It’s easy to forget how essential Clip Art felt in the 1990s. Microsoft’s library of 140,000 cartoon doodles of every imaginable style was the emoji of their day, a means to express oneself graphically in a brochure or presentation in an era when easy drawing apps just didn’t exist. Which is why it’s so easy to see the parallels between Clip Art and Google’s new Poly platform.
Poly is a library of thousands of open-source 3D objects commissioned by Google–along with anything users would like to upload themselves, which can be designated Creative Commons shareable, or rights-protected–for AR and VR developers and designers to tap. Poly makes it easy to download assets necessary to build apps in this very experimental new space, lowering the cost and risk for developers to get into these burgeoning platforms. This approach is on trend: Microsoft recently invested big money in a live-action Mixed Reality Capture Studio specifically built to film actors and objects in 3D. But Google is doing something slightly different–building a library of models that speed up and ease the process of using a new digital medium, much like Clip Art made it possible for new computer users to make documents in Word.
Poly sources objects that are uploaded from the Google Blocks object builder, or the painting tool Tilt Brush. It can be accessed through a desktop web browser, for anyone programming on a Mac or PC. But Poly is fully functional in VR, too, allowing you to download assets directly into Tilt Brush or Blocks to incorporate into a scene, or even riff on and re-upload to the service with auto-attribution.
Though it’s only launching today, Poly is already stuffed with seemingly endless assets. From a room-scale rendition of Starry Night, to a perfect Lego brick, to a cheeseburger that, quite politically, places the cheese both over and under the beef.
You can find animals, construction equipment, everyday objects, and the occasional weird art project, too. And while you can infinite-scroll your way to discover more, Poly also features a handy search bar up top to find the specific assets you need. A search for “cat” brought up dozens of results, from house cats to mountain lions. There was even an isolated cat eye.
In the future, Google confirms that it’s going to open up Poly even further, allowing third-party apps to plug into it directly via an API. That means any AR or VR creation app yet to be designed could easily import all these Google assets. This is part of Google’s larger mission. Much like Facebook, Google just wants these new modes of computing to take off. Monetization can happen later.
“The premise behind what we’re releasing is, many of us imagine this future where we have these immersive virtual realities, but without 3D objects to fill those realities, they don’t exist,” Jason Toff, group Product Manager leading Google’s creative VR programs, told me last July.
Of course, the entire market for VR and AR is still uncertain. Is it two years away from real mass market acceptance, or is it 20? But for the same reasons Microsoft invested in the mindless Clip Art of the Windows 98 age, someone needs to take this early, speculative step into sharing media inside these digital realities–just to see how deep they can go.