5 Global AR/VR Startups With Product Traction
In our earlier piece titled “Can Virtual Collaboration Give a Facelift to AR/VR?” we lamented that both augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies have already dropped off the Gartner Hype Cycle, yet we still seem to be waiting for a product or service to achieve mainstream adoption at scale. Seems like the growth trajectory of these new technologies will be gradual, and initial success stories seem to be focused on niche use cases like AR for surgeries, VR for drug discovery, and enterprise AR apps. It’s entirely possible that the next big thing in AR/VR is still floundering in some early-stage startup waiting for lift off.
We recently attended Slush Helsinki, one of the largest tech startup conferences in the world, with more than 3,500 startups and 2,000 investors in attendance. Participating startups applied to showcase their products on stage, and Slush’s jury selected a handful of promising startups from various industries to present to investors. The “AR and VR” track featured five startups from around the world showcasing hardware and software innovations that have already achieved some traction in the market. Let’s take a closer look at each one.
Founded in 2014, Swedish startup Gleechi has raised $2.6 million in funding, mostly in the form of EU grants, to develop a VR training platform for manufacturing companies which can reduce the total time needed for employee training along with the risk of injuries. The hardware-independent platform allows clients to design and implement custom training schemas on the fly. First, Gleechi and the customer define use case requirements together, then Gleechi models these requirements using preset templates and implements the training on location. Customers are charged a subscription fee based on usage frequency that starts at $1,670 per month.
The startup can create simulations for any manual process including car assembly, plasterboard manufacturing, and emergency situations.
Gleechi’s key selling point is its VirtualGrasp technology, the first software that enables realistic hand interactions in VR. Imagine holding a virtual cup with four fingers around its handle while your thumb realistically curls around from the other side. This is what the company’s algorithms accomplish instead of the cup levitating next to a closed fist which seems to be standard behavior in most VR simulations. Companies seem to like it, and Gleechi’s international reference clients include robot manufacturer ABB and car maker Scania. Besides their manufacturing training platform, Gleechi is looking to implement its simulation engine in the programming of grasping robots, VR games, and stroke rehabilitation. Our next startup is also working on hand movements in virtual reality.
Founded in 2015, Swiss startup Sensoryx has raised $1 million to develop VR gloves with integrated 3D tracking that is more precise and intuitive than any other sensor or controller on the market today. The mobile system uses six complimentary sensors including infrared, ultrasound, and motion sensors to track hand and finger movement in real time, even outside the user’s field of view. All the sensors are built into the gloves and the head module (mounted on the VR glasses) which means tracking is handled inside a closed system.
Without the need for externally mounted sensors like cameras, the wearable can be used anywhere. Sensoryx’ proprietary algorithms capture hand and wrist movements with millimeter precision and allow the same freedom of movement in VR as in real life – an experience similar to the one seen in sci-fi movie Ready Player One, or so the company claims. Flight simulator providers are already using the wearable and now anyone can sign up for a February 2020 delivery of these nifty gloves at $650 a pop. The team’s product pipeline includes new gloves and shoe insoles with integrated haptic feedback as well as object and body part trackers. Sensoryx is in hiring mode, and is going to target motion capture, transportation, and scientific use cases with the new products. One interesting application for these gloves could be VR collaboration in corporate environments, something our next startup is working on.
Founded in 2018, Finnish startup Glue Collaboration has raised $3.9 million to develop remote VR collaboration tools for corporate clients. Team members from around the world can meet, interact, brainstorm, and offend each other in virtual spaces. It’s pretty much like playing Arizona Sunshine except instead of zombies, you meet with your coworkers, and instead of guns, you use post-it notes, whiteboards, and freehand 3D drawings. The virtual meeting room has all the standard productivity tools you would expect including the ability to give presentations, share documents, desktops, or videos, and the ability for participants to manipulate virtual objects together. Avatars translate participants’ body language in real-time, and the audio mimics the sound of physical spaces. Remember people, no staring at someone for more than 5 seconds and no hugging.
Rendering is performed locally instead of the cloud, so the app doesn’t require much network bandwidth. The platform is priced according to team size, and roughly translates to $40-50 per person, per month, for teams of ten or more. Glue has recently partnered with the MacWell Creative agency of Helsinki with plans to sign up Microsoft as a reference client. Users can also build their own custom spaces to spice things up.
Our thoughts? Someone needs to make sure that this doesn’t just become some time-wasting gimmick that HR imposes on people – like those morons who always insist on having conference calls with video cameras on when a voice call would suffice. It’s likely that these collaborative meetings will have niche applications where productivity levels will exceed what one could accomplish with a bog-standard video or voice conference call. Let’s identify these niche applications and demonstrate their value with some great case studies.
Founded in 2010, Hong Kong startup Visionaries 777 has raised an undisclosed amount of funding to build a boutique development company that focuses on AR, VR, and 3D design. The team has developed an extensive repository of proprietary 3D modeling libraries that it uses to develop custom software for corporate clients. Visionaries 777 has been working extensively with auto manufacturers. For example, they designed an AR app for the launch of the Infiniti QX50, an AR configurator for sports car maker W Motors, and a VR test drive app for BMW.
The startup’s latest product is an AR checklist tool for building security, cleaning, and maintenance personnel. Employees don’t require any training, but simply follow the app’s instructions displayed on an iPad or on AR glasses as they go through their preset routes and activities. The app, combined with IoT functionality, is already in use for the predictive maintenance of a conveyor solution called MagneMotion, a Rockwell Automation company. Once the humans in the loop have perfected the app, we can then hook it up to some computer vision algorithms and let the robots take over.
Founded in 2016, Silicon Valley startup ORBI has raised $5.3 million in funding to develop 360-degree HD video recording and VR streaming technology. The company’s first product was a pair of glasses with four HD cameras integrated into a durable aluminum frame. Also housed within the frame are a battery, flash memory, a wireless module, and an image processing chip. The startup targets travelers and sports enthusiasts, and the wearable comes with a mobile video editing app to cut and share recordings on the go.
Orbi’s VR offering, developed on the back of these sports glasses, is a helmet that streams 360-degree VR content during sports matches. The lightweight helmet uses 5G networks to ensure high-quality streaming, and provides point-of-view broadcasts, individual player performance, and other analytics and add-ons as premium content for fans. The algorithms that manage the broadcast will autonomously cut and choose the best scenes to share with viewers. The new VR offering is still under the radar – it hasn’t been announced on the company website yet – so no public launch date is available. As VR broadcasts become mainstream, technologies such as this could be snatched up by a bigger rival like NextVR.
Training materials, instruction manuals, VR broadcasts, and corporate meetings – all areas where AR/VR technologies can add value in niche use cases. The VR startups we’ve looked at all focus on making the virtual world appear like the real world so that games become more enjoyable, training becomes more effective, and experiences become more enjoyable. The emergence of 5G means that we’ll have enough bandwidth to stream more realistic environments, while techniques like foveated rendering will mean less computing is required to render them. Augmented reality for training is seeing lots of traction across many industry applications, and recently we saw an FDA-approved AR application for surgeries from Augmedics. Both AR and VR are slowly gaining traction, and it’s usually when the hype dies down that the real progress happens – the “slope of enlightenment” as Gartner calls it.
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