Pluto is a new social app currently in alpha from the Seattle-based startup Pluto VR. Instead of taking its cues from multi-user spaces like AltspaceVR or VR Chat however, which provide users with various shared virtual environments and must be run to the exclusion of other apps, Pluto is focused on delivering the convenience of an always-on video messaging app like Skype or Google Hangouts. This means you can use any VR game or app you want and still be able to take a sort of ‘VR call’ from friends. To learn more about VR’s newest social tool, I popped into the app with Pluto VR co-founder Forest Gibson and Mad Scientist (real job title) Shawn Whiting, co-founder of early social VR space ConVRge.
Once started, Pluto runs quietly in the background of any app you choose to run, hiding itself in a SteamVR menu tab. Clicking on the tab, you can see your Steam friend’s list, settings, and configure your avatar.
Pluto offers standard choices of face shape, skin tone, facial hair, eyes, nose…etc. I subscribe to the Monster Factory school of avatar making: The more horrible I can make my avatar, the better the avatar maker. Unfortunately I was only able to create a perfectly presentable Mii-style avatar.
Through the connections tab you can see who’s online, and start both voice and ‘Visual Calls’ directly. The emphasis on a ‘Visual Call’ over ‘VR Call’ likely comes from the fact that Pluto is setting itself up also serve AR devices in the near future.
Pluto VR’s Mad Scientist Shawn Whiting initiated a call, and founder Forest Gibson popped in shortly after. Floating heads and hands greeted me. I was seated at the moment, but got up to talk to both of them face to face (seeing as I was now hosting two others in my tiny office at home).
Having haunted social VR applications since the Oculus Rift DK1 days, the first things I automatically asked was “So, where do we go?”
Gibson explained that Pluto wouldn’t actually take us anywhere like other social VR apps, and that the chats take place parallel to whatever it is you’re doing at that moment. To demonstrate, we all opened our own apps which were invisible to eachother, and went along our merry ways.
Opening Google Earth VR, a notoriously bandwidth-hungry app that loads world geometry in real-time, I didn’t notice any significant disruptions in the chat as we kept on with our discussion about Pluto’s vision of the future.
Gibson explained that Pluto VR hasn’t focused on building any bespoke in-game items or environments, instead opting to leave the system open for whatever standard arises.
Life is fast, but our virtual reality lives are still slow. We plug in and play one or two games and take off the headset. However Pluto VR sees a future of always-on AR/VR headsets, where quickly popping into someone’s virtual space doesn’t necessarily mean sacrificing your own in the process.
Pluto VR is currently taking applications for its alpha. Follow the link below for more information.