WebVR: Building and Browsing Cyberspace

Cheap, accessible mass-market virtual reality systems – from Google Cardboard to HTC Vive – can explore a 3D web built in WebVR. Using the latest JavaScript APIs, WebVR provides a open and neutral platform for the authoring and delivery of richly interactive virtual worlds. It’s universe next door, and it’s already here.


VRML generated a lot interest, but in 1994 people were so busy trying to digest the web they didn’t have a lot of mindshare left for Virtual Reality. Subsequently VR disappeared. It was gone, dead and buried.

Then an amazing-yet-predictable thing happened. It came back.

Google Cardboard flipped peoples thinking in 2015 – suddenly people realised there were millions of VR-capable devices already in peoples’ hands. Samsung GearVR didn’t move the needle much, it was just a tricked-up Cardboard.

Then Microsoft surprised people by shipping the Hololens which is awesome, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive followed in 2016. Sony PlaystationVR just shipped, which again increased the number of VR devices by an order of magnitude in a day. Then yesterday Google released Daydream VR, which brings all the high-end Android phones being VR capable devices.

WebVR is going into browsers, bringing the browser into the ecosystem. It’s W3C supported; it’s in Chromium and Firefox Nightly… it will hit Android via a special build of Chrome. The point is that it will become easy for us to build 3D affordances in the browser.

WebVR tech stack:

  • App
  • Frameworks: eg A-frame
  • Three.js
  • WebVR + polyfill

Three slide crash course in VR:

  • VR is built in scenes, each scene has three element – objects you see, lights that illuminate them, there’s a camera looking at the objects. These things are always present even if you haven’t specified, there will be defaults.
  • Every one of these things has a position in space expressed as (x,y,z); plus orientation (pitch, yaw, roll)
  • Objects are made of two things – geometry and materials. Geometry is the skeleton, the shape; material is the skin. Combined, these two things create visible objects that you can light and see.

A-Frame is a Mozilla project bundling everything you need…

Code demo and walkthrough showing how easy it is to create simple things in WebVR… it’s incredibly familiar to anyone who has worked with SVG and you can manipulate the resulting elements like any other DOM element.

A-Painter is a FOSS in-browser version of Tiltbrush!

There are gotchas!

  • CORS
  • HTTPS is recommended, even though the spec doesn’t say it
  • Update browsers & frameworks – things are moving really quickly

More at webvr.info – that is the first landing page for all things WebVR.

We are now 25ish years in to the web and we are starting to understand what we’ve done. It’s a great machine for sharing knowledge, whether it’s true or not.

VR is for the sharing of experience.

In 1998 there was an experiment building a Virtual New York Stock Exchange, which was impractical in many ways but was found to greatly increase and improve the ability for someone to process information.

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Xavier Ho ?? @Xavier_Ho

Sensual computing, a vision of modern day systems @mpesce#direction16

11:20 AM – 11 Nov 2016

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Sensual computing: helping our ability to make decisions; then, what data can help you make those decisions; then, what visualisations will help; then, what interactions do we have to work with to help us make decisions.

The first pass at VR is likely to just be web pages shoved into VR. Think of web pages in 1994 – the first content in a new medium is the medium it makes obsolete.

We need new affordances for mixed reality. How do we connect, share and learn from one another in mixed reality environments? You will lead the way. The sensual computing revolution is yours.

Mark thought VR had died… but it turns out it was just asleep.

The first vision Mark had of VR had become true. The design of the game had colonised the real world, whether it wanted it or not. We had people playing Pokemon Go everywhere, even when it was totally inappropriate. There is no current way to map the virtual world to the real in ways that understand you shouldn’t chase Pikachu at Auschwitz.

Mark has submitted Mixed Reality System to the W3C. It maps locations to metadata. It can tell you whether a location has drone flyover rights, are there hazards, are there VR game permissions, is there a directory available for the building you’re in.

We need tools to let the world speak for itself. We need to think in these terms. We need to activate the real world the same way we activated the virtual world.



Q: it’s been hyped before, what’s different this time?

A: it’s simply happening. We have millions of devices coming online.

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