A Year of Matterless Magic | State of Matterless #48

Ride out the last days of 2022 with us as we review our progress in our second year.

As the hand reaches out toward the smartphone, a digital object comes into focus on the screen. The hand hovers over the object, and with a subtle movement of the fingers, the object responds, rotating and shifting as the hand moves it around. The object feels almost real as if it were a physical object that the hand is manipulating.

As the hand continues interacting with the object, the smartphone’s sensors and algorithms work behind the scenes to track the hand’s movements and translate them into corresponding actions on the screen. The object obeys the hand’s every command, moving and reacting as if it were a living, breathing entity.

The hand and the object seem connected by an invisible thread, and as the hand moves, the object follows as if it were a reflection in a mirror. It is an almost surreal experience, as the hand interacts with the virtual world in a way that feels natural and intuitive.

Finally, with a final flick of the wrist, the hand sends the object flying off into the distance, disappearing off the screen and back into the digital realm. The hand withdraws, and the spell is broken, leaving the user feeling almost as if they had just had a brief encounter with another dimension.

Since we celebrated our first birthday last May, the long road toward digital reality has taken us to new discoveries. The text above describes the long-term Matterless vision, and we wanted to share it with you.

So many things happened in 2022. We grew the team to twice its size, launched our fist AR toy on iOS, and made strides in the dramatic (r)evolution of augmented reality companions we named Incos, a name derived from the word 'incorporeal' because our toys and companions are bodiless, but present and digital, but real.

The biggest thing that happened was the App Store launch of our first Matterless toy, Floorcraft: Arena! We have been planning to expand our line of digital toys beyond a pet simulation-type experience and were able to push out a prototype before year's end.

Without the complex animations and artificial intelligence required by Incos, we were able to develop Floorcraft: Arena as a simple but fun experience where players could race and smash their hovercars in a shared AR space, inventing their own rules as they went along.

As we shared in our most recent Discord live chat, the Matterless team will incorporate customization features, gameplay modes, and an overhauled UI to Floorcraft: Arena. Meanwhile, download and play now and see if you like to race or crash more!

After making the leap from our low poly cougar to the current Shiba model in Incos, the team went fast and furious to bridge the gap between our digital pets and their owners with a series of critical features.

Pet the good boy!

As we developed the first iteration of our pet simulator app, we realized that there was no meaningful connection between the pet and the player. It just didn’t feel right. We didn’t want to build another gimmicky AR application that players would only try once and never again.

So we had this idea: what if you could touch the pet?

What if the pet could react to your hand?

If a player sees the pet, they instinctively try to touch it without thinking about it, but they will be disappointed when there is no reaction to that touch. So the purpose behind the hand recognition system is that it enables a player to interact with a pet using their hand. Fortunately, our sister company Auki Labs, has developed a custom hand tracking system, which our hand recognition is built on top of.

Hand interaction on a device with only a monocular RBG camera arrived in 0.5.1. You could reach out with your hand, pet an AR dog, and watch it react excitedly!

We followed that up with a logical step: developing feeding mechanics that allows users to deploy delicious noms for your digital companion to om nom on in the material world.

Fifty Shades of Woof

To strengthen the sense of ownership of your Inco, we gave every user’s Shiba a custom skin derived from their user ID. Each Shiba was also given its own personality; some would get annoyed when you pet them without first serving up food! We are currently getting ready to add some powerful AI features to the behavior of each individual pet thanks to a stealthy partnership about to come to fruition at the beginning of 2023.

Bob is stably diffused.

As the team moved to overhaul the UI with a new layout and animation, we realized that creating realistic creatures like dogs and cougars ran the risk of falling into the uncanny valley trap.

The uncanny valley hypothesis predicts that an entity appearing almost lifelike will risk eliciting cold, eerie feelings in gamers. If one owned a matterless Shiba, one would have many expectations of how it should move, sound, and behave based on their intuition of what a dog should do.

From a development standpoint, we realized it was confining, so we decided to reimagine what an AR pet could be and build a new Inco type. Bob is cuter, more expressive, and modular in nature, allowing us to use it as a canvas for experiments in behavioral design.

Spearheaded by Jason, Charlie, and Merlin, Bob the Blob was born! Now we are mastering the craft of creating shared AR experiences by creating a creature that will be more pliant to the possibilities of this emerging medium.

Our goal has always been to create AR environments where each participant has their own pet as a fun and interactive way for people to spend time together and feel more embodied. Players could master the medium by interacting with their pets, competing in challenges and activities, and caring for them in a shared, immersive environment.

Alongside Incos and Floorcraft: Arena, we were looking into more ways to narrow the gap between physical users and digital objects. We started with the primary tool for physical-to-matterless relations, the hand.

The hand is the most intuitive controller. What if we could add cool effects to it when you touched a matterless object? We shared the results of our first hand trail experiments, and the results went viral, with nearly 200,000 views on Twitter. We want to build more cool features like this to repeat this result multiple times in 2023 :)

As the above musical experimentations show, the applications for these AR hand trails can go well beyond matterless toys, so let’s see what the future holds for them.

In August, we started The Cyberdelic Podcast, a series of deep dives into memetics, cultural transhumanism, and the future of AR, VR and R. The chats feature our CEO Nils who spent the last fifteen years doing behavioral engineering, and our CCO Damir, who spent a decade in academia researching human behavior as a sociologist and anthropologist. We wanted to share our underlining master plan. We aren’t just building AR toys, but thinking deeply about how the technologies underlying our work will transform human communication tomorrow. Matterless is an organization on a mission to bring into human consciousness the idea that digital things can be real. We’re doing this by creating companions and toys in augmented reality that you can share and experience with other people so that these interactive matterless objects genuinely feel real… but this is just the start.

Listen more closely to the podcasts, and you will soon notice the underlying theme of the show: the revolutionary ability to create effortlessly shareable moments in AR makes augmented reality feel real for the very first time. We want people to pay attention to AR and memetic engineering. AR will advance human communication in a way that is hard to intuit now. The strength of AR is not that it will allow us to explore virtual worlds — we think computers allow us to do that really well already. AR will allow us to communicate about the world in ways that are just not possible with human language today. AR will allow communication in images in real-time. AR is the penultimate step in human communication before we have direct neural interfaces.

With six episodes recorded so far, our conversations span topics such as how language is augmented reality, how an AR dog could curate your Spotify playlist, the dangers of XR (Extended Reality) with the likes of Google and Apple, how AI tools like Midjourney will change how we think creatively, and a lot more. Check it out if you haven’t already, but be warned: this ain’t your daddy’s podcast!

The Matterless mission is about embracing both the physical and digital, bringing the two worlds together in ways that haven’t been done before. In keeping with that mantra, the team journeyed to tech conferences such as AWE in Portugal, Reboot Blue in Croatia, and Immersive Tech Week in Rotterdam to show the world what we are working on.

The meetings proved fruitful, attracting the attention of the right people, but we can’t reveal who these right people are or what secret collaborations are bubbling in our lab just yet! You’ll have to stay updated on our socials to find out.

We can’t end this retrospective without talking about the talented wizards who joined our Matterless cabal over the course of this year. Though there was only a handful of us a year ago, our team doubled in size in 2022 with a heroic cast of Unity engineers, QA testers, and 3D artists. Among them were our new CTO Robin, engineers Darko, Andy, and JD, artists Batu and Marko, and testers Thomas, Sylwia, and Michal. Thanks to them, the quest to make digital things real is proceeding apace! If you’re eager to join our team, hit us up on Discord.

The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.” — C.S. Lewis

The future is always approaching, no matter what we do. It encourages the team to make the most of every moment and to embrace the future with hope and determination. As we move into a new cycle, we use it to remind ourselves to seize the day and make the most of every opportunity.

We’re charging into 2023 with a full party of magic users and a deep reservoir of mana to conjure higher-level augmented reality spells. Join us on our master quest and see where the adventure takes us.

Happy New Year, and see you on the other side!

— Kerwin & Damir

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Matterless

Our mission is to prove to the world that digital things are real by creating genre-defining experiences in shared augmented reality. Magic is matterless.