9 Virtual Reality Startups Taking VR Mainstream
The state of virtual reality (VR) seems to be in a state of confusion at the moment. When we first tried VR, we were simply blown away by the whole experience. Surely a VR headset will become a common fixture in living rooms like the television or the three-foot ceramic bong. Alas, things seem to have stalled. According to Unity Technologies, the first commercial year for virtual reality represented less than $2 billion in revenues:
Sure, we’re seeing some momentum with commercial usage of VR with applications ranging from healthcare to construction. On the other hand, some VR startups are starting to show signs of stress, like 8i’s recent announcement of layoffs. Even though there are many negative signs, we’re still seeing funding flow to some interesting startups that are getting stuff done. Let’s take a look at some VR startups that have come across our radar recently which we haven’t covered before.
Founded in 2006, Silicon Valley startup Lytro has taken in a whopping $215.75 million from investors like Qualcomm, Andreessen Horowitz, and Foxconn to build the world’s most powerful “light field imaging platform”. The best way to think about this is to imagine how difficult it might be to create a virtual reality video. In order to capture what’s happening in all directions, you could use a contraption like the one seen below:
Or, you can turn to Lytro for a solution that goes about things in an entirely different way. Lytro uses light field cameras that allow light to be captured from multiple vantage points, left to right, top to bottom, and all points in-between. Before the advent of VR, these techniques were used to eliminate the need for green screens. As of 2015, they can also be used to create virtual reality content that can be viewed using a headset from our next startup.
The Chinese have been on a roll lately, and now they’ve decided to create their own VR hardware ecosystem. We’re not talking about HTC as they’re a Taiwanese company. No, Taiwan is not part of China, and not everyone with Asian features is Chinese or Japanese. In this case, we have a proper Chinese startup that was founded in 2015 and has taken in $10 million in funding to become the only VR company in China that has its own software ecosystem, VR headsets, positioning tracking system, and interactive controllers:
The largest of the three sets above comes with 360-degree position tracking, two controllers, and a headset, all for the affordable price of just $473 which is competitive with HTC’s Vive. It is said to operate at the same performance levels of popular VR headsets like Vive and Oculus, and their room-scale positioning system is said to offer sub-millimeter performance. In other words, this promises a much more realistic experience as you interact with virtual worlds.
When you first enter a virtual world, it’s kind of strange to you see your computer’s desktop projected before you at a huge scale. In much the same way you can watch television in a virtual world, making you wonder just how long we’ll need to have televisions and computer screens. Founded in 2014, Berkeley California startup Bigscreen has taken in $14 million in funding to develop a platform that allows people to watch movies or use their computers in a virtual world. The app is available for free on all the popular VR headsets and can be used for everything from watching movies in a theater venue to collaborating with your cow-orkers in locations you can’t be asked to visit in person. Power users spend 20-30 hours per week in Bigscreen, making it one of the most widely used “killer apps” in the industry and the most popular non-gaming VR application in the world.
If talking with your cow-orkers bores you to tears, maybe you need to check out our next startup. Founded in 2015, Silicon Valley startup Sliver.tv has taken in $36 million so far from investors that include names like Sony and Samsung to develop a live-streaming platform that lets viewers step inside competitive video games to see what’s happening. Also referred to as eSports, competitive video gaming is turning into a franchise that is hard to ignore. Just take a look at this cool chart from Newzoo which shows the growth of eSports:
The Sliver.tv environment sounds addictive. The more time you spend watching virtual gaming, the more coins you get. These coins can then be used to bet on matches and once you’ve accumulated enough coins you can cash them in to get virtual prizes. Sounds like a great way to pass time while we’re waiting for our UBI checks to come.
Speaking of games, our next startup wants to “blur the lines” between virtual worlds and real worlds by “delivering tactile and walkable VR adventures to neighborhoods everywhere“. Founded in 2015, San Rafael, California startup Nomadic has taken in $6 million in funding to develop their VR experiences that are similar to the ones we talked about in our article on 6 Interactive Virtual Reality Experiences. With founders who were previously executives at Lucasfilm, Nomadic wants to focus on the tactile elements of the experience. That flashlight you pick up in the virtual world is actually a flashlight. The desk you set the flashlight on has drawers that you can open, the contents of which appear in the virtual world. All of this is meant to make the virtual world as real as possible, and of course, requires extremely sensitive tracking (of the type we talked about that the Chinese startup offers). The company is targeting their first experience to be available by early next year.
While tactile objects may make virtual worlds seem real, there’s one other ubiquitous element that’s missing. That’s right, ads that attempt to sell people stuff they don’t need. Founded in 2015, Emeryville startup Immersv has taken in $10.5 million in funding from investors that include HTC to develop an ad platform for virtual reality. They’re not just developing plain old ads but rather fully interactive immersive ad “experiences” that are 8X more likely to be remembered than traditional ads. They already have an extensive portfolio of big brands they’re working with and claim to offer the industry’s highest consumer engagement rates across web, mobile, and of course VR.
Founded in 2013, San Francisco startup Fyusion has taken in $38.35 million in funding to develop a solution that applies 3D computer vision and machine learning to “make images intelligent”. Their core technology, covered by over 50 patents, allows anyone to create immersive, interactive 3D images called ‘fyuses’ by moving any camera around a person, object or scene. It’s easy to see how a widely used use case might be online classifieds:
All fuses captured now are ready for use in any reality, creating the largest AR and VR image database of real-world assets.
One reason VR hasn’t taken off as expected in the consumer market is the lack of compelling content. Los Angeles startup “Here Be Dragons” has raised $10 million so far to develop a “specialized and focused production company that supports the world’s leading creative innovators in Virtual Reality spherical filmmaking“. According to an article last year by political commentary site Tech Crunch, they’ve already built partnerships with Apple, United Nations, The New York Times, Nike, Vice, NBC, Conservation International, and U2. Browsing the website of this VR “experience studio”‘ shows a whole slew of projects they’re working on or have already released. Here be some cool stuff to do when we’re not writing incredibly insightful articles.
Founded in 2010, San Francisco startup Leap Motion has taken in just over $94 million in funding from investors like J.P. Morgan Asset Management, with participation from Andreessen Horowitz, and Peter Thiel. The technology is simple to understand and easy to implement. All you need to do is slap a small device on your VR headset (or even just your desktop computer) and suddenly you’re using your hands in VR as if you were doing so in real life:
You can probably imagine all the different ways that this technology can be used to create truly immersive and life-like VR experiences once you can actually see your hands appear in front of you in virtual worlds. You can pick one up on Amazon for about $73 and we would expect to see these become the norm in all VR headsets before long. They’re not the only player in this space, however, as another startup we talked about before called Usens is also working on a similar product.
The future of virtual reality may be unlike anything we can imagine today. A brain computer interface (BCI) startup we covered before called Neurable announced a VR game that you play using nothing but your mind. Couple that with the startups we’ve covered before that can emulate all 5 of your senses in virtual reality and we just might be able to create VR environments that are barely distinguishable from reality. According to Elon Musk, there’s a one in a million chance that we’re not already in such a simulation. The future might not be so strange after all.