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December 15, 2018
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Virtual Reality

VRgineers looks to set a new gold standard with their $5,800 VR headset

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Thought VR was too expensive and too bulky? Well, VRgineers is here with a giant $5,800 headset to prove that you lack perspective.

The Prague-based startup just showed off its latest piece of high-end VR hardware which it will be launching at this year’s CES expo. The headset sports an 180-degree field-of-view, dual 2560 x 1440 OLED displays and a form factor that’s massive. The big focus of the revamped XTAL headset seems to be in the lenses which have a brand new design meant to expand what users can see at full resolution inside the headset while also minimizing distortion elsewhere.

The headset has integrated Leap Motion hand-tracking, is compatible with a variety of tracking systems and leans heavily on voice controls.

What VRgineers has built is quite obviously professional-focused. It’s pushing industry boundaries in field-of-view and resolution.

Their focus is clearly enterprise given its $5,800 price tag. Specifically, the startup seems to be trying to capture the automotive market where VR is actually being leaned on heavily in design and manufacturing.

The high-end VR headset market is in a bit of an interesting spot right now. Oculus has kind of seemed to hurt the rest of the market by having driven hardware margins so low in the quest to make VR more approachable. It’s difficult to fault them for wanting to recoup some of their investment in OculusVR, but the more niche hardware players have really been usurped by a competitor that’s just operating on longer timelines.

After canceling ‘Rift 2’ overhaul, Oculus plans a modest update to flagship VR headset

Things are looking up for more high-end focused VR startups though, Oculus seems to be moving in a different direction for its next PC VR hardware release. We reported last month, that Oculus was looking to keep a lot of stuff the same with its next headset, possibly called the “Rift S”. This leaves some positive room for high-end VR startups to charge exorbitant amounts for their products but also deliver more niche feature sets for customers at the same time.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Former eBay product chief RJ Pittman takes the reins at 3D capture company Matterport

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Matterport, a provider of 3D image capture technology, has named former eBay chief product officer RJ Pittman as its new chief executive.

Pittman will take the reins from former chief executive Bill Brown, who will continue to advise Matterport as the company looks to capitalize on its library of three dimensional scans.

The company currently has a library of 1.4 million three dimensional models that have been viewed at least 600 million times since the company launched.

According to Silicon Valley Business Journal, the company had revenue in 2017 of $33 million from selling its camera equipment and software services to businesses.

The company was launched when founders Matt Bell and David Gausebeck realized the commercial potential of the motion capture and sensor technology that Microsoft had unveiled with their Kinect camera back in 2010.

At the time, the company’s several thousand dollar pieces of hardware were the cutting edge for capturing images — now it can be done with software and a cell phone camera. The march of technology has put Matterport in a somewhat precarious position, but the company continues to lock in deals with companies like Donan, an investigation service for insurers and others that looks at fire damage.

The company has inked deals with a number of different enterprise customers — and even brought on State Auto Labs as a strategic investor earlier this year.

“Matterport has the opportunity to revolutionize how property risks are underwritten and claims are handled in the insurance industry,” said Kim Garland, Senior Vice President, Commercial Lines & Managing Director of State Auto Labs said in a statement at the time.

In all, Matterport has raised around $77 million from investors including State Auto Labs, Lux Capital, DCM Ventures, Qualcomm Ventures, Ericsson Ventures, AMD Ventures, AME Cloud Ventures, CBRE, Felicis Ventures, GIC, Crate and Barrel founder Gordon Segal, iGlobe Partners, Navitas Ventures, News Corp, and Sound Ventures.

Matterport’s hardware can digtially capture, document, visualize and collaborate around properties in 3D on web, mobile and in VR. And its hosted Matterport Cloud service automates the creation of state-of-the-art 3D models, high-quality 4K 2D photography, floorplans and other assets and stores them in easily accessible formats.

There’s still a lot of contested space in the collection and capture of the real world for use in augmented and virtual reality and the addition of Pittman should help Matterport as it looks at a much more crowded competitive landscape.

“RJ’s operating experience at scale, paired with his entrepreneurial DNA and deep product vision will be instrumental to unlocking the full potential of our breakthrough technology and unparalleled 3D media and data,” said company co-founder and chief technology officer David Gausebeck, in a statement.

Indeed, Pittman discussed the importance of Matterport’s library when he spoke of the opportunity he saw for the company. “Matterport Cloud is an unrivaled dataset of precision 3D environments that represents an enormous opportunity to scale the company’s data services business exponentially. This will open up new strategic partnerships and investments as we realize the full value of this data,” Pittman said in a statement.

As an entrepreneur, product developer and real estate investor, Pittman is uniquely qualified to take charte at Matterport.

He previously worked on product, design, engineering and mobile payments at eBay and held roles at Apple and Google. In addition, he had also co-founded and served as the chief executive for the search engine that created the industry’s first graphical information interface, Groxis.

Finally, Pittman worked on a number of real estate projects in the U.S. and UK, giving him insight on the role that technology can play in the new architectural landscape.

 

News Source = techcrunch.com

Bright spots in the VR market

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Virtual Reality is in a public relations slump. Two years ago the public’s expectations for virtual reality’s potential was at its peak. Many believed (and still continue to believe) that VR would transform the way we connect, interact, and communicate in our personal and professional lives.

Google Trends highlighting search trends related to Virtual Reality over time; the “note” refers to an improvement in Google’s data collection system that occurred in early 2016

It’s easy to understand why this excitement exists once you put on a head mounted display. While there are still a limited number of compelling experiences, after you test some of the early successes in the field, it’s hard not to extrapolate beyond the current state of affairs to a magnificent future where the utility of virtual reality technology is pervasive.

However, many problems still exist. The all-in cost for state of the art headsets is still out of reach for the mass market. Most ‘high-quality’ virtual reality experiences still require users to be tethered to their desktops. The setup experience for mass market users is lathered in friction. When it comes down to it, the holistic VR experience is a non-starter for most people. We are effectively in what Gartner refers to as the “trough of disillusionment.”

Gartner’s hype cycle for “Human-Machine Interface” in 2018 places many related VR related fields (e.g., Mixed Reality, AR, HMDs, etc.) in the “Trough of Disillusionment”

Yet, the virtual reality market has continued its slow march to mass adoption, and there are tangible indicators that suggest we could be nearing an inflection point.

A shift towards sustainable hardware growth

What you do and do not consider a virtual reality display can dramatically impact your view on the state of the VR hardware industry. Head-mounted displays (HMDs) can be categorized in three different ways:

  • Screenless viewers — affordable devices that turn smartphones into a VR experience (e.g., Google Glass, Samsung Gear VR, etc.)
  • Standalone HMDs — devices that are not connected to a computer and can independently run content (e.g., Oculus Go, Lenovo Mirage Solo, etc.)
  • Tethered HMDs — devices that are connected to a desktop computer in order to run content (e.g., HTC Vive, Oculus Pro, etc.)

2018 has seen disappointing progress in aggregate headset growth. The overall market is forecasted to ship 8.9M headsets in 2018, up from an approximate aggregate shipment of ~8.3M in 2017, according to IDC. On the surface, those numbers hardly describe a market at its inflection point.

However, most of the decline in growth rate can be attributed to two factors. First, screenless viewers have seen a significant decline in shipments as device manufacturers have stopped shipping them alongside smartphones. In the second quarter of 2018, 409K screenless viewers were shipped compared to approximately 1M in the second quarter of 2017. Second, tethered VR headsets have also declined as manufacturers have slowed down the pricing discounts that acted as a steroid to sales growth in 2017.

Looking at the market for standalone HMDs, however, reveals a more promising figure. Standalone VR headsets grew 417% due to the global availability of the Oculus Go and Xiaomi Mi VR. Over time, these headsets are going to be the driver of the VR market as they offer significant advantages compared to tethered headsets.

The shift from tethered to standalone VR headsets is significant. It represents a paradigm shift within the immersive ecosystem, where developers have a truly mobile platform that is powerful enough to enable compelling user experiences.

IDC forecasts for AR/VR headset market share by form factor, 2018–2022

A premium market segment

There are a few names that come to mind when thinking about products that are available for purchase in the VR market: Samsung, Facebook (Oculus), HTC, and Playstation. A plethora of new products from these marquee names —  and products from new companies entering the market —  are opening the category for a new customer segment.

For the past few years, the market effectively had two segments. The first was a “mass market” segment with notorious devices such as the Google Cardboard and the Samsung Gear, which typically sold for under $100 and offered severely constrained experiences to consumers. The second segment was a “pro market” with a few notable devices, such as the HTC Vive, that required absurdly powerful computing rigs to operate, but offered consumers more compelling, immersive experiences.

It’s possible that this new emerging segment will dramatically open up the total addressable VR market. This “premium” market segment offers product alternatives that are somewhat more expensive than the mass market, but are significantly differentiated in the potential experiences that can be offered (and with much less friction than the “pro market”).

The Oculus Go, the Xiaomi Mi VR, and the Lenovo Solo are the most notable products in this segment. They are the fastest growing devices in this segment, and represent a new wave of products that will continue to roll out. This segment could be the tipping point for when we move from the early adopters to the early majority in the VR product adoption curve.

A number of other products have also been released throughout 2018 that fall into this category, such as Lenovo’s Mirage Solo and Xiaomi’s Mi VR. Even more so, Oculus recently announced that  they’ll be shipping a new headset called Quest this spring, which will sell for $399 and will be the most powerful example of a premium device to date. The all-in price range of ~$200–400 places these devices in a segment consumers are already conditioned to pay (think iPad’s, gaming consoles, etc.), and they offer differentiated experiences primarily attributed to the fact that they are standalone devices.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Lucas Di Grassi says human drivers are the real competitors for Roborace

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As Roborace accelerates its plans to build an autonomous racing league, the company is finding that its toughest competition are still human drivers.

In this version of the John Henry story, the humans clearly are still winning, but the robots are catching up.

“We’re going to call it a singularity event when an autonomous racing car is faster than any racing driver,” says Lucas Di Grassi, Roborace’s chief executive and one of the world’s best Formula One racecar drivers. “We started the year 20% slower and we are now 6% slower.”

For the company’s long-term vision, the cars need to be better than any human, because part of the company’s pitch is to be the proving ground for autonomous technologies and a platform to put automakers’ best innovations through their paces in extreme conditions.

“We think when the car reaches a level that is better than any human this will create a layer of trust on the roads,” says Di Grassi. 

It’s a vision that has attracted the attention of some of the world’s biggest companies. Earlier this week, Amazon announced its own initiative for autonomous racing cars. And if Amazon is interested, you can be sure other large technology companies are also angling for a pole position in this proving ground for technology’s latest moonshot.

Amazon’s version of autonomous race cars are smaller than Roborace’s full-sized vehicles — and at $399 are far cheaper than the $1 million vehicles that Roborace is planning on putting on tracks.

Beyond the potential corporate competitors, the company’s human competition is more than just a technical obstacle for Roborace. It’s also a critical unknown when it comes to predicting whether anyone actually will want to watch the races.

When asked whether he thinks Roborace can find an audience for races that are divorced of any element of human risk or drama, Di Grassi says “We don’t know.”

To integrate the two worlds of robot racing and human Formula One (or the increasingly popular Formula E series), Roborace has tweaked its competitive model. Earlier this year, the company unveiled a new model of its car that has room for a human driver behind the wheel.

Roborace car at Disrupt Berlin 2018

That human driver is critical to Di Grassi’s new vision for how Roborace competition will now work. In the latest iteration of the company’s races, which will see their first flag waved in April or May of 2019, human drivers will play a larger role in the race.

“We are trying to combine humans and computers in a sport,” says Di Grassi. “The races next year will be a combination of drivers racing for the first part of the race and in a pit stop the driver jumps out and the autonomous vehicle will take over. We want to create this reality that the human and the machine are working together for a better outcome.”

Di Grassi hopes that this integration of the human element and autonomy will be enough to attract viewers, but there are other ways that the company plans to bring an audience to the wild world of autonomous robot racing.

“People want to interact,” says Di Grassi. And with the company’s planned robot races, there will be ways for audiences in the stands to shape the course of the race, potentially by throwing augmented reality obstacles onto the track for the autonomous cars to avoid — creating new challenges for technology to be put through its paces.

“We’re going to try and engage and we’re going to try and get different forms of engagement,” Di Grassi says. Including developing an open source platform that would enable viewers to interact with simulated races in virtual reality — encouraging audience participation and competition in virtual racing leagues that could mirror the action among actual racing teams. 


Like traditional Formula One racing, Roborace is serving two audiences. One is the company’s actual customers — the automakers and vendors that are building the software and hardware for electric and autonomous vehicles — and the audience that ideally will be around to see the fruit of all that labor.

Right now, no automakers have signed up as partners, in part, Di Grassi says, because they’re not confident with their technology. “The automakers are afraid because the software is not ready,” says Di Grassi. But the company’s chief executive is undeterred, because of the profusion of technologies required to make autonomous vehicles work. “Autonomous cars are a combination of a lot of different technology segments — sensors, electric motors, batteries. Our customers are sensor processing companies [and] companies like Nvidia, Qualcomm, Intel,” DiGrassi says.

However, at some point Roborace needs that audience so vendors can prove that their technology works, and people can become more comfortable with the safety and capabilities of autonomous vehicles.

“Nobody’s using high precision vehicle model like drifting and sliding and these situations will be very real. There is a whole different segment that we can develop faster in a controlled environment,” says DiGrassi. “The pitch is to compete against each other to develop technology faster and you develop trust among consumers… this will give trust to people to jump into autonomous taxi in the future.”

News Source = techcrunch.com

Can the startup building a Fortnite for VR become the Fortnite of VR?

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Virtual reality hasn’t proven itself to be the lucrative escape of the every-man, but the medium has done a fairly good job enticing the gaming community and keeping that niche (mostly) happy. While a couple of big titles have gotten some halfway-decent ports to VR, for the most part VR users are confined to whatever indies can build or whatever Oculus can fund.

BigBox VR has been trying to capture attention in the space by not building solo adventures that lead users to find themselves, but instead by trying to match VR’s physicality and immersion with social gameplay that leads users to gain greater appreciation for the medium’s scale.

The company just closed a $5 million funding round led by Shasta Ventures with participation from GSR Ventures and Pioneer Square Labs Ventures. As part of the round, Shasta partner Jacob Mullins will be getting a seat on the board.

Venture cash for VR content hasn’t exactly been free-flowing in 2018, more so for startups that aren’t caught up in building out a “platform play.” Co-founders Chia Chin Lee and Gabe Brown are more interested in just building out titles and hopefully creating one so successful that they don’t have to stop evolving it. The team at BigBox VR got its start with a cartoonish shooter title called Smashbox Arena; the small team has been really interested in finding what VR enables when it comes to competitive online play.

The BigBox VR team

Funding rounds aren’t often about the achievements of the past; however, the company is currently going full-steam ahead with its next ambitious title, a battle royale title called “POPULATION: ONE.”

I had a chance to suit up in VR and dive-in with Jacob and the founding team. I got my ass kicked a couple times, but then they let me win at some point, which I admit I was pretty okay with.

To say the game shares some similarities with Fortnite is an understatement. Not only is it a battle royale title with a shrinking environment, but certain mechanics like gliding in at the beginning to scrounge for weapons and even Fortnite’s building feature are central to the gameplay. That being said, battle royale titles have exploded in the wake of PUBG and they seem to all share a lot among each other. For BigBox, VR is the distinguishing feature, with motion controls and the general feeling that everything is life-sized and in your control.

To be honest, a lot of it really does work. Every surface in the game is climbable (by physically grabbing surfaces with the controllers and then doing the arm-work to scale) but more central movements like turning and moving are left to buttons, a technique that ultimately isn’t for the faint of stomach but is a lot more fluid than teleporting around. There are certainly mechanics which could have felt smoother, but this is a private beta game with a lot of room to finesse.

One of the really powerful things about the game was what happened after I was repeatedly sniped and killed off early on in the first couple rounds. The spectator mode is great and it’s interesting how much the precise controls of VR lend to allowing you to get more actively enveloped in matches that you aren’t even competing in. There are companies in the VR space working exclusively on this, but for a gaming audience obsessed with streamers, adapting traditional games with a VR spectating workflow or doing so natively seems like a huge opportunity.

Battle royale games remain white-hot, and VR game studios have been trying to find the right way to get a slice of the pie. Perhaps the key is knowing where to innovate while also realizing that the multi-platform grandiose of Fortnite has yet to find its way to VR, so maybe finding a title that scratches that itch is the best place to start.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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