A couple weeks ago I dived deep into the efforts of Jules Urbach, the visionary fast-talking CEO and co-founder of Los Angeles-based OTOY. The forward-thinking founder of the rendering company is perpetually working at technology’s cutting edge, and his latest efforts add a new wrinkle to his complex attempt to shape the future.
Urbach’s latest plan is to create a peer-to-peer network that can get owners of GPUs (graphics processing units) paid for letting their idle machines be used by others for complicated rendering tasks. As part of the plan, the company aims to raise $134 million through the distribution of so-called “Render Tokens”, enabling Urbach and co-founder Alissa Grainger to build out the technology.
“OTOY is approaching the token sale as a product/network deployment, not as a fundraising [round],” Grainger wrote in an email.
The fundamental idea behind Urbach’s latest efforts is the blockchain. For those unfamiliar, PCs across the globe are being used to solve complicated math problems as part of a vast network. In solving these problems, each machine contributes to a permanent and ever-growing ledger that functions as an indisputable record of transactions — essentially adding blocks to an ever-growing chain. This fundamental concept is particularly exciting to technologists and libertarians since it can function as a kind of currency that isn’t managed by any government or bank. The premise is a distributed and reliable network, and the blockchain is inspiring founders and investors to spawn a whole generation of startups looking to build on the idea for a variety of applications.
Hence OTOY’s “Render Token“, described as follows:
The first network to transform the power of GPU compute into a decentralized economy of connected 3D assets. We aim to make it possible for any 3D object or environment to be authored, shared, and monetized through the Ethereum blockchain protocol. The RNDR token is powered by breakthrough cloud rendering technology, creating a distributed global network of millions of peer GPU devices.
The thinking is that long-term, as the power of the chips which draw virtual worlds grows in capability alongside higher speed Internet connections, more and more work might be distributed intelligently across the network. From a blog post by Urbach:
Eventually, as rendering photorealistic scenes on GPUs becomes more energy efficient through raytracing and AI de-noising ASICs, we believe that users will be able to fulfill more and more jobs with less and less hardware, latency and energy costs. New render jobs will then trend more towards real time composition, validation and re-streaming of dynamic scene state changes.
Traditional blockchain efforts merely solve these complicated math problems to add to the ledger, serving no inherent purpose. The premise behind the RNDR network is that it could speed up the rendering of extremely complex scenes by distributing the work to thousands or perhaps millions of machines, while using the blockchain ledger to essentially record completed jobs. Eventually an economy might emerge wherein people can pay using these Render Tokens or get paid for letting their machines be used to draw these complex scenes and virtual worlds.
A 10-page document outlines the plan for Render Tokens over the next year, with a pie chart breaking down how they plan to spend the $134 million they hope to raise after the sale of the tokens kicks off on Sept. 19, with 40 percent planned for the build-out of the following four technology phases:
Render Phase I: Post Token Sale (Q1 2018)
Begin to enable cloud rendering services on the orc.otoy.com website with the ability to exchange tokens for rendering services that will be kept track of and facilitated by the blockchain. These services would be initially handled by OTOY or third party servers and would set the framework for a reliable transition into the peer-to-peer framework of rendering.
Render Phase II: Development Process & Preparation for Peer-to-Peer Transition (Q2 2018)
Leverage our ecosystem to bring ~7 million users on-board with the Render token platform on the ORC Network and create a simple user interface so that users and developers can easily utilize their GPU power for rendering and streaming jobs in exchange for Render tokens. We will also create and expand the structure for the back-end OTOY network that will handle the efficient processing of the rendering and streaming transactions via the Ethereum blockchain. Beta launch of the network and testing will take place in this phase.
Render Phase III: Launch Peer-to-Peer Network (Q3/Q4 2018)
Launch the peer-to-peer exchange and unlock full capability of the Render token network to enable users to use the untapped GPU power from the available resource pool. Make back-end processes streamlined and make the facilitation of the rendering/streaming job to the recipient completely automated through smart contracts and blockchain development.
Render Phase IV: The Ultimate Vision (TBD)
Once the peer-to-peer network is all set-up and running in a stable manner, we will begin to focus our efforts to unlock the true value and potential of the render jobs processed through the Render Token and the ORC network. We will stress the capabilities that they will bring in terms of custom streaming permissions, copyright protection, and unique render creation and publishing. Eventually, the process of rendering using our framework will carry additional value in the form of new and exclusive features. We will release additional information on this process during future written posts and documentation.
For Urbach, that fourth phase outlined somewhat vaguely above is where things start to get truly interesting as a foundation piece for the future he envisions. He is hoping to essentially deliver a meta-reality in which people get paid for their contributions to it. Imagine modeling a digital chair in your living room using intuitive VR or AR equipment, then uploading that model to the network. In Urbach’s future built on this Render Token, that chair carries the creator’s digital signature and payment details, allowing the creator to get both recognized and paid for their creation no matter how it is used eventually. As Urbach sees it, the Web as it exists today monetized by ad networks and app stores are fundamentally flawed distribution models. He hopes that as personal computing makes the transition to mixing with our real world in three dimensions this technology can be a piece of making it all function more equitably for everyone participating.
“I’ve wanted to [create] not just a holodeck, but a transactional meta-reality, metaverse if you want to call it that, that was truly open and truly persistent, and ultimately truly meaningful and valuable and not wasting whatever value we as humans need,” Urbach said. “We’re going to start building our digital lives around this base layer of spatial experiences….the web isn’t a perfect record of the world, and the blockchain is much closer to that and in some ways it is easier to monetize than going through an app store.”