Google just released an experimental version of Article, a 3D viewer for AR. The viewer lets you on your desktop or in the browser: look at, manipulate or view 3D models. Article also works with AR (augmented reality) – in an AR capable browser on a device the Article can be selected, a crosshairs is then shown on screen and the 3D object then emerges from that crosshairs. The idea behind Article is to make it easy for people to exchange and view objects in a blended environment that is a combination of generated images and the real world. Essentially its a PDF viewer for the AR age.
Meanwhile the above GIF still explains this the bestest.
Through AR we can see renderings of dragons in our living room or see just how large the interior of a 2018 Panamera is in the yard. By blending the real and the virtual AR can in a realistic way mesh the not there with the there. Google also created some smart ways through which the new AR experience explains itself to its users. “Diagnetic” user interface elements, that overlay our view and show us what can be done by interacting with the element. In addition to Article Google also has a 3D library called Poly.
Google initially also had 3D modeller SketchUp, which it later sold, and it experimented with creating 3D worlds with Lively, which the internet giant killed. These false starts didn’t work but through its development of ARCore (a tool for developing AR experiences) the company seems again to be developing a path to becoming the central platform for new technology development. As they have done through Android and Google Play the company could dominate AR development and also future AR monetization in this way. Surely developers will learn this time that the happy conga line of free tools and exciting examples leads squarely to Google’s coffers and control? Is the development community still as enthusiastic about the “no evil” internet giant? How about developers of game engines, devices and peripherals; are they still pro Google? Is it a good idea to let a company that already knows so much about us control the future of AR as well? I for one would much rather see a new AR giant emerge for this one sphere than to invite the people who know my search history into my living room so that they can take up permanent residence there while they simultaneously want to sell me a thermostat, security camera, smartphone, speaker that speaks to me, laptop, navigation system and operating system for my car. Remeber when we thought that their motto, “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” seemed cute? Google seems altogether too powerful.
Buy the Future for Free
Simultaneously they also seem to be obtaining the future cheaply. Some nice fun hacked together tools and a blog post is their price to acquire the future of AR development? This is an MS-Dos moment where Google is positioning itself to control the future and everyone seems fine with it. The App Store for VR will be an immensely powerful thing to control. AR apps will let you 3D scan yourself and fit on clothing and accessories, and walk around vacation spots and homes. AR apps and devices will be the central window to future commerce and whoever controls access to the App Store for VR will control the monetization of AR’s future. Yes, there may be money in devices and apps, but ultimately control rests in the hand of the company that determines who connects to the world. Your website may exist but if it is not findable in Google.com then it may as well not exist. You may have the coolest iPhone app in the world but if Apple doesn’t like it then few will ever see it. Media giants in a previous age dominated music, television and movies but one could still have a limited choice between them. Now one may get one choice: Would you like all your information to be provided by A. Apple B. Google C. Amazon?
These companies now morph from providing a tax on information to being the one determinant that selects what you can see. With glasses covering our eyes and the internet ever more penetrating our living rooms and cars our filter bubbles could be managed by a small select group of companies indeed.
Google seems to be implying that its Article work is somehow amazing and cool but in fact, a French/US company has been pioneering sharing 3D files in the browser, showing them in AR as well as VR and displaying them in 3D for years. Sketchfab started out with a small team in 2011 and now has over a million users. The Sketchfab app lets you upload, download and share VR and AR content in many different forms. The company has also integrated with ARCore and ARKit and the team has been working seven years to bring a “PDF viewer for 3D” to the world. I’d love to see an independent company like this become the default “Nexus” for 3D than for it to go to the same old giant of yesteryear.
Thingiverse stands tall as the largest file-sharing network for 3D printing files. YouMagine, Pinshape and dozens of others are vying to compete with Thingiverse. Whatever your thoughts on Thingiverse, it is a 3D printing platform curated by a 3D printing company. I’d much rather that one of the 3D printer OEMs won in the 3D file sharing than some other company to whom we’re a detail. 3D printing companyies’ interests broadly aligns with users’. We are interested in creating more content and letting ideas grow. We are all interested in printing more. Strange media tales have come to the fore from time to time where people complain about IP infringement issues with 3D printing. Usually in 3D printing when IP is appropriated it is actually stolen from the individual user. Although we all must admit to the occasional Star Wars peccadillo. Things such as low poly Pikachus have emerged in 3D printing. Remixing current culture and all that is before us is a creative and exciting thing to be involved with. Moreover, the next generation of Barbies and Star Wars figurines may not be owned by Disney or other similar companies. The next popular action figure could be dreamed up by your kid, and could in mere days spread across the world and be printed in millions of copies. 3D printing can make your memes real. And it is this ability for us to make ideas tangible that scares large companies such as Disney. They want a top-down controlled world where they give you a colouring book of characters that they invent and own. We want to draw in things.
3D printing can upend many industries but not if IP is used to shut down popular things and creativity. Our exciting new developments and innovations will be subject to the whims of companies with divergent interests. Google may for example automatically kick files off of its 3D file-sharing platforms for many reasons (nudity, medical uses, etc.) that other companies may not find objectionable. Think of something such as E-NABLE, where thousands of people worldwide 3D print medical prosthetics for kids in dozens of countries. It is the most beautiful thing we do as a 3D printing community but it could be very problematic for a legal department of a large company.
Cura and Marlin
Since Google, Apple and Amazon are so focused on the AR and VR display and distribution side of things because it ties in with film, e-commerce and the future of viewing, our 3D printers themselves are but a detail at the moment. In the future, however, our own open source tools could be replaced by those controlled by large companies. The addition of DRM type provisions in the AMF file type already lets me worry about this. One person told me, “Without DRM, you’ll never get Disney on board.” With all due respect, I don’t give a fuck about Disney. We don’t need them. I’ll draw my own mouse or something else entirely. I’m not naive enough to think that all the good characters were invented by three companies 80 years ago. I want the next generation of kids to make their own toys based on their own ideas. Our industry collides with merchandising while also being a possible path to monetization for many cultural products and ideas. Meanwhile, the data generated by our industry is a drop in the bucket of all the 3D data that will be created by games and fun AR modelling and display apps. We could interface with this and still remain independent but I fear we’re a footnote in a much larger game. This could also lead to large companies creating the entire 3D printing toolchain from the firmware all the way to 3D creation software. Surely something they’re working on already?
All just polygons to me
In a rush to platform and data dominance, the future of the movie industry and correctly sized clothes in e-commerce, are at stake. Our fast growing exciting bit of turf is a rounding error at this point. I know we’ll have to grow up and everything is already getting much more boring but must we be so constrained? I’d like us as an industry to have our own tools and control over our own future. I don’t want the future of 3D printing applications and creativity to be killed in a negotiation over the mobile viewing rights to Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
What do you think? Do I worry too much? Am I even right about the central assumption here that all of the 3D viewed and viewable content in the world will be controlled by one or a few companies?