‘Pluto’ Brings Cross-App VR Chat to Each SteamVR App, Now Out there in Early Entry
Pluto, a Seattle-based VR startup that made a Series A investment of $ 14 million last year, today launched its unique Pluto application in Early Access via Steam. Rather than acting as a standalone VR chat room like many VR social apps, Pluto brings the structure of social VR into any SteamVR application so that friends’ avatars can chat with you in any virtual world you live in.
I had the opportunity to test the latest version of Pluto and have a virtual chat with the company’s co-founder, John Vechey, and communications manager, Serah Delaini.
Pluto’s desktop interface | Image captured by Road to VR
After installing Pluto through Steam, I launched it and was able to quickly create a new account using a desktop interface, configure a handful of avatar options, and then add Vechey and Delaini to my contact list using their usernames. As soon as we were connected, a call dialog appeared on my screen. I clicked the reply button and then put on my headset. Even though I was in SteamVR’s usual “empty” room, the avatars of Vechey and Delaini, represented by their floating head and hands, suddenly appeared before me. We said hello and started talking, much like we do with a number of other social VR apps.
The nice thing about Pluto, however, is that Vechey and Delaini’s avatars stayed with me no matter what application I was in, instead of requiring me to stay in the same virtual space as them. I was able to paint with Tilt Brush and jump over obstacle courses at Climbey while continuing to see and talk to the couple.
At the moment I can’t see their surroundings or my surroundings, except that I can use a keyboard shortcut to send a screenshot of my view. However, the Pluto team states that there are a few different ideas for how users can let other participants see into their current VR application.
Image courtesy of Pluto
Pluto is neatly managed via its own menu in the SteamVR dashboard. It has options for hiding the avatars of those you are talking to (while still being able to hear and speak), invite new people to chat, and much more.
Vechey told me that the company has a narrow focus; You want to solve cross-app VR communication and do it well without being tempted to create another social VR app that is isolated from other VR apps. Part of that focus has been on optimizing latency, Vechey said, to make person-to-person communication as natural as possible. The voice chat part of Pluto is of decent quality and positional too, and since I don’t have hard numbers, the back and forth of the conversation felt very tight.
Pluto lets you have virtual chats with people no matter where you are in SteamVR, no matter what application you are using. While it’s not particularly difficult to do the same with existing voice chat solutions, you can look at the avatars of the people you’re talking to and actually place their voices in the room instead of coming from inside your head, which does Communication much more immersive and natural.
Image courtesy of Pluto
While most social VR apps, like Facebook Spaces, try to involve people in their application and then give them experiences, Pluto takes the opposite approach. By effectively creating a platform-wide basis for VR communication, Pluto fulfills an important need that the various VR platforms have not yet addressed. Overall, if the company is successful, VR could feel a lot more connected.
But this is just the beginning. Pluto’s long-term roadmap is even more ambitious and has an impressively long perspective. While Pluto runs essentially without knowledge of other VR applications today, Vechey says there will be benefits in the future if applications are made aware that users are chatting with each other in Pluto, e.g. E.g. when the application can communicate with Pluto to use its own avatars and voice system or vice versa, making all communication between VR and VR much more seamless.
While Pluto today offers little interaction between users beyond speech and body language, the company has experimented with the first signs of interactions between Pluto and the app. Serah Delaini, the company’s communications manager, showed how to send me a Tilt Brush painting through Pluto that I could open and view in my own instance of the game. While many VR apps are not designed for this type of sharing, the company is working with standard groups to fuel this discussion so that objects and information can move more freely from one VR app to the next. with Pluto as a possible bridge.
Vechey pointed out that what Pluto does – projecting arbitrary information into another reality – is conceptually similar to AR within VR. In fact, the company expects its solution to expand to AR in the future, combining AR and VR so that users in a particular Pluto chat can be projected into the reality they are in, regardless of whether that is Your actual reality is or virtual reality.
In the long run, says Vechey, the company is building Pluto for a future in which virtual people, objects, and environments are fluid, rather than being closely linked and quarantined in individual applications. Much like how I can take a picture with my smartphone’s camera app and then share it on Facebook – where it can then be downloaded, changed and then shared elsewhere – Pluto’s vision of the future of AR and VR is one You could join a friend in VR and then share a 3D model made in Google Blocks by simply opening the application, picking up the model and handing it over to my friend who will then record that object in any reality and can use you currently inhabit. Vutoey hopes that Pluto would serve as the underlying fabric to make this possible.