Pantomime Brings Multiplayer Interactivity to Virtual Reality

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Pantomime Corporation today demonstrated the first software that lets users of virtual reality headsets play together in 3D worlds over WiFi networks, using a smart phone or tablet to reach in.

People Playing in Shared Virtual Worlds with VR Headset, Tablets and Computer

Pantomime software turns virtual reality from a passive solo experience into an interactive, social one. Anyone can reach in, and headsets are optional.

At today's AR/VR Vision Summit, Pantomime Corporation demonstrated the first software that lets users of virtual reality headsets play together in 3D worlds over WiFi networks, using a smart phone or tablet to reach in. Users see the devices they are really handling, in animated virtual hands, through the immersive stereo display. Multiple users see each others' virtual heads, hands, devices, and the physically realistic objects they're all interacting with, in a new kind of augmented reality.

"Today Pantomime software is turning virtual reality from a passive solo experience into a more interactive, social one," said the company's CEO and co-founder David Levitt. "We're introducing two advances: reaching into worlds using mobile devices while wearing a VR headset, and playing with other users over WiFi networks – all with no new hardware. And since Pantomime works across many devices and makes headsets optional, it lets people who don't have a VR headset play together in virtual worlds with people who do — providing an inexpensive consumer on-ramp to VR.”

In December Pantomime introduced cross-platform software for iOS and Mac for reaching and seeing into virtual worlds with phones and tablets as well as computer screens. FastCompany wrote, "it has a great deal of promise, especially once the technology is available for the Gear VR and other VR hardware." Said futurist Robert Scoble, "It's the gateway drug for VR."

Today at the AR/VR Vision Summit in Hollywood, the company demonstrated multiple users of the Samsung Gear VR headset playing in shared virtual worlds and reaching in to interact, using ordinary consumer smartphones and tablets. A half dozen virtual worlds showed how users can push and paddle balls and other realistic objects, knock over dominos, play scoring games, dance together with expressive body language, and squash virtual bugs against their real tables, while seeing virtual versions of the devices they're really holding – held in their animated virtual hands.

In most modern VR systems, users don’t have hands. They can’t reach into worlds in 3D and interact; instead they look around at recorded 3D content from a fixed location in the virtual world. The Gear VR includes a touch pad on the user's temple that can be stroked or tapped to shoot at targets or operate menus. Hardware solutions to allow reaching in, for the far more expensive, unreleased Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, have been announced for later this year, with no known price. In contrast, Pantomime's patented motion tracking software turns ordinary consumer tablets and smart phones into fast, accurate, wirelessly networked mobile 3D paddles – adding interactivity and virtual hands to mobile VR/AR headsets at no hardware cost.

The few current VR apps offering shared experiences let users chat by voice or visit shared video screening rooms. But with no hands or physical objects in the scene, users can only interact by talking, moving their heads or choosing videos.

In today’s Pantomime demonstrations and videos, two, three and four headset users see each others’ virtual heads and hands, pitch and paddle balls to one another, play competitive games, and see themselves and others in virtual mirrors. Users with only a smart phone or tablet can see and be seen by other players as reaching into the shared virtual worlds.

Pantomime's networked solution for virtual and augmented reality works by leveraging the widespread presence of consumer computers, including motion sensors, screens, and wireless networks, to immerse them in shared virtual worlds. A 3D model of each device appears in the virtual worlds, with its screen providing a view through it as if it were made of glass. Network connections work across devices running the leading mobile and desktop consumer platforms, including iOS, Android, Mac and Windows. Typical configurations include:

  • a single tablet or phone as both interactive viewer and accurate controller in virtual worlds
  • a head-mounted display linked to a handheld mobile device, such as Gear VR + iPhone
  • two or more mobile devices in cooperative or competitive play
  • a personal computer hosting mobile devices as controllers

These are shown in videos and photos included in today's announcement. All of these can be incrementally expanded, such as adding additional headsets, mobile devices, and computers to a live scene.

Early virtual reality has been dominated by head-mounted stereo displays for a single user. This kind of "immersive" surround is achieved by covering the user's face with a display that hides the people and the devices around us. Pantomime takes a fundamentally expanded view of immersive 3D and virtual reality, effectively turning it inside out by embracing the devices and screens consumers are surrounded with every day, and incorporating them into the 3D scene in a new kind of augmented reality, so users can see multiple views of physically realistic world on shared screens, any consumer can join in, and headsets are optional.

The software shown today, Pantomime Playground for Mobile VR, is now available to beta testers using the Gear VR. Versions will be available later this quarter for mobile headsets compatible with Google Cardboard software. Pantomime Playground apps for Android and Windows are likewise available to beta testers now. Pantomime Playground apps for iPads, iPhones, and Macs are available in the App Store now.

Pantomime Corporation was founded in 2014 by virtual reality pioneer Dr. David Levitt and Don Hopkins of The Sims, soon joined by Eric Hedman of The Sims Expansion Packs. Advisors include Arthur van Hoff of cinematic virtual reality leader Jaunt, and videogame pioneer Nolan Bushnell. The company headquarters is in Sebastopol, California.

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