Tilt Brush, PC VR streaming, and Developer Bundle shipping updates
21 days ago
– Sun, Feb 07, 2021 at 10:00:38 PM
Hi ZapBoxers, Happy 2021!
It’s been a while since our last update post, and we’ve got a couple of exciting bits of content news to share with you today, along with an update on our shipping plans for the flat-pack cardboard ZapBoxes that were part of the Developer Bundle.
Tilt Brush is now open source, and coming to ZapBox!
At the end of January, Google released their VR painting app Tilt Brush as open source, and announced they would no longer be developing it themselves.
In our campaign page we discussed our ambition to bring a “ZapBrush” app to ZapBox inspired by Tilt Brush, as we think it’s one of the best applications to demonstrate the power of 6-DoF interaction. Artists can create and share amazing work, and the rest of us can just enjoy the special effect brushes allowing us to write our names in fire and sparkling particles!
We’re thrilled that Google and the Tilt Brush team took the decision to release the source code so that the VR community can continue to develop the app. Now that Tilt Brush has been released as open source we no longer need to limit our ambition to a cut-down Tilt Brush-inspired experience but can instead bring the full functionality of the app to ZapBox!
We’ll also commit to making this ZapBox version open source - it will provide us with a brilliant test case as we develop the ZapBox SDK for Unity and will serve as a great example to external developers of how to go about a port of an existing VR or MR app for ZapBox. We’ll of course also release the port on the App Stores as a free app to use with ZapBox.
The current version of Tilt Brush is built with Unity 2018.4, which was before the introduction of the Unity XR framework that we are targeting with the ZapBox SDK for Unity. That means there will be some work to do to move the codebase to a current Unity version. We’ll also need to make some adjustments to the interaction design to make the app compatible with the ZapBox controllers that have fewer inputs than other VR setups. Finally we want to add MR support too so that the live camera view can be displayed in the background as an option alongside the pure-VR background environments that Tilt Brush currently offers.
So there’s a bit of work for us to do, but it’s an amazing opportunity to bring a fully-featured VR/MR painting app to ZapBox and we’re super excited about it!
Streaming PC VR content to ZapBox
We’ve also spent some time thinking about how we can offer the best possible ZapBox developer experience for Unity developers. Unity-built ZapBox apps will be native iOS and Android applications, but the Unity build process for mobile apps can take quite some time and the debugging experience is non-optimal.
The ideal developer workflow comes from supporting Unity’s “Play Mode”, which is supported for directly-connected PC VR headsets. In that mode the Unity editor on the development PC is responsible for rendering the content, allowing a fast developer turnaround and a great debugging experience.
To support the Unity Play Mode with ZapBox, one potential approach is to use some sort of “proxy VR driver” on the PC that makes it think a headset is directly connected, when in reality it captures rendered frames, encodes them as a video, and streams it over the local WiFi network to the device in the ZapBox headset. The user motion and inputs from the ZapBox client app would be sent in the opposite direction and reported to the PC as if from a directly-connected PC VR setup.
It would be a lot of work for us to build this from scratch, but there are a number of existing implementations of this approach that we’ve been investigating, including the open source ALVR project. However the implementation we are most interested in is NVIDIA’s CloudXR SDK, and we’re very grateful to NVIDIA for granting us membership of the CloudXR SDK Early Access program so that we can use it to build out a proof-of-concept.
The CloudXR SDK leverages the low-latency video encoding and streaming technology that NVIDIA have developed for their GeForce NOW game streaming service. It also provides a proxy PC VR driver, and offers Android libraries and an SDK for integrating custom Android-based client devices. No word from NVIDIA on iOS support yet but we can’t see any technical reasons why an iOS client would not be possible.
NVIDIA’s CloudXR SDK provides many of the parts needed to wirelessly stream PC VR content to headsets. [Image: NVIDIA]
Alongside offering an improved developer experience with support for the Unity Play Mode, a ZapBox PC VR client would also enable existing PC VR apps to be used with ZapBox. Not all PC VR content will be compatible - experiences requiring fast controller motion or lots of additional inputs will not map well to the capabilities of the passive controllers used in ZapBox - but this still has the potential to allow ZapBox users to access some of the existing PC VR content ecosystem.
In general we’d expect the best experience to come from having a powerful VR-ready gaming PC inside your local network but there are also intriguing possibilities offered by running the server on GPU instances from AWS or other cloud computing providers. We’re yet to try this out ourselves in practice to see the impact of network latency on the experience, but there are positive reports of other CloudXR Early Access users successfully streaming VR content from AWS.
Flat-pack cardboard ZapBox shipping plans
Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic combined to create a bit of a perfect storm for shipping things from the UK, but we do now have plans in place to get Developer Bundle backers their flat-pack cardboard ZapBoxes.
UK Developer Bundle Backers - your orders are now with our warehouse and will start being shipped from tomorrow. Non-UK orders apart from those from the EU and US have also been sent over now and will be shipped out individually from the warehouse straight after the UK ones.
For those in the EU we’re just finalizing the declarations for shipping those from the UK. The courier companies suspended their UK to EU services in January as they struggled with a backlog of shipments with incorrect paperwork but the services are available again now. It looks like at least the single units will come in under the threshold for import VAT but we’re just making sure we’ve got everything correctly worked out on that front. Regardless of the final details, we’ll take responsibility for all the fees to get them to you so you won’t have to pay any additional fees on delivery.
The US deliveries are the most complicated - they are expensive for us to ship individually from the UK, and as we have quite a few orders from the US our plan was to ship them over in bulk and have a US fulfilment company handle the domestic US shipping.
Unfortunately the size of the flat-pack ZapBoxes is not a good match for the cheapest standard domestic USPS shipping services, so the quotes from smaller fulfilment providers were still effectively loss-making for us - shipping alone was ending up more than the $25 additional pledge required for the Developer Bundle.
After some more research we have discovered that Amazon’s “Fulfilment By Amazon” (FBA) service offers much more reasonable domestic US shipping rates. The downside is that the units need to be individually barcoded before sending them to the Amazon fulfilment centers. There are companies that specialize in “FBA Prep” so the current plan for the US orders is to send the whole batch from the UK to a US FBA Prep service, and then onto Amazon for final fulfilment.
One benefit of using FBA for these US Developer Bundle orders is that it will give us a chance to gain experience of the FBA process. Assuming all goes well, that’s likely the route we’ll use for the majority of shipments of the final all-new ZapBox rewards - there are FBA fulfilment centers in the UK, EU and Canada too, so once we’ve got the process down we will be able to bulk import into all those regions and manage all the individual shipments from just one central dashboard.
We’re really sorry getting these cardboard units shipped has taken much longer than anticipated. If you’re keen to get started immediately, we do have a print-at-home PDF which allows printing your own controllers and world codes so you can see what is possible with the cardboard kits.
Once your cardboard ZapBoxes start arriving you may be wondering how to get started with development. Right now, you can build content in our ZapWorks Studio tool - this forum post describes how to access the trigger inputs using ZapWorks Studio’s current ZapBox wrapper.
In terms of the Unity SDK, the work we’ve done investigating the PC streaming approach has altered our approach to the architecture for the native SDK. We were previously working to integrate the Unity XR framework at a relatively low-level with our underlying computer vision code, which mirrors how the integration currently works in the ZapBox app for ZapWorks Studio content.
However as shown in the overview diagram from NVIDIA included above, the streaming client app also needs to integrate with some sort of “VR Runtime” which handles the lens warping (and “asynchronous reprojection” to mitigate latency). Thinking about this more, it makes the most sense for us to expose a public API at this level, and then a further wrapper to map that to the Unity XR Framework. This would allow sharing more code between Unity apps and the PC streaming client app, and also would make it easier for either ourselves or the community to bring ZapBox support to other game engines.
We’re looking into whether it would be possible to implement (perhaps a subset of) the OpenXR client API as the public API for the ZapBox runtime - that would have the further benefit of allowing content and tools that target OpenXR to be easier to compile for ZapBox. Unreal in particular targets OpenXR so this is likely to improve how easy it would be to support ZapBox content development in Unreal.
Our current focus is getting the proof-of-concept streaming client app up and running, in order to support Unity Play Mode for development purposes. We’ll share that with Developer Bundle backers as soon as we have it working.
Until next time, ZapBoxers!
- Team ZapBox
December all-new ZapBox round-up
2 months ago
– Wed, Dec 23, 2020 at 12:35:42 AM
We’ve got a few updates to share this month to keep you up to speed with everything ZapBox.
We have now selected and signed agreements with our preferred manufacturing partner for all-new ZapBox. We’ve sent over our reference 3D printed prototypes along with the CAD files for the various components.
There are broadly three stages between now and getting the first batch of final products ready to send out to backers.
- Our manufacturing partner produces a 3D printed prototype and we incorporate any feedback from them in the CAD files to ensure everything is set for mass production. This one is underway now.
- After we sign-off on the 3D printed prototype the factory can get to work producing the injection moulding tooling for the various custom-designed components. We’re expecting this to begin in January 2021.
- Production of the components for the first batch will get underway as soon as the tooling is completed.
We’ll keep you up to date as we move through these stages (hopefully smoothly and without incident)!
Computer vision updates
In parallel with getting the physical product production underway, we’ve also been pushing forward on the computer vision updates required for all-new ZapBox.
We’re making good progress on the algorithm to detect the new D3 markers that we will be using for both the controllers and world anchors in all-new ZapBox. There’s a short video below to demonstrate the current state, including a section where the marker is intentionally out-of-focus to test the limits of the detection. We’re really happy with the performance at this stage of the development of the algorithm.
We’ll be pairing this detection algorithm with one that will do frame-to-frame tracking which will further improve the quality of tracking even under blur and more extreme viewing angles. We’re also making good progress on our “extended tracking” implementation, which will combine detection and tracking of the world anchors with a map of other visual features in the camera view. We’ll share some demos of that in future updates.
BackerKit address surveys
Thanks to the 574 of you who have filled in the BackerKit survey (which we use to collect your address). There are 108 backers who still need to fill it in. It’s good to get this out of the way whilst you remember - don’t worry if you’re moving at some point soon, you can always go in and change the address before we ship the rewards, and we’ll give you plenty of notice before we start shipping.
If you can’t find the email with your survey link it may be worth checking your junk email folder. There’s a screenshot of what the survey email looks like in our previous project update. Feel free to get in touch if you’re having trouble finding your survey link!
We’d hoped to get the flat-pack cardboard kits for the Developer Bundles shipped this year. Unfortunately by the time the Kickstarter funds cleared in our account and we sent out the surveys, our fulfilment partner was already fully booked up for Christmas shipments.
Apologies for the delay on these - we’ll get back onto shipping out the flat-pack cardboard kits for the Developer Bundles first thing in the New Year. We’re also hoping to have an early access build of the Unity SDK that will work with these existing cardboard kits available in January.
Roll on 2021
Well, what a year we’ve all had in 2020. The successful Kickstarter campaign for all-new ZapBox will at least give us one positive memory, but in general like most people we can’t wait to see the back of this year!
Thanks so much for all of your support in 2020, and we can go now into the holiday season full of excitement for what 2021 will bring - vaccine rollouts meaning a route out of the pandemic, being able to see loved ones and travel again, and perhaps most excitingly of all being able to deliver all-new ZapBox to all our backers! Bring it on!
Wishing you all the best for the festive season,
- Team ZapBox
Stand by for surveys!
3 months ago
– Thu, Nov 26, 2020 at 12:57:57 PM
🦃 Happy Thanksgiving 🦃 to our US backers and anyone else who celebrates it!
The rest of this update only applies to backers who pledged on Kickstarter during the campaign. If you placed your order after the campaign on our pre-order store then we will already have your address details, and you can stop reading now!
Surveys coming next week
We received the Kickstarter campaign funds into our bank account earlier this week 💸, so we’re now able to move on to the next step of backer admin - sending out survey links so we can collect all of your shipping details.
We’re going to be using BackerKit to manage all of your details and stay on top of everything. You will receive an email with a link to your personal BackerKit survey next week, which will be sent to the email address you use to log in to Kickstarter.
Expect your survey email to look a little something like this
We recommend that you fill in the survey when it arrives, especially for Developer Bundle backers so that we can get your flat-pack cardboard ZapBoxes dispatched ASAP. You’ll be able to go back to your survey to update the address details at any time before we ship the main rewards, so don’t worry if you’re moving soon.
Pledge questions (and answers!)
We have been contacted by some backers with a few questions about whether they can make changes to their pledges, so here’s a few Q and As:
I wanted to get a Developer Bundle but forgot to change my pledge level in time, can I make that adjustment now?
We’ve decided to make the Developer Bundle available as a $25 add-on in BackerKit to any Kickstarter backers at pledge levels that did not include it. That keeps to our word about the Developer Bundle being an exclusive offer for Kickstarter backers but gives another opportunity for anyone feeling backer’s remorse to get involved!
Can I add additional all-new ZapBoxes to my pledge?
You can add additional all-new ZapBoxes as add-on items, for $40 each + a per-unit shipping fee ($10 US/UK/EU/Canada, $20 elsewhere). These shipping rates for additional units represent a good saving over our standard pre-order rates as we’ll be able to combine the units into the same shipment as your Kickstarter pledge rewards.
My card payment failed on Kickstarter - can I keep my pledge and retry the payment?
Yes! You will receive a BackerKit survey link too, but your survey will show there is still a balance to be paid. You can pay the balance on BackerKit to keep your pledge active.
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That’s it for this week, but we’ll be back soon with more updates on our progress on the product manufacturing and software / SDK side of things.
Have great weekends ZapBoxers!
- Team Zappar
That’s a wrap!
4 months ago
– Fri, Nov 06, 2020 at 08:40:38 AM
Thank you ZapBoxers for sharing this amazing journey with us!
Thanks to your support and backing we can now get to work on making all-new ZapBox a reality. We’ll of course be keeping you all up to date with our progress as we continue development on the software and get mass production of the first batch of physical products underway so keep your eyes peeled for future updates.
Excitingly not only did we hit our target but we also achieved the $75k stretch goal, which means we have allocated $5000 to our ZapBox Community Development Fund. We’re looking forward to discussing how best to use this fund with you all to help bring more content from the community to ZapBox for everyone to enjoy!
Keeping the ball rolling with our pre-order store
We set our goal amount on Kickstarter to allow us to make the up-front payments required for tooling so that we can get manufacturing of the first batch underway, and we’re thrilled we’ve achieved that milestone thanks to our Kickstarter backers. Thanks to your pledges we’ve now locked in orders for over 900 units of all-new ZapBox!
We recognize some people may have missed out on the Kickstarter campaign but still want to be among the first to own all-new ZapBox. We’re also keen to keep the ball rolling and keep building the community of ZapBoxers during this period where we’ll be working on completing the software and getting the physical products manufactured.
Therefore now the campaign is over we will be directing future backers to our pre-order store. The multipack pledges and developer bundles were Kickstarter-exclusive offers, so the pre-order store lists all-new ZapBoxes at our standard price point of $40 each + shipping.
We’ll make sure our Kickstarter backers are prioritized when shipping out the products, and the pre-order fulfillment will follow in a second wave.
What happens next
Now the project is successfully funded, Kickstarter will charge the credit cards of backers and send the funds over to our bank account, which may take a couple of weeks.
For Developer Bundle backers we’ll send out surveys to collect shipping addresses very soon after the funds hit our account so that we can ship the cardboard flat-pack ZapBoxes that are part of your rewards. We’d estimate those flat-pack ZapBoxes will be arriving with backers in December.
Right, back to work on delivering all-new ZapBox for all of you. Thanks again so much for supporting the project and allowing us to make it a reality!
- Team ZapBox
Into the final 24 hours...
4 months ago
– Fri, Nov 06, 2020 at 01:02:21 AM
We’re now into the final 24 hours of the campaign, and we’re thrilled to have already reached 113% of our funding goal.
Thanks to you we’ve smashed through our first stretch goal target so we have already allocated $2500 to the ZapBox Community Development Fund, and we’re within touching distance of the next milestone that will boost the fund to $5000.
For those of you who are following the project but have not yet pledged, this is the perfect time to get involved! The multipack discounts and developer bundles will only be available through Kickstarter, and by backing the project now you’ll help us keep pushing towards those stretch goals to add even more to our Community Development Fund.
Don’t miss out - back all-new ZapBox now!
Thanks so much for all of your support so far. That’s it from us until tomorrow when the campaign ends and hopefully we’ll be able to declare victory without needing any recounts :)
- Team ZapBox