This is the second part of a look back at technology that is making a resurgence based on experiences from Wimbledon over a decade ago, this time bringing IoT and VR together in ways that are extremely relevant to current technology.

At 451 Research I cover Industrial IoT and Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). AR is the user interface for IoT but VR has a place at the table too.

My virtual world journey started even earlier in the late 80’s when my friend and I connected up two Amigas with a null modem cable to play a flight sim against one another. We had different versions of the terrain but the planes flew in the same coordinate space. We shared a common, but different, view of the virtual world we were in as we flew at one another. Potential differences in perspective in virtual worlds are important, not everyone sees the same thing from the same direction at the same time. Location, albeit virtual, is significant.

First, Second Life

Many people have heard of Second Life (SL), from 2006-2009 it was the virtual poster child for a technology wave of virtual worlds that excited corporates and individuals alike, it is an example of a Metaverse (a term from Neil Stephenson’s Snowcrash). SL’s ascension was before the massive waves of text and video-based social media brought by Twitter and Facebook today. The press and media around it included lots of “firsts” being claimed and it also stoked the hyperbole of debate of hiding, or not hiding, one’s identity when online. Also, contrary to popular opinion, SL is not dead.

What is it though? It is a shared 3d virtual space that allows users to interact as avatars in a dynamic buildable 3d environment. (Yes, it was before Minecraft too that Microsoft paid $2.5bn for 2014 that I am sure you have come across). Within SL people are able to make financial transactions, buying and selling content, models, code, textures.

People rent land, i.e. space on a server and they control access to that land. However, one patch of land has a location and hence a proximity to another piece of land just as in the physical world. On a normal file system, a directory being next to another is of no consequence but in SL and alike where you, or things, are makes a difference. Proximity becomes of value to the experience.

The same applies to the avatars, your digital representation once logged in, you can be seen standing or sitting next to someone. This mean appearing at a location, attending an event becomes more participatory rather than just listening into a webinar or watching a presentation.

In 2006 we did not have VR headsets, only 2d screens on laptops but it was still a Virtual Reality. SL spawned many copies, and indeed it was not actually the first of its kind either, just one of the better-known ones. Now with the VR headset resurgence and a “what’s next in social media” vibe there are plenty of these platforms re-appearing, High Fidelity (By Philip Rosedale who created SL in the first place), SineSpace, Sansar (By Linden Labs who still run SL too), Oculus Rooms and Venues by Facebook.

You just want to hide in VR!

My first experience in SL in 2006 triggered a series of events that certainly won’t fit in this article, but what I saw as I popped in was a way to engage people in data-driven experiences. We were all often accused of wanting to disappear into these virtual worlds as escapism, which is possible, but inevitably these are shared experiences with real people.

The social media revolution had not yet happened, the full mainstream multiplayer gaming revolution where everyone ends up playing not the machine but fellow gamers also had not happened to the degree is it today. Now that is in full flow, I offer Fortnite as evidence of that, cue floss dance!

As a software developer, I looked at SL wanting to write code, as much as to build 3d objects. This code not only controlled the environment but could also send and receive web requests to and from the virtual world. For me, this is where the real magic occurred. I had access to the early Hawk-eye data at Wimbledon (now it is in mainstream use in tennis, Hawk-eye is now owned by Sony, has an office Basingstoke) my colleagues had used it on the web scoreboard to show trajectories of points.

I took that data and injected into SL and was able to create a live plot (initially very slowly) of a real tennis rally in the game. Being a 3d world I quickly was able to build a tennis court and there we had it, Wimbledon in SL, in VR, in 2006. Along with eager colleagues we collaboratively built the rest of the environment up.

We created virtual goods too, T-Shirts, hats, towels, contact lenses, all things for avatars to customize themselves with. Some videos of that and a more detailed description can be found on this 2009 blogpost

Hang on you said IoT and VR?

Yes, I did, and yes it was. At its core, this example allowed people not at the physical event to engage with live and historical data gathered from sensors. The real world had been instrumented and the virtual world was able to engage with it. We had a data level digital twin of the event. You will certainly see that digital twin term all over IoT now.

The things we all learned from the 06-09 tech bubble are still relevant today. The great thing is that people exploring SL were also blog writers and social media early adopters so there is plenty to look up and find out about, though the best way is to ask those of us who were there, as we are always happy to share what was going on.