Talking to Teleportal

World-scale AR / VR multiplayer experiences, virtual production, and more!

This week, I’m talking to Ryan Reede, Carol Keum, and Tom Suarez from Teleportal.

Ryan and I met at MIT’s Reality Virtually hackathon last year, and I met Carol and Tom through Ryan. All of them have been working in the AR/VR space for years, and they’ve taught me a lot about animation, virtual production, and building scalable creative tools. Excited to share our conversation below!  

What is Teleportal? 

Ryan: Right now, Teleportal is a suite of creator tools and an SDK that lets developers create world-scale AR/VR multiplayer experiences. Our tools are cross-platform by default, so experiences built with Teleportal work on mobile, PC, and VR out of the box. 

Beyond the tools, we want Teleportal to be a space for creators to interact with each other. The future of computing is going to be about virtual spaces, and we want to power the creation of those spaces. 

Carol: Our SDK currently supports up to 20,000 concurrent users, so creators can instantly build large-scale AR/VR experiences and apps. Users are able to connect locally or remotely from around the world and using our SDK, we’re also building virtual production tools so that creators can interact, create and share mixed reality experiences using devices like their smartphones.

R: When people have ideas for apps, they just want to make stuff. They don’t want to handle low level tech issues, they just want to build their experiences.

C: Before Teleportal, every AR/VR team had to start from scratch and figure out networking, localization, 3D data storage, voice chat, custom logic for devices, etc. for themselves. What Teleportal does is handle these backend systems for developers so that they can build large-scale AR/VR experiences without needing to build these systems themselves.

What’s the long-term vision for the company?

R: We want to build an operating system (OS). We’re working towards becoming the Android of spatial computing— we’ll open source what we can and make it really easy to use for developers.

We’re essentially figuring out how you interact with the space around you. Developers are familiar with getting computers to talk to printers and other peripheral devices, and we’re building what that could look like in three dimensions. 

Tom: We’re researching and developing the Teleportal OS as an open, privacy-focused spatial computing environment, and as an independent alternative to the current big players.

C: Our aim is to lower the barrier to entry and just make it really easy for creators to make mixed reality experiences. 

R: Yep. The only way to make an OS successful is to gain the respect of creators. We want to show them what the future of virtual production looks like by making it super accessible for artists and developers. 

In the future, would you need to be a developer to use Teleportal’s tools?

R: Making it easy for everyday creators is definitely the goal. Right now, you need to be an experienced developer to jump into Teleportal’s SDK, but it’s extremely powerful if you’re good at that kind of stuff. You can do crazy things like control a Philips Hue light with just ten lines of code. It’s not the same as just creating art in 3D, but it’ll get there soon.    

C: We’re definitely working towards getting our tools into the hands of every creator, which is why we’re currently building virtual production tools on mobile. We’d love to enable every user with a smartphone or spatial computing device to create mixed reality experiences with their friends.

How has Teleportal evolved over time?

T: Teleportal originally started as WiTag, an AR Laser Tag game I started building in 2015, before ARKit or any of the major AR frameworks we have today. It relied mainly on GPS, camera, and IMU data, along with a custom networking stack I built from scratch. In 2017, WiTag was launched on the iOS App Store, and we had interest from developers who wanted to use our underlying multi-user, platform-agnostic tools and services. So we pivoted to offering that technology as the Teleportal SDK for developers.

R: 80% of the changes we’ve made since then have been informed by developers’ needs. We just added support for what developers wanted as the years went by. 

C: Now we’re building a virtual chat app, we’re working on AR art installations at museums, and are building virtual production tools for artists.

Do you have to be in the same physical space to share an experience?

T: Teleportal users can join experiences from anywhere! We support all major immersive platforms — iOS, Android, VR, Magic Leap, and Desktop. The base coordinate system for Teleportal Realms is Earth-scale geography (latitude and longitude) — we did this to ensure that our tools and services are designed for world-scale use.

R: One experience we’re working on now was set to premiere at an art gallery in LA before the city’s stay-at-home order. But with Teleportal, it can still happen virtually. That’s what’s great about our tools— even though the experiences are great when they happen in a physical space, the technology doesn’t depend on it.   

C: With Teleportal, users can share an experience in the same physical space or they can remotely teleport into an experience from home or anywhere in the world.

R: We’re working on an IoT (internet of things) stack that helps developers solve a lot of these problems. How do you localize a device to a physical space? How do you get them to talk to each other? The virtual tools give you superpowers— you’re not limited by gravity or time. You can do more than what you can do in a physical space. We’re building a lot of that into YeetChat now. 

What’s YeetChat?

C: YeetChat is a virtual chat app built using the Teleportal SDK that allows users to hangout, listen to music and watch videos together with their friends and family in 3D spaces using devices like their smartphones, PCs and Macs.

R: We’re really designing it for ourselves. Everyone’s at home right now, and everyone wants to interact with one another beyond the screen. With features like spatialized audio, it makes the experience way more immersive. 

The space is totally ephemeral. Handling user data well is extremely important to us, so we don’t store anything personally identifiable in YeetChat. You can share a link, jump in, jump out, and create another link if you want to. We’re building something we want to use. 

I’m sure Teleportal’s suite relies on a lot of data. How are you thinking about data collection and privacy?

C: The privacy of users in our number one priority at Teleportal.

R: Our team serves users in the same way elected officials serve the public. We’re in a position to think really carefully about user privacy and make sure developers feel comfortable with our tools. People feel safe when they’re in control, so we’re making things as open as possible from the very beginning. To really build trust, we need to be consistently reliable— year over year, time and time again.

T: Exactly. It’s also not enough to just say we’re protecting user privacy with a written policy. Data safety has to be central to the company culture, and more specifically embedded in the engineering, such that the software we write is not even capable of storing certain types of data anywhere.

R: If you agree with our ethos and our approach to a privacy-focused future, you will be creating software that’s fundamentally aligned with users’ needs. We’re making that available for every developer who uses our stuff.  

What happens when we shift to head-mounted AR?

C: We’re all big believers that glasses will come one day. That’ll add a new dimension to our work, so we’re preparing for that now and figuring out the fundamentals of how those interactions might work first. 

R: Swipe-based gestures are so mature, and moving 3D objects on a screen is intuitive already, so we’ll probably be in the mobile world for a while. That said, we’ve designed our software with a glasses future in mind. 

Tom thinks about this a lot, and we want Teleportal to be agile and ready for any future platforms. For example, if a big player releases an AR headset but doesn't make the cameras available to developers, we need to be prepared for that. 

T: Teleportal is ready now for new platforms and input devices, and we’re always thinking of new engineering paradigms that will assist in the transition to a fully spatial future. Teleportal’s data model is designed with 3D computing in mind, and we are excited to release more functionality based on that architecture soon.

R: It all comes down to really high quality software engineering. We’re working at the lowest level and thinking carefully about what we build to ensure that we don’t have to rewrite everything when that day comes. 

What do you want to see more developers experimenting with? 

C: Large-scale, interactive music festivals, virtual stadiums, city-wide AR games and art installations, and virtual conferences. There’s a lot that creators can build with the technology that exists now.

R: There’s so much potential for conferences to run a different kind of event virtually. Even though people are at home, there are lots of ways to interact with other audience members or attendees spatially. There’s a lot of opportunity for the kinds of people who organize conferences like CES and NAB. 

C: It’s a really fun time to be working in the space right now. We’re seeing new use cases for AR/VR all the time.

T: In addition to creators working with Teleportal, I’m most excited to see the spatial computing future that Teleportal will help enable. The OS is our current major goal on the R&D side.

R: We have the opportunity to figure out what these experiences could look like. There’s this future of spatial computing that we know will exist, and we want to make sure that we’re prioritizing developers, privacy, and accessibility from the very beginning. 

To start building experiences with Teleportal, visit their website!

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