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Google Dives into Web 3D

Google's open-source API O3D promises to make developing Web-viewable 3D applications affordable.

Google's open-source API O3D promises to make developing Web-viewable 3D applications affordable.

In addition to being the leading search engine, Google wants to become a 3D engine for the Web. This week marks the premier of O3D, Google’s “open-source JavaScript API for creating interactive 3D graphics applications that run in a browser window.”

Google released the API through its Google Code Labs, a place where it shares works in progress and collects feedback from the developer community. (Similarly, Autodesk and SolidWorks also house their early codes at Autodesk Labs and SolidWorks Labs.) O3D is currently available for Windows, Mac, and Linux platforms.

In its present incarnation, the API works with COLLADA format to digest 3D geometry and scene building information from other software. Autodesk 3D Studio Max, Autodesk Maya, Google SketchUp, and some CAD packages offer this export option. SolidWorks users can employ the COLLADA Export plug-in, downloadable from SolidWorks Labs.

O3D’s software architecture schematics reveal the 3D scene is rendered in OpenGL and Direct3D, then funneled through the Graphics Processor Unit. To enable O3D viewing within your browser, you need to download and install the O3D plug-in.

Web-viewable 3D is a critical component of online collaboration, especially for engineers and industrial designers who wish to work with people who do not typically own and operate CAD software. Recently, AfterCAD Online, which supplies viewing and markup tools to subscribers, added 3D support, powered by open-source 3D game enigne OGRE.

Christopher Boothroyd, AfterCAD Online’s CEO, said, “Its great to have Google out there stirring it up and getting other vendors to step up to the game.  It would be nice if there was one Open Standard 3D viewing technology out there that everyone agreed on, which I think COLLADA is coming close too.  The problem is, this is just another 3D plug-in you have to download and install and if someone else doesn’t have the same plug-in, it falls apart. This has been the case with all 3D JAVA and ActiveX attempts. We decided to do it server side to get around this problem and deliver everyone the same experience by simply clicking on a link.”

Dassault Systemes, makers of CATIA, hopes to capture the same market with its 3DVIA Virtool. For more on 3D viewing on the Web, watch the video report below.

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About Kenneth

Kenneth Wong has been a regular contributor to the CAD industry press since 2000, first an an editor, later as a columnist and freelance writer for various publications. During his nine-year tenure, he has closely followed the migration from 2D to 3D, the growth of PLM (product lifecycle management), and the impact of globalization on manufacturing. His writings have appeared in Cadalyst, Computer Graphics World, and Manufacturing Business Technology, among others.


  1. Another competitor on the accelerated in-browser 3D market is Unity. They have attracted quite a bit of interest, for example, Cartoon Networks made their fullblown MMO FusionFall as a 3D in-browser game with Unity. Lots of smaller indie game developers also use Unity; for example games like Off-Road Velociraptor Safari and RC Laser Warrior.

    Curiously, Google’s Beach Demo looks somewhat similar to Unity’s older Tropical Paradise Demo:

    But it will be interesting to see where things will be going with an open source project like this. Once it has matured a bit more, it will certainly have potential.

  2. I have an idea that will boost this

  3. Rune: Just checked out Unity’s Web site. It looks like a cool product. I like open-source projects, because of its communal nature and its affordability. But as you have pointed out, part of its strength is in the community it attracts and the maturity of the code. I’m guessing O3D is pretty solid as it is, considering the resources behind Google. Thanks for the input!

  4. The problem of the “Browser-based” & “plug-in-less” web 3D platform is already resolved by 3DXplorer. It does not require any plug-in (no java 3D, no O3D, …) just basic java runtime, which is available on almost every computer, and you enter any 3D space, with just a URL, in a full immersive mode, with mult-user sessions and avatars chatting to each other, a real time rendering using hardware accelerator, desktop sharing for online meetings, and a lot more. All the other systems mentioned here either require a plug-in (90% of users are reluctant to install them), or are server based (hard to scale, practically useless before several years when faster networks maybe available one day). 3DXplorer is already in use by several US major defense & government organizations as well as fortune 500 corporations. check it out: http://www.3DXplorer.com

  5. And X3D-based Vivaty is all over Facebook.

    I believe the ‘user resistance to downloading plug-ins’ scare tactics have had their day. The real problem of 3D on the web is reliable mass consumer-generated content. The drag and drop vendors such as Vivaty and Metaspace are solving this problem. ExitReality has made 3D web pages a reality.

    The One Web Standard challenge was solved years ago. The only people who don’t seem to know that are the ones attempting to create yet another standard.

    The importance of O3D is having a reliable mid-level interface to the graphics engines that is based in the browser. As Oracle acquires Sun, Java becomes ever more a secondary proprietary operating system inside an operating system. This is not the architecture that can bring mass-consumer generated 3D on the web.

    The ‘download plugin’, Java ubiquity, and ‘one standard’ issues are not real barriers in the 3D market expansion plans. It is mass consumer generated content. SecondLife made great gains by understanding this problem early and solving it within the contexts of their own proprietary server farms systems.

    What continues to amaze me is the confusion. Even mid level interfaces don’t solve the ubiquity problem nor has efforts such as SecondLife to dominate through propriety even with the deep pockets of IBM. The business is good but the affects on standards are negligible and that indicates to me that open standards are being used as a shill to capture market share with all the enabling technologies safely tucked away as IP in the vaults.

    Veteran authors have learned by raw experience that the only means to protect their investments and their customer’s investments in 3D content is to rely on open languages. Collada is good but not enough. Asset exchange is not the same as world interoperability. The polarities of behavioral and rendering fidelity have to be solved and at this time, X3D/VRML is the only scene-graph property and runtime standard. The crucial developments are in the debate over the need for a standard runtime.

    The runtime is where the IP capture contest is occuring. How Google addresses this issue with respect to current international open standards is key to the outcome or success of O3D and this is a market where there is strong competition and Google’s resources make little difference to their success. This is won on chops not the size of the team or their email address. This is 2009 not 1999 when you could sell it with a road show.

  6. 3DXplorer: Thanks for the input. I’m not sure I agree the assessment that server-based Web 3D graphics delivery is hard to scale and practically useless. I think processing the graphics on a server or in cloud has many advantages. One is that the end users get graphics that are much better than what their own machines could have produced. For scalability, isn’t adding more servers always an option?

    Len: Thanks for the analysis of Web 3D market. I’m a resident of SecondLife (though not a very active one). I too believe the proliferation of user-created content is key to Web 3D adoption. In that respect, I find exporting items created in SecondLife to be unnecessarily difficult. A 3D virtual world environment that lets people freely import and export 3D objects could go a long way in urging more users to participate. I checked out your blog too — very informative.

  7. Does anyone here know what they used to develop Quake-Live ?

  8. dive into information techology

  9. has this 3d been developed by google yet? I know some of the flash style games are getting a little better but not the full 3d. sounds kinda cool playing 3d games in a browser.

  10. Fix PTRoD: O3D is now in a new phase, called WebGL (Web-implemented 3D acceleration). For more info, you can go to: http://code.google.com/p/o3d/

    AfterCAD continues to offer a platform for deploying 3D game via browser. Check it out at: http://www.aftercad.com/



  11. I have taken notice that in old digital cameras, specialized detectors help to target automatically. Those sensors associated with some cams change in contrast, while others work with a beam of infra-red (IR) light, specially in low lighting. Higher spec cameras often use a blend of both techniques and could have Face Priority AF where the dslr camera can ‘See’ your face as you concentrate only on that. Many thanks for sharing your notions on this blog.

  12. I thought the title, “Google Dives into Web 3D | Kenneth Wong’s Virtual Desktop” was a bit misleading. However, the content did not disappoint!

  13. Critics have expressed concern over the willingness of Google to cripple their dataset to cater to special interests, believing that intentionally obscuring any land goes against its stated goal of letting the user “point and zoom to any place on the planet that you want to explore”.

  14. Google Earth also features many layers as a source for information on businesses and points of interest, as well as showcasing the contents of many communities, such as Wikipedia , Panoramio and YouTube .

  15. Google, which confirmed Bavor and Greene’s new roles, hasn’t been totally out of the virtual reality realm.

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