Google’s O3D Opens Rift to the Web’s Third Dimension

Tired of staring through the Browser window and only seeing content in two dimensions? Google wants to take you back to the future by open-sourcing a new 3D web standard called O3D.

The technology automatically renders 3D environments through the browser. The result is a world that looks a lot like the beautifully drawn 3D panels of the 1993 hit video game Myst. The difference being you can fly around the the O3D environments much like a 2009 flight simulator. Check out the video above for an example — also on a beach/island.

The technology utilizes your computer’s graphic hardware via an API built into a cross-platform browser plug-in. The content itself is in COLLADA format, a format generated by CAD programs such as Google’s own Sketchup. The 3D environment can be embedded and tweaked with extended JavaScript code. Interestingly, Google’s V8 JavaScript engine is embedded into the technology itself (V8 is also found in Google’s Chrome browser).

This isn’t Google’s first foray into a 3-dimensional web. Lively provided Second Life-like 3D chatrooms through the browser. The ill-fated product was discontinued after only four months.

It isn’t the web’s first 3D foray either. Those developing back in 1995 may remember VRML. The web standard was the first to play with mostly clunky and slowly-rendered 3D images. Somewhere around 1997, the technology was superseded by X3D. At the risk of angering some passionate X3D developers, that web standard didn’t really meet its potential either.

But hey, maybe the web is finally ready to be browsed like the 90′s special effect visualizations in movies trying to make this new thing called the internet look more enticing than what it really looks like: a caffeine-laden teenage nerd typing away at a computer. Although Google’s announcement proclaims Google Earth proves O3D’s relevance to the web, I think it’s a technology ripe for its inevitable destiny: making Lawnmower Man a (virtual) reality.

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