a16z-backed Rooms.xyz lets you build interactive, 3D rooms and simple games in your browser

A team of ex-Googlers is today launching a new digital creativity platform, Rooms.xyz, into beta testing. The startup, backed by $10 million in seed funding led by a16z, offers a browser-based tool for designing 3D spaces — or “rooms” — using drag-and-drop, editable objects or code, allowing users to express themselves through creative play as they design rooms, basic games or other interactive activities contained in these small, online spaces.

The idea is something in between a simple creation tool like Minecraft and a more advanced world-building platform, like Roblox. Or, as the company describes it, it’s like the “digital equivalent of LEGO.”

Image Credits: Rooms.xyz

The idea for Rooms was inspired by a combination of factors, explains co-founder Jason Toff — namely, that 3D model creation today was far too difficult.

Prior to Rooms, Toff spent ten years at Google, off and on, in product marketing and product management, including at YouTube, Area 120, and in VR/AR. Before that, he spent a couple of years at Vine as Product Manager, including after it was acquired by Twitter. And most recently, Toff worked at Meta, where he dabbled with new product experiments, like the zine maker E.gg and music-making app Collab, among other things.

After leaving his last position, Toff decided to take some time off, which he decided to fill by trying to learn how to make 3D models — something he always thought sounded like fun. As it turned out, however, the process was actually fairly complicated and involved the use of complex software. Around the same time, Toff’s six-year-old son had just started playing with Minecraft where designing with 3D models was easy, but it had to be done one block at a time.

This prompted the idea of something of a middle ground for 3D design, where the process would be nearly as straightforward as it was in Minecraft, but the building unit wasn’t a single block. Instead, in Rooms, you can search for, edit, and then add a fully-formed object to your space — like a door, a sofa, a table, a bed, a car, decor, a pet, or anything else you can dream up.

The interface allows you to change an object’s attributes and functionality, like the color, size, position, or style or what happens when you click it.

The project also takes inspiration from other projects Toff worked on at Google’s AR/VR division, like its VR and AR app-building service Poly (which became another Google causality in 2020), and the 3D modeling tool for VR, Blocks. Rooms’ co-founder Bruno Oliveira also worked on these projects at Google, which is how the two first met. Meanwhile, third co-founder and iOS engineer Nick Kruge, hails from Smule (where he was Director of Product Design) and Uber, in addition to Google, where he worked on YouTube mobile and YouTube Music.

“Basically, I set out for the company to make the digital equivalent of LEGO,” Toff explains. “The thought was, LEGO is one of these few things that kids love, adults love, and adults want their kids to play with,” he says. But LEGO has limitations due to its physical, printed plastic nature. It can be expensive and you can lose parts, for example, Toff noted.

Like a box of LEGOS, Rooms is meant for open-ended play where people use the objects to express themselves in some way — whether that’s building a tiny version of a real-world room, a dream room, or by creating some sort of interactive space, like a simple game or a musical instrument you can click to play, or something else.

The startup seeded its community with 1,000 Voxel 3D objects it commissioned from creators, which can be added and customized in your own space. Every room is also by default public and can be “remixed” — that is, used as a template or jumping-off point for designing your own.

Image Credits: Rooms.xyz

There’s an educational aspect to the software, too, as you don’t only have to interact with the objects via the user interface — you can also click to reveal the code. Rooms uses Lua, the same language that’s used for coding in Roblox. That could help to introduce younger users to coding concepts before moving on to Roblox’s more advanced editing tools.

While the rooms themselves are interactive and can be interconnected with one another, there’s not much more that can be done with them after the design is complete besides share their URL with others to show them off. A “camera mode” lets you take a photo or a smooth dolly shot, but the end result isn’t one-click publishable to social networks. Nor can users create avatars that can move or interact with others, or engage in chats.

“That was an intentional decision — in part, just to keep this as like safe as possible,” Toff explains. “Because as soon as you introduce chat…people can do terrible things,” he says.. Plus, he adds, there’s already too much focus on virtual personas and dressing up avatars and the team wanted wanted to pursue something different.

“For all I know, it could be a huge mistake that we don’t have any of that — and it may make sense to introduce some sort of social experience down the road,” Toff admits. “But for now, it’s all just like just a website or a game you play. It’s all individual.”

Image Credits: Rooms.xyz

Eventually, Rooms could monetize by selling objects for purchase, subscriptions, or licensing its software for education, but that’s all very much to be determined at this point. As the startup opens up to beta testing, the goal is to see how early adopters use the product and what they end up building or requesting, says Toff.

One area they’re exploring, however, involves the use of ChatGPT. Right now, they’ve created an object of a fortune teller (Zoltar!) which you can pose questions to that are then answered by the OpenAI chatbot, speaking as Zoltar would. Users can copy that code and use it for their own AI-enabled objects, editing the prompt within the code to change the way their object responds.

Also in development is an AI tool that would let users instruct the software to write code for the object they want and how it should behave.

For instance, you could tell it to make your object spin when clicked, and the AI would create the code you need. This functionality is not yet public, however.

The startup — Things Inc. — was founded in 2021, raising $8 million in funding from Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) and $2 million from various angel investors, including Adobe’s Chief Product Office Scott Belsky and Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger, among others. After burning funds too quickly at first, the team downsized their 10-person team to just the three founders in order to maintain enough runway. Now, Rooms.xyz has somewhere around four-plus years, Toff says.

That could allow the company, which has been built via Unity, more time to launch on other platforms. Right now, an iOS app is in development that would serve as a companion for exploring the Rooms built by others. But the team also envisions expanding these creations to the AR/VR platforms from Apple and Meta in the future, too.

“We were like, ‘let’s get this beta out now,’ because once Apple comes out with its [AR/VR device], we’ll see what it does and then we can figure out how to integrate it,” says Toff. ‘All this was built in a way that it could be on a headset very easily,” he adds.

Rooms.xyz is open for beta testing and is free to use.

a16z-backed Rooms.xyz lets you build interactive, 3D rooms and simple games in your browser by Sarah Perez originally published on TechCrunch

Enter the Objaverse: 800,000 virtual props for AIs to play with

If AI is going to work its way out of the chat box and into our living rooms, it will need to understand spaces and objects better. To further that work, the Allen Institute for AI has created a gigantic and diverse database of 3D models of everyday objects, so simulations for AI models can be that much closer to reality.

Simulators are basically 3D environments meant to represent real places that a robot or AI might have to navigate or understand. But unlike, say, a modern console game, training simulators are far from photorealistic and often lack detail, variation or interactivity.

Objaverse, as it is awkwardly yet somehow pleasingly named, aims to improve this with its collection of over 800,000 (and growing) 3D models with all kinds of metadata. The things represented range from types of food to tables and chairs to appliances and gadgets. Any relatively ordinary object you might expect to see in a home, office or restaurant is represented here.

It’s meant to replace aging object libraries like ShapeNet, an old standby database with about 50,000 less detailed models. If the only “lamp” your AI has ever seen is a generic one with no pattern or color, how can you expect it to recognize a funky cut-glass one or one with a totally different shape? Objaverse includes variations on common objects so the model can learn what defines them despite their differences.

Sure, it probably won’t be necessary for your AI assistant to identify a bookcase as “medieval” or not, but it should definitely know the difference between a peeled and unpeeled banana. But you never know what might matter.

Image Credits: AI2

Using photorealistic imagery (captured via photogrammetry, it is clear) also brings a level of diversity and realism that is obvious in retrospect. Sure, all beds look roughly the same, but what about unmade beds? All different!

Having objects that also animate to do their “main thing” if you will is also helpful. Knowing what a refrigerator, cabinet, book, laptop or garage door look like closed is one thing and open is another, but how does it get from A to B? It sounds simplistic but if AI models aren’t provided this information, they aren’t likely to invent or intuit it.

You can read more about the characteristics and details of this huge dataset in the AI2 paper describing it. If you’re a researcher, you can start using it now for free via Hugging Face.

Enter the Objaverse: 800,000 virtual props for AIs to play with by Devin Coldewey originally published on TechCrunch

Procore brings 3D construction models to iOS

Today, Procore, a construction software company, announced Procore BIM (Building Information Modeling), a new tool that takes advantage of Apple hardware advances to bring the 3D construction model to iOS.

Dave McCool, senior product manager at Procore, says that architects and engineers have been working with 3D models of complex buildings for years on desktop computers and laptops, but these models never made it into the hands of the tradespeople actually working on the building. This forced them to make trips to the job site office to see the big picture whenever they ran into issues, a process that was inefficient and costly.

What Procore has done is created a 3D model that corresponds to a virtual version of the 2D floor plan and runs on an iOS device. Touching a space on the floor plan, opens a corresponding spot in the 3D model. What’s more, Procore has created a video game-like experience, so that contractors can use a virtual joystick to move around a 3D representation of the building, or they can use gestures to move around the rendering.

black iphone in landscape position held by a construction worker with a yellow hat a12584

Procore BIM running on an iPhone. Photo: Procore

The app has been designed so that it can run on an iPhone 7, but for optimal performance, Procore recommends using an iPad Pro. The software takes advantage of Apple Metal, which gives developers “near direct” access to the GPU running on these devices. This ability to tap into GPU power, speeds up performance and allows this level of sophisticated rendering quickly on iOS devices.

McCool says that this enables trades people to find the particular area on the drawing where their part of the project needs to go much more easily and intuitively, whether it’s wiring, ductwork or plumbing. As he pointed out, it can get crowded in the space above a ceiling or inside a utility  room, and the various trades teams need to work together to make sure they are putting their parts in the correct spot. Working with this tool helps make that placement crystal clear.

It’s essentially been designed to gamify the experience in order to help tradespeople who aren’t necessarily technically savvy to operate the tool themselves and find their way around a drawing in 3D, while reducing the number of trips to the office to have a discussion with the architects or engineers to resolve issues.

This is the latest tool from a company that has been producing construction software since 2002. As a company spokesperson said, early on the company founder had to wire routers on the site to allow workers to use the earliest versions. Today, it offers a range of construction software to track financials, project, labor and safety management information.

Procore BIM will be available starting next month.