We learned recently that Google Poly would be closing as of June 30, 2021. Uploads will be turned off April 30. As a 3D creation and viewer tool, students and educators are easily able to create low-poly objects with in-VR tools and share them with others, expanding the range of 3D objects available for education.
Many artists, creators, educators, researchers, developers, and historians have uploaded “irreplaceable” cultural artifacts to the service and consider it to be a “cultural museum” of 3D and VR history. They are demanding the archive be preserved and continue to be curated in some way. A petition on Change.org is inviting signatures to encourage Google to open source the Poly platform. We encourage you to join.
Many educators were able to find 3D models from around the world to share with students through AR and VR. Educators encouraged students to upload and share their dimensional creative works as well, sharing between classes and across borders.
Museums, archives, art galleries, and heritage and cultural sites uploaded tours of their facilities and archives for educational and preservation purposes in addition to sharing their archives and artifacts. The Australian Museum shared their specimens archive storage for students to explore and learn more through these behind-the-scenes tours.
The Hagia Sophia Mosque in Istanbul was open for nearly a century as a museum with millions of visitors. It was recently announced that President Erdogan has ordered it converted back to a mosque, limiting public access, making the 3D virtual versions of it precious for educational and historic purposes.
Integration with Tilt Brush, Tours, Google Blocks, Blender, Unreal Engine 4, and Unity makes Google Poly of exceptional value to many, especially with Poly’s API that allows creators to port their 3D low-poly models to 3D experiences like VRChat, ARize, Mozilla Hubs, and The Wave.
Other benefits include:
- Unlimited uploads without paying extra.
- Animation created inside Tilt Brush.
- Ability to “remix” some of the 3D objects which encourage creation and inspiration.
- Common Supported Formats: .obj, .glTF, .glb.
- 100 MB maximum upload size per asset.
Finding replacement tools and services isn’t easy as Google Poly serves multiple purposes. As a library, it allows users to browse, distribute, and download low-poly 3D objects and share and access them from across multiple platforms through the API for Web XR usage and platforms such as Mozilla Hubs and Android and iOS apps. The Poly Toolkit integrated Google Poly easily with plugins for Unity and Unreal developers.
The 3D object viewer works with Google Cardboard and the deprecated Google Daydream headsets, an affordable entry headset embraced by many schools, educators, and students for several years before Google ended support for it as well. It is unlikely there will be a one-tool-does-it-all free replacement.
Some of the low-poly alternatives we found took the term “low poly” to mean lego-like, 3D models with few vertices and many angles, better suited for 3D printing than VR and AR use with the improved resolution and quality of today’s headsets. Still, these are often clever and usefully for educational purposes, so we’ve included some of these resources in the list.
Be aware that some of these sites have good filters and search options, and others are clunky or do not allow filtering for free downloadable objects or VR assets easily. Be patient as there are some wonderful creative 3D models and artists out there, and sometimes it’s worth taking the extra time to comb through the interface.
Here is a list of alternatives, mostly free, to Google Poly.
- echoAR reality
- Unity Asset Store
- Thingiverse by Makerbot
- 3D Warehouse
If all you are looking for are free high and low-poly 3D models and templates for education, consider these resources. Be aware that free may mean both free and paid downloadable objects.
- NASA 3D Resources (free)
- Smithsonian X3D (free)
- TinkerCAD Things (free)
- Free3D (free)
- 3dsky (free and paid 3D models of household items)
- Autodesk Online Gallery (free mostly high-poly, CAD models)
- OpenGameArt (free)
- Archive 3D (free)
- Blendswap (free, Blender community)
- 3D Model Free (free high-poly interior design and architectural models)
- MorphoSource (free 3D photogrammetry and cultural heritage objects for scientific research)
- 3Delicious (free low-poly household objects)
- RenderHub (free and paid)
- ArtStation 3D Game Asset (free and paid)
Also try STLFinder and 3dMdb, considered 3D model search engines. they index and search many of the sites we’ve listed and more to find 3D models for 3D printing and VR/AR use. Their filters also help narrow the results.
Going through this list, we found that while some of these sites and services offer a wide range of options, they lack the potential, power, and versatility of Google Poly. They often require registration, fees, subscriptions, and may come with limitations. Google Poly served the educators and students in a way that few of these do.
So which is the best alternative?
Sketchfab, The Best Alternative
We explored Sketchfab and found that while it is a suitable candidate, it is more a runner up than contender. In January 2020, Sketchfab announced they’d reached more than 300,000 free downloadable 3D models in their catalog, making it a good resource.
While there are many benefits and slick features with Sketchfab, the key concern is that Sketchfab’s low poly section doesn’t appear to be low poly nor low on use of textures, driving up file sizes and resolution. The loss of library and data on Google Poly is sad, and it would be a positive for Google products to seamlessly integrate with Sketchfab, but we’re not holding our breath.
Sketchfab has a viewer, 3D asset management, and access to a growing number of 3D objects including VR and augmented reality, along with good collaboration, asset library and tools, and showcase opportunities. Artists with subscriptions may sell their work, and 3D models may be purchased. Sketchfab allows viewing of models, but doesn’t feature the coolness of Google Tours on Google Poly. It’s a professional alternative, but not an inexpensive one for educators.
Sketchfab may be used on Mozilla Hubs and other VR platforms, but those models tend to have high texture and large file sizes, thus don’t work well without modification for AltspaceVR and other low-poly supported platforms. Sktechfab 3D models may be imported into Substance3D, Spark AR, Blender, Unity, and Unreal Engine.
Unfortunately, there are limits on uploads of non-downloadable objects through the use of credits. Educators appreciated that Google Poly didn’t have a limit on non-downloadable objects. The Sketchfab free plan allows unlimited uploads of downloadable objects, but does limits artists who just want to share but not allow downloading, forcing them to switch to a paid plan.
We’d love to hear from you and your thoughts, experiences, and resource recommendations with low-poly 3D models for XR in education. Let us know in the comments and in the weekly discussion channel on our Educators in VR Discord.
Special thanks to Keely Canniff, Virtual Schooling Team Project Leaders for Educators in VR, for the additional research and help with this article.