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AOUSD - how USD is becoming the formal standard for the Industrial Metaverse

George Lawton Profile picture for user George Lawton August 1, 2023
A new industry alliance has announced work on a formal OpenUSD standard.


The Consumer Metaverse has been suffering through some incredible losses. But the Industrial Metaverse for building digital twins in construction, manufacturing, energy, and real estate continues to make steady progress.

The USD file format, pioneered by Pixar, has been widely used to share 3D data across apps. This week, Pixar, in concert with Autodesk, Apple, NVIDIA, and Adobe, announced work on a formal OpenUSD standard. The new Alliance for OpenUSD (AOUSD) will promote the standardization, development, evolution, and growth of USD.

USD is used for more than just building the metaverse too. For example. IKEA is using it to create 3D representations of all its products. This allows them to highlight different views and colors and helps consumers see what products might look like in their homes. 

Steve May, CTO of Pixar and the new Chairman of AOUSD, said in a press conference:

I think it's a really big deal. Again, not just for the film industry, where it was kind of born. But for industries well beyond film. Whether it's immersive 3D content, interactive experiences, new spatial computing platforms, or scientific and industrial applications, OpenUSD will become the fundamental building block on which all 3D content will be created.

The Alliance has two main jobs in the beginning. First, turn the open file format Pixar created into a formal specification to become an international standard like JPEG, H.264, or HTML. The second is to continually evolve and advance USD to serve the broader community. May observed:

While USD is in use by many companies, it is not actually an official standard. In today's world, we have accepted standards for things like text and photos and video, but not complex 3D content. And to achieve the full potential of open USD, we needed to work across many platforms on many kinds of devices reliably and for many, many years into the future.

Today, USD's behavior is defined by what is in the open source distribution that Pixar first released in 2016. One concern was that if Pixar decided to change something, then it might also affect other tools that relied on the prior implementation. A standardization process will allow a broader group of users to collaboratively define how it can evolve.  

Still early days

Pixar originally created USD to streamline workflows across dozens of tools involved in making 3D content and animations comprised of millions and sometimes even billions of individual objects. These scenes required complex artistic workflows, many types of 3D content, software and technology that historically used different file formats. 

One of the most powerful aspects of USD is that it relies on schemas to define different aspects of usage. These make it easy to expand the format to support new use cases. This type of approach also facilitates combining many smaller files to create new content, whether it’s a 3D movie or a digital twin of a factory with equipment, conveyor belts, and robots. 

For example, USD helps Pixar to composite thousands of USD files to make a final scene image. May explained: 

That's where the power of USD really lies. It that ability to aggregate and modify large numbers of assets and then combine them into kind of a complete picture.

The first step is to formalize USD standards under the umbrella of the Linux foundations Joint Development Foundation for describing how things 3D content can be arranged. Down the road, the group will develop additional standards for physics, rendering, building assemblies, and rigging that characterize how components are connected.  

Object, meet scenes

OpenUSD will join other standards like glTF for sharing small 3D assets and 3D tiles for streaming digital twin views.  USD has been called the HTML of 3D content since it provides a framework for efficiently organizing collections of objects into various perspectives. In contrast, glTF is more like the GIF format for sharing individual objects. May explained:

glTF is viewed as a simpler, lighter weight way to represent 3d data. And USD is viewed as the way to make much more complex sorts of sorts of things and have more people interact with them.

At the same time, the AOUSD may explore ways of bringing more glTF capabilities into USD down the road. Once teams need to move beyond individual objects or products, May believes they will want to do things only possible in USD. May said:

I think one of the interesting challenges will be if we make USD as lightweight and as optimal for simpler things as glTF. Because really, in many ways, it would be ideal if we had kind of one, one solution for both for both things. But that is going to be an active area of debate in the community.

Wiring up the Industrial Metaverse

NVIDIA has enthusiastically supported USD to provide a glue between different tools for machine vision, robot simulation, medical devices, and self-driving cars. It has been working with leading enterprise players like Bentley, Autodesk, Siemens, PTC, Trimble, and Nemetschek to develop USD connectors. The standardization process will turbocharge these efforts. Guy Martin, Director of Open Source and Standards at NVIDIA, said:

NVIDIA believes OpenUSD is the most complete and flexible solution to build 3D worlds to support many kinds of workflows, including industrial digital twins, AECO and manufacturing.  AOUSD will help define the core specification first, and we’re putting in the governance processes to house future working groups to look at additional USD functionalities in rigging, physics, CFD, etc.  However, the most important thing at this point is to get the core specification solid so that additional AOUSD working groups have a base to build from.

My take

Creating a new standards body is an important step in evolving 3D content sharing beyond the entertainment industry into broader new workflows. In the long run, it will play an important role in streamlining collaboration across different tools. It will also be essential to applying new AI techniques to the physical world. 

Innovations in transformers and large language models were essential to understanding what people say and the code they write to generate better summaries and code. USD standardization will facilitate the process of extending these innovations to the built environment. 

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