Programmers Can Examine Code Structure In VR Using ‘Primitive’

by Ian Hamilton • September 16th, 2016

One of the biggest roadblocks when it comes to productivity in VR is the fact that current headsets block off the view of the keyboard and mouse. Even if you can type without looking, it’s hard to find the initial spot to rest your fingers on. This means it is easier to just take the headset off and type normally. I’ve tried to write a story from inside VR, for instance, and it is possible but slower than if I wasn’t wearing the headset. For programmers, particularly ones building VR software, the problem is even more painful as they have to keep taking the headset off to code and then put it back on to test the changes.

But what if a programmer could use a VR headset just to examine the structure of a project’s code? For very large projects with potentially millions of lines of logic laid out, could using VR to examine the way the code activates speed up a programmer’s understanding of it? Could it be easier to interview a potential programmer for a job by throwing them into a 3D representation of this structure and quizzing them about it?

That’s what John Voorhees is trying to discover with his Primitive software. As it stands today, Primitive does not solve the entire productivity problem, but it might offer a foothold upon which a more complete solution might be built.

“The most powerful aspect of our tech is that it can take any Java code and automatically create an animated 3D model out of it. This means that teams with large projects can visualize their code and watch it run in all of its detail. We are learning a lot from this,” Voorhees wrote in an email. “We need to find out if visually stepping through complicated code in VR leads to faster and deeper comprehension. The immediate application is project management and onboarding new employees.”


Voorhees was part of the Boost VC accelerator program and he recently showed me his software at our office in San Francisco. Inside VR it allowed me to see the structure of a program laid out around me like a kind of 3D map. I could reach out and pull up vertical drawers to get a detailed view of a particular section of the code.

I found the concept to be an intriguing one. As someone who only has only barely touched programming, though, I wasn’t able to make a more informed judgment as to whether it would increase or speed up my comprehension of a particular code-base. That said, there is enough of an interesting idea here — and something I haven’t see attempted quite like this —  that I think actual programmers are going to want to at least see the idea.

“The ultimate product is a complete, collaborative integrated development environment in VR,” Voorhees wrote.

Featured video shot in Upload’s San Francisco mixed reality studio. 


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