Project Ivy Lets Designers Create Internet of Things Devices In Virtual Reality


Augmented reality is an enhanced version of reality created by the use of technology to overlay digital information on an image of something being viewed through a device such as a camera on a smartphone. When the Yelp application overlays restaurant names on top of a smartphone's street view, that's augmented reality. On the other hand, virtual reality is an artificial world consisting of images and sounds created by a computer that is affected by the actions of a person experiencing it. Most first-person video games are examples of virtual reality. So unlike augmented reality, in virtual reality, everything is virtual instead of real.

Project Ivy is our research project about a spatially situated visual programming tool that uses immersive virtual reality for the internet of things. As such, Project Ivy allows users to link smart objects, insert logic constructs, and visualize real-time data flows between real-world sensors and actuators.

Project Ivy was recently featured on

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In response to the question posed in the article's headline — "Why would anyone want to program and control IoT in virtual reality?" — reporter Andrew Wheeler (who also contributed to THE FUTURE OF MAKING book) writes:

“The point is to harness increasing computer power and programmable interconnectivity to make a virtual reality interface that will eliminate a user’s need to know how to program. Like the graphical user interface (GUI) created at Xerox PARC and implemented on the first Macintosh computer in 1984, this is an attempt to make a virtual world where your physical objects have a manipulatable twin.”

In 1984, I was working on a telephone switch at GTE when I first saw a GUI demonstrated on an Apple Lisa computer. As an expert DOS and Unix user at the time, I scoffed at the notion of the silliness of deleting files by dragging and dropping them to a trash can. Today, I will never underestimate potential user interface changes again. It's OK to be skeptical but do not discount the promise that virtual reality holds.

The Autodesk research team working on Project Ivy is located at our Toronto office. Our User Interface Research Group collaborated on Project Ivy with a team from the University of Manitoba. For more information, check out Ivy’s project page on the Autodesk Research website.

User interfaces are alive in the lab.