Mixed Reality Service

The recent renaissance in both virtual reality (VR, and in particular, WebVR) and mixed reality (MR) has highlighted a common missing element — the lack of protocol support for shared VR and MR environments.

While single-user environments have their uses, the last twenty years of the Web have conclusively demonstrated connectivity and collaboration provide overwhelming benefits. To have global reach, VR and MR must be built atop an open foundation of protocols supporting connectivity. Without that support, development and deployment of shared VR and MR environments will be slow and piecemeal, under-serving the potential of these new media.

The Mixed Reality Service (MRS) provides one necessary service: the capacity to map URIs to arbitrary geospatial or 3D coordinates.

MRS is being submitted for consideration at the W3C Workshop on the Web & Virtual Reality.

From the abstract:

The Mixed Reality Service (MRS) provides registration and discovery services binding the real world of geospatial coordinates to the virtual world of Universal Resource Identifiers (URIs). The MRS protocol consists of three commands: ‘add’ and ‘delete’, which allow additions and deletions to a mapping of geographical coordinates to URIs; plus ‘search’, which performs searches by geospatial coordinates, returning a list of matching mapped URIs. Potential uses of MRS include mixed reality applications, guidance for autonomous vehicles and drones, and vastly simplified delivery of nearly all location-based services. Simple modifications to MRS make it suitable for shared virtual worlds.

MRS — or something much like it — has been needed for two decades. Its initial incarnation as ‘Cyberspace Protocol’ formed the basis of the WWW1 paper that gave birth to VRML.

Pokémon Go needs zoning. MRS provides that capacity.

The recent faux pas of Pokémon Go — putting players into danger, and producing numerous trespass and nuisance violations — highlights the immediate need for Internet-wide protocol support, so mixed reality applications can be deployed safely at global scale.

In the positive case, MRS provides a mechanism for space to ‘speak for itself’. All resources relevant to a place can be presented through a mapped URI. The use cases for this capacity range from the prosaic — such as providing the opening hours of a public park, through the needful — enumerating all of the environmental risks that first responders might encounter at any given location, all the way to applications as sophisticated as publishing the flight paths for autonomous drones finding their way through an urban landscape.

In each use case, the real world benefits from a injection of metadata.

MRS has been designed to be easy for client applications to implement; best-practice approaches to security provide reasonable assurances of both privacy and authenticity.

These are early days in the WebVR revolution. The networked nature of the medium means VR and MR applications could soon be scaling to large numbers of simultaneous users. Where Internet-wide protocol-level support is available, these applications — and WebVR itself — have the best chance of mass adoption.

Device APIs are important. We also need protocols that make it easy for applications and devices to work at global scale. MRS is far from the only protocol we will need in the years to come, but we need it now, and the need will only grow more pressing as VR and MR become quotidian.

The full Mixed Reality Service specification document can be found at https://mixedrealitysystem.org/spec/MRS_Draft_2_September_2016.pdf

Position statement submitted to the W3C Workshop on the Web and Virtual Reality, 23 September 2016.

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