needs to be available from a web service (such as Dropbox or your own web server, if you happen to run one.

The Stack Manager focuses on building your own server to host a dedicated domain where you can build and share content, invite friends to come an join you and interact with them, etc. Servers can be run on your own local machine, or on any other machine to which you have suitable access (e.g. a web server).

The video runs through everything from downloading and installing the Stack Manager through to importing initial content. An overview of various settings (security, audio) and tools (logs, nodes), is also provided.

The final three videos provide quick start guides to using the Oculus Rift, Sixense Hydra and Leap Motion (attached to the Oculus Rift headset). All assume that you already have the hardware set-up and ready to go with your computer, and so each simply steps you through the basics to get yourself going (making sure the correct scripts are running, etc.).

Using the Sixsense Hydra with the High Fidelity interface

Using the Sixense Hydra with the High Fidelity interface

As noted, these are introductory videos, so don’t expect them to go into great detail in terms of what you can do, troubleshooting or anything like that. However, as quick start guides, they are clear, concise and do exactly what it says they do on the label.

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Videos courtesy of High Fidelity Inc.

The Great Gatsby: virtually redefining educational outreach

Explore TGGThose of us involved with and immersed in virtual worlds are very familiar with the power and opportunities they offer for educational purposes.

In January and February 2015, this will again be demonstrated in a unique way as literature, live theatre and a virtual world combine to present theatre goers and school children with the opportunity to not only witness the unfolding of one of the great stories from American literature – F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby – but to actually immerse themselves in the story itself due to a new an unique collaborative partnership between the Tacoma Little Theatre (TLT), in Tacoma, Washington state, and the folk at Seanchai Library.

From on January 23rd, 2015 through until  February 8th, TLT will be presenting Simon Levy’s stage adaptation of The Great Gatsby, directed by Dale Westgaard, to adult audiences and daytime audiences from local schools.

Coinciding with the play, through their extensive facilities on Kitely, the Seanchai Library will be offering audiences and schools attending performances with the opportunity to explore the world presented by the novel from the comfort of their own home or from within the classroom.

Explore Gatsby will run alongside TLT's production of 's stage adaptation of the novel, giving patrons the opportunity to explore F. Scott Fitzgerald's world in greater detail

Explore Gatsby will run alongside TLT’s production of Simon Levy’s stage adaptation of the novel, giving TLT patrons and schools  with the opportunity to explore F. Scott Fitzgerald’s world in greater detail

Explore the Great Gatsby Online, the début production in Seanchai Library’s EXPLORE the Stories Behind the Art series, will open its doors on January 14th, 2015. It will offer visitors the opportunity to visit key locations from the novel and play, and in doing so learn more about the era in which the story is set, explore Fitzgerald’s life and writings and discover more about the theatre in which the play is being performed.

On offer within Seanchai Library’s virtual environments will be a reproduction of the fictional West Egg, where the story’s narrator, Nick Carraway rents a small holiday guest house, only to find himself living next door to the enigmatic Jay Gatsby, giver of lavish summer parties. Both Carraway’s little holiday house and Gatsby’s mansion will be open to explore.

Also presented with the Explore Gatsby facilities will be a portion of East Egg, where Daisy Buschanan, the subject of Gatsby’s desires, lives in opulence with her husband Tom. Here, behind the Buchanan mansion’s façade, will reside a reproduction of the Tacoma Little Theatre itself, offering the opportunity for people to discover more about the theatre itself, which is among the oldest community theatres in the United States, and the oldest on the U.S. west coast, with a rich heritage going back to 1918.

And, of course, there will be the opportunity to visit the so-called “Valley of Ashes”, the industrial dumping ground so pivotal to the unfolding story, which lies between the fictional East and West Egg and the beating heart of New York City.

These various locations will serve as venues for a range of live events which both support TLT’s  production of The Great Gatsby and which also encourage visitors to further immerse themselves in literature, the stage and more; there will be readings and performances from the novel, interactive elements, within the various settings will provide information on a broad range of subjects, including information on the 1920s and the social issues people living then faced, the characters from the novel, etc.

Explore Gatsby will essentially be an educational study guide brought to three dimensional life. Through a special portal currently being developed by Seanchai Library, visitors will be able to learn how to download and use a viewer and operate an avatar, and then connect to Explore Gatsby in Kitely.

Tacoma Little Theatre will feature in Explore Gatsby, allowing people to discovery more about this historic community theatre

Tacoma Little Theatre will feature in Explore Gatsby, allowing people to discover more about this historic community theatre

Of special note with the project is the fact TLT present daytime performances of the plays they stage for local schools to attend. Thus, through their Explore Gatsby partnership with Seanchai Library TLT is presented with a dramatic – no pun intended – new way to engage with teachers, educators and school children in an immersive manner which links the performance of the play directly with classroom learning opportunities. The same also goes for TLT’s patrons, who can take a performance of The Great Gatsby home with them and them delve into Gatsby’s world through the Seanchai Library’s virtual recreations and events.

As noted above, Explore Gatsby will be opening its doors on Wednesday, January 14th, 2015, with in-world events and activities commencing on Friday, January 16th. Everyone involved in virtual worlds is extended a warm invitation to pop along and join in with planned activities as they take place – a programme calendar will be available nearer the time, and I’ll also be presenting it through these pages.

I’ve been privileged to be associated with Seanchai Library for a while now, and as a part of this association, I will be covering Explore Gatsby and the EXPLORE the Stories Behind the Art series as it develops. I’ll be kicking-off things in due course with a behind-the-scenes look at preparations for the début production.

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The Federal Consortium of Virtual Worlds 2015 workshop

Moses

The US Army’s Military Open Simulator Enterprise Strategy (MOSES) and AvaCon have announced the first Federal Consortium of Virtual Worlds (FCVW) workshop, which will take place in a specially built virtual conference centre on Friday, March 6th and Saturday March 7th, 2015.

The workshop will be an active experience, with on-line exhibits and presentations provided in an interactive manner. Workshop participants are encouraged to engage and interact with the presenters, and the exhibits will range from cultural training material in a mock village to scientific ethical dilemmas in a city landscape.

The press release for the workshop notes that:

Virtual world technology has matured significantly and rapidly over the past eight years to the point where hundreds of people are able to simultaneously participate in an on-line event. The workshop is open to military and civilian personnel, including the public. The conference will be held entirely within an Open Simulator virtual environment, and reservations will be free for attendees.

The workshop will be a multi-track event, featuring keynote speakers and break-out sessions, and the FCVW and conference organisers are inviting proposals to be a speaker, presenter, or performer in one of the following tracks:

  • The Alternative User Interfaces track 
  • The Metacognition
  • Military Applications track
  • Security, Privacy and Identity track

In addition, the Knowledge Transfer track seeks public sector participants for a panel entitled Public Service Education in Virtual Worlds: Past, Present, and Future, which will discuss public service education uses for virtual world learning simulations as well as will feature panelists’ views on public service virtual world education projects from the past, present, and future. Participants in this discussion will be able to showcase relevant Open Simulator virtual world learning simulations via OAR and IAR uploads to be coordinated with the workshop organisers.

Full details on the above tracks, including information on areas of interest applicable to each of them, can be found in the workshop Call for Proposals page of the official website. Proposals must be received by the organisers by Monday, January 5th, 2015.

About the FCVW

The Federal Consortium for Virtual Worlds (FCVW) supports individuals and organisations from government (federal, state, local, and international), academia, and corporate sesectors to improve government collaboration through the use of virtual worlds, enrich collaborative online experiences, explore technologies that may enhance telework, and foster cross-agency collaboration.

About MOSES

The Military Open Simulator Enterprise Strategy (MOSES) is operated by the operated by the US Army’s Simulation & Training Technology Center (STTC), a part of the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, Human Research and Engineering Directorate. It is a coalition of military, industry, and academic partners who share a common interest in the advancement of virtual world technology for simulation based training and education. The MOSES Project seeks to address issues surrounding current game based virtual environment training systems in the two key areas of scalability and flexibility, and create a practical and deployable virtual simulation-based training system capable of providing a learner with a means to test skills in an accreditable manner. http://militarymetaverse.org/

About Avacon

AvaCon, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting the growth, enhancement, and development of the metaverse, virtual worlds, augmented reality, and 3D immersive and virtual spaces. We hold conventions and meetings to promote educational and scientific inquiry into these spaces, and to support organized fan activities, including performances, lectures, art, music, machinima, and much more. Our primary goal is to connect and support the diverse communities and practitioners involved in co-creating and using virtual worlds, and to educate the public and our constituents about the emerging ecosystem of technologies broadly known as the metaverse.