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Valve VR Programmer Launches Open-Source Platform “Aardvark” with the Aim to Extend SteamVR with AR-like Utilities

Joe Ludwig, the long-time valve VR programmer, is reportedly building an open-source platform as he tries to bring AR-like utilities into virtual reality. Ludwig states that his project, called “Aardvark” will be an evolution in the domain of virtual reality, as it would introduce a novel extension of VR dashboards, significantly different from what they look like today. This evolution of VR dashboards will bring in new functionalities into spatially-aware and interactive gadgets that can work inside any virtual reality application.


Similar to other VR environments, SteamVR already has its own dashboard. Users can easily call up this dashboard while they are inside any VR application to access useful information, such as changing the settings or browsing the game library. These dashboards, in the present VR environment, appear as large floating screens on top of the current VR app. Ludwig suggests that his creation Aardvark aims to change this layout and allow convenient ‘gadgets’ to run inside the existing VR app. These gadgets are essentially small AR-like utilities, which aims to provide increased functionality to the VR dashboard.


Aardvark, as planned by the developer, will introduce simple AR-like tools like web video players, chat boxes, timers, friend lists, drawing boards, screenshot tools, etc. that users will have access to. These tools, instead of adding functionality to a single VR app, can be used across multiple VR platforms as ‘gadgets’, irrespective of the game users are inside.


Early access

The project is still in its initial stage of development. But after launching Aardvark in early access on the VR app Steam, Ludwig explained how the gadgets will operate to Kent Bye in his latest episode of the Voices of VR podcast. He states that the Aardvark gadgets are designed more like web apps. This means that the functionality of these gadgets is similar to webpages, and Aardvark mainly works like the search engine that renders these gadgets into the virtual space. However, unlike WebXR, it will not render its full screen on the space directly. According to Ludwig, this approach is primarily for its scalability and performance.

Additionally, the said browser-like approach will bring some other benefits to the AR-like utilities. For example, they can be built with the kind of functions users would expect from any other website, such as loading images, text rendering, and extracting information from other areas of the web. Being web-based also means that the maintenance and distribution of these gadgets will be easier, for they are essentially webpages that can be accessed by anyone via URLs.


In his discussion with Kent Bye, Ludwig also mentioned that the project is still in its primary phase and much of the functionalities are defined minimally. Currently, the platform is looking for promising contributors, who are building their own gadgets. This way, the developer hopes that Aardvark can naturally evolve to fit the future use-cases as envisioned by the creator.

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