Simulation / Modeling / Design

Universal Scene Description as the Language of the Metaverse

Over the past few decades, the Internet has fundamentally changed the world and set in motion an enormous transformation in the way we consume and share information. The transformation is so complete that today, a quality web presence is vital for nearly all businesses, and interacting with the web is central to functioning effectively in the modern world. 

The web has evolved from static documents to dynamic applications involving rich interactive media. Yet despite the fact that we live in a 3D world, the web remains overwhelmingly two-dimensional.

Now we find ourselves at the threshold of the web’s next major advancement: the advent of the 3D Internet or metaverse. Instead of linking together 2D pages, the metaverse will link together virtual worlds. Websites will become interconnected 3D spaces akin to the world we live in and experience every day. 

Many of these virtual worlds will be digital twins reflecting the real world, linked and synchronized in real time. Others will be designed for entertainment, socializing, gaming, learning, collaboration, or commerce. 

No matter what the purpose of any individual site, what will make the entire metaverse a success will be the same thing that has made the 2D web so successful: universal interoperability based on open standards and protocols.

The most fundamental standard needed to create the metaverse is the description of a virtual world. At NVIDIA, we believe the first version of that standard already exists. It is Universal Scene Description (USD)—an open and extensible ecosystem for describing, composing, simulating, and collaborating within 3D worlds, originally invented by Pixar Animation Studios.

Open sourced in 2015, USD is now being used in a wide range of industries not only in media and entertainment, but also spanning architecture, engineering, design, manufacturing, retail, scientific computing, and robotics, among others.

USD is more than a file format  

USD is a scene description: a set of data structures and APIs to create, represent, and modify virtual worlds. The representation is rich. It supports not only the basics of virtual worlds like geometry, cameras, lights, and materials, but also a wide variety of relationships among them, including property inheritance, instancing and specialization. 

It includes features necessary for scaling to large data sets like lazy loading and efficient retrieval of time-sampled data. It is tremendously extensible, allowing users to customize data schemas, input and output formats, and methods for finding assets. In short, USD covers the very broad range of requirements that Pixar found necessary to make its feature films.

Image showing the layered workflow for a factory assembly line simulation.
Figure 1. A visual representation of how USD enables layered workflows for industry-specific use cases

Layers are probably the single most innovative feature of USD. Conceptually, they have some similarities to layers in Adobe Photoshop: the final composite is the result of combining the effects of all the layers in order. But instead of modifying the pixels of an image like Photoshop layers, USD layers modify the properties of the composed scene. Most importantly, they provide a powerful mechanism for collaboration. 

Different users can modify the composed scene on different layers, and their edits will be non-destructive. The stronger layer will win out in the composition, but the data from the weaker layer remains accessible. Beyond direct collaboration, the ability that layers provide to non-destructively modify what others have done enables the kind of composability that has made the traditional web so successful.

Image showing the layers of a Brownstone room interior created with USD: the empty room, the staged room, different seating material covers, and alternate furniture layouts and colors.
Figure 2. The layers of a Brownstone room interior created with USD: the empty room, the staged room, different seating material covers, and alternate furniture layouts and colors

NVIDIA believes that USD should serve as the HTML of the metaverse: the declarative specification of the contents of a web site. But just as HTML evolved from the limited static documents of HTML 1 to the dynamic applications of HTML 5, it is clear that USD will need to evolve to meet the needs of the metaverse. To accelerate this evolution, NVIDIA has already made a number of additions to the USD ecosystem:

In the short term, NVIDIA is developing:

  • glTF interoperability: A glTF file format plugin will allow glTF assets to be referenced directly by USD scenes. This means that users who are already using glTF can take advantage of the composition and collaboration features of USD without having to alter their existing assets.
  • Geospatial schema (WGS84): NVIDIA is developing a geospatial schema and runtime behavior in USD to support the WGS84 standard for geospatial coordinates.  This will facilitate full-fidelity digital twin models that need to incorporate the curvature of the earth’s surface.
  • International character (UTF-8) support: NVIDIA is working with Pixar to add support for UTF-8 identifiers to USD, allowing for full interchange of content from all over the world.
  • USD compatibility testing and certification suite: To further accelerate USD development and adoption, NVIDIA is building an open source suite for USD compatibility testing and certification. Developers will be able to test their builds of USD and certify that their custom USD components produce an expected result.

In the longer term, NVIDIA is working with partners to fill some of the larger remaining gaps in USD:

  • High-speed incremental updates: USD was not designed for high-speed dynamic scene updates, but digital twin simulations will require this. NVIDIA is developing additional libraries on top of USD that enable much higher update rates to support real-time simulation. 
  • Real-time proceduralism: USD as it currently exists is almost entirely declarative.  Properties and values in the USD representation, for the most part, describe facts about the virtual world. NVIDIA has begun to augment this with a procedural graph-based execution engine called OmniGraph
  • Compatibility with browsers: Today, USD is C++/Python based, but web browsers are not. To be accessible by everyone, everywhere, virtual worlds will need to be capable of running inside web browsers. NVIDIA will be working to ensure that proper WebAssembly builds with JavaScript bindings are available to make USD an attractive development option when running inside of a browser is the best approach.
  • Real-time streaming of IoT data: Industrial virtual worlds and live digital twins require real-time streaming of IoT data. NVIDIA is working on building USD connections to IoT data streaming protocols.

Companies across industrial and manufacturing—including Ericsson, Kroger, and Volvo—are adopting USD to enable their 3D virtual worlds and asset projects.

Get started building virtual worlds with USD

NVIDIA Omniverse is a scalable computing platform for full-design-fidelity 3D simulation workflows and a toolkit for building USD-based metaverse applications. Omniverse was built from the ground up as a USD engine and open toolkit for building custom, interoperable 3D pipelines. 

You can access a wealth of USD resources from NVIDIA, available online for free. A good place to start is with NVIDIA’s hub of USD resources. To learn the basics of USD with examples in USDA and Python in a step-by-step web tutorial, sign up for the USD DLI course

Experimenting with USD is easy with precompiled USD binaries. These Windows/Linux distributions will help you get started developing tools that take advantage of USD or start using USDView from Omniverse Launcher. For Python developers, the easiest way to start reading and writing USD layers is with the usd-core Python Package.

If you’re looking for USD sample data, numerous sample USD scenes are available, including a physics-based marbles mini-game sample and an attic scene with MDL materials rendered in Omniverse. In addition, USD SimReady Content includes component models from various industries prepared for simulation workflows.

Learn more in the Omniverse Resource Center, which details how developers can build custom USD-based applications and extensions for the platform. 

Follow Omniverse on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Medium for additional resources and inspiration. Check out the Omniverse forums and join our Discord Server and Twitch to chat with the community.

Enter the NVIDIA #ExtendOmniverse contest with an extension created in Omniverse Code for a chance to win an NVIDIA RTX GPU. Join NVIDIA at SIGGRAPH 2022 to learn more about the latest Omniverse announcements and watch the Special Address on demand. And don’t miss the global premiere of the documentary, The Art of Collaboration: NVIDIA, Omniverse, and GTC on August 10 at 10 AM, Pacific time.

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