NYC, if I can make WebVR here…
Like no other…
Frank Sinatra sang, “If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere” when referring to New York City. The city that never sleeps definitely gives off an energy that is unique when compared to any other city I have visited. The streets of Manhattan are packed with New Yorkers moving with a focused determination and hustle that speaks for itself as: “no time to waste”. This attitude has translated beautifully into how developers and companies in the area are embracing immersive web technologies like WebVR and WebAR.
So with my vagabond shoes longing to stray, I took the opportunity to experience this first hand via various developer-focused channels including a NYC Meetup group, a hackathon, and a VR/AR conference.
WebVR NYC Meetup
When WebVR came onto the scene, it didn’t take long for folks to get excited enough to create Meetup groups for those interested in the fledgling tech. New York area locals led by Hugh Seaton kicked off their WebVR NY Meetup group in March 2016. This is also the same group to organize the first WebVR hackathon in a physical location last December (the very first WebVR hackathon was an online event).
October’s meeting at Microsoft’s NYC Reactor space featured talks from Samsung Internet, Sketchfab, and a workshop covering A-Frame thanks to Mozilla rep & WebVR rock star Fabien Bénétou.
WebVR NYC October Meetup
Hacking in the Big Apple
In the beginning of October, New York hosted the biggest-of-its-kind hackathon for the real estate industry. Organized by the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), this event awarded over $75K to teams creating solutions that can help improve the real estate industry. Samsung Internet was a sponsor of this inaugural event and it was exciting for me to see two of the winning teams use WebVR & WebAR in their applications. Actually, every team that had a VR component to their solution used WebVR. :)
WebVR for looking at Real Estate data and WebAR for looking at sensor data and social messages.
Jumping Javits! The Biggest East Coast VR/AR Expo
Most people in the immersive technologies space are familiar with conferences like SVVR, Augmented World Expo, and Laval Virtual to name a few, but none of the bigger VR/AR events happen on the East Coast of the United States. This fact was the impetus behind folks from NYVR & Aquinas Training creating the NYVR Expo. This first for New York at the famous Jacob K. Javits Convention Center brought support from major players including Samsung, HTC, Microsoft, the NYC Media Lab, and The New York City Economic Development Corp (visit the website to see the full list of sponsors).
Like other conferences in the industry it had three days packed full of great sessions and a busy expo floor. What it had that I haven’t seen at other conferences I have attended is a high percentage of WebVR focused companies exhibiting.
Photo credit to student filmmaker Jody Michelle Solis
There were WebVR companies that did data visualization, real estate applications, 360 photo sharing, virtual training, 360 video editing, and more! One of my favorites was GRAVR, an API for personalized profiles that follows you from one WebVR experience to the next, always adjusting your environment according to your individual pre-set preferences. Beyond being a useful solution, I was happy to see this company at the expo as it started as a NYC WebVR hackathon project!
Attendees checking out a WebVR powered startup
If I Can Make It Here, I Can View It Anywhere!
During my time in NY I asked these immersive web focused companies and developers why web-based VR and AR? “It is great for rapid prototyping”, “it works on various devices and headsets”, “web developers are easier to find than game developers”… While the answers continued to vary the one thing all agreed on was the ease of accessibility: “installing apps and downloads are friction, most users don’t want to do it”, one person said.
While I believe this comment, I wanted to test this theory out further. So during my presentation at the NYVR Expo, I asked my room full of developers how many liked downloading executable files or installing apps to experience VR and AR. One person raised his hand half way. This was shocking to me as I didn’t expect the whole room to share this sentiment, especially given most of these folks make immersive content you have to download and install to experience. But as surprising as this was to me, it shocked many in the audience as well and several people came up afterwards asking how to get started in WebVR.
Luckily for them when it comes to a place and community that is forging ahead with immersive web technology, they can make a brand new start of it in old New York!