The Promising Future for WebGL – Part 3: Beyond Games

Beyond games,WebGL has broad applicability in the education, scientific and simulation space as well. In my opinion, the best compendium for WebGL experiments can be found on the Google Chrome site, with my favorite being the 3D aquarium: this one rivals similar ones I’ve seen built in the Unity engine. But I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention how gorgeous Alexsandar Rodic’s jelly fish experiment is which I first encountered back in spring or summer of 2010 at a WebGL MeetUp in SF. There are likely many strong use cases for WebGL outside of gaming.

To categorize just a few, here are just a few cool non-game related applications WebGL is being applied to:

WebGL Aquarium for the Chrome WebGL experiments page

Earth and Space

CAD Display and CAD Tools

More can be found on Pearltrees – CAD in the browser with WebGL 

CAD in the Browser by Pearltrees
CAD in the browser with WebGL

 Scientific Visualization

…and this is but a few!

3D Books

Not long ago I ran across a spectacular Google Chrome WebGL experiment showing a 3D flip books. Stunning. But also noteworthy is Google’s WebGL bookcase from their Chrome experiments workshop.Oh so useful WebGL bookcase!

3D Imagery

It was fun to add more daughter’s photo to Surface by Paul Lewis. This screen shot of Marielle inside Surface does not do justice to the fact that you can change some given parameters and make the image interactive. You can tweak the magnitude, elasticity, auto orbit, wireframe, and even add some raindrops to interject some mood into the your image demo.

Marielle in Surface
Surface by Paul Lewis. Model: Marielle Turkowski

Rutt-Etra-Izer is another fun image manipulation app from the WebGL Chrome Experiments site.

Rutt-Etrz-Izer WebGL Image Experiment
Rutt-Etrz-Izer WebGL Image Experiment

But wow, what a completely different look Marielle has ;). Lastly, if you’re into image data collection, check out the WebGL Demo – Picture map.

3D Printing

I recently came across a nice compendium of WebGL enabled 3D printing applications on the Developing Dream blog. One of the early WebGL supporters for 3D printing that stands out is My Robot Nation, acquired by 3D Systems, as has Cubify, (recall that I used a photo of the WebGL 3D “print” I made at Cubify as the first image in part 1 of this series) been acquired by 3D Systems. And while it’s undeniable that WebGL holds great promise for 3D printing technology, 3D printing is not without its detractors, as evidenced by being at the top of the 2012 Gartner hype cycle, where 3D printing is one of the technologies identified as being at the Peak of Inflated Expectations in this year’s Emerging Technologies Hype Cycle.

WebGL Picture Map created by Jurjen VerhagenWebGL Picture Map created by Jurjen Verhagen
WebGL Picture Map created by Jurjen Verhagen

A thought…

At last count, there were hundreds of WebGL experiments on Google’s Chrome Experiments site, and some very impressive GL experiments on the Google code site for WebGL samples. As you can gleam from this post and the one before it, I think it’s becoming more and more apparent WebGL is on its way to catching up with the 2D and image manipulation applications already out there on the web. Sure, there is a way to go still until their UX catches up; in fact, I think this is the part of WebGL application development that gets sorely underserved but as soon as the framework developers and spec engineers take a step back, and the UI and UX web designers step up to work on the WebGL end-user applications, I think we’ll start to see some very cool stuff that will rival the best coming out of other 3D application development communities. I also predict there will be more and more scientific and enterprise applications taking advantage of WebGL over the next few years as the technology stabilizes, but more on that in Part 4! Please feel free to point me to what I may have missed, correct any mistakes I’ve made in this post or just plain rant.  I’m all ears!


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