Recapping the top stories covered on the VRScout Report, a weekly live video show and podcast discussing the best in VR, hosted by Malia Probst. You can enjoy the full audio recording below:
1. Facebook makes their 360 camera design available to everyone
Facebook has been going hard on the 360-degree photos and videos – you’ve most likely noticed an influx of spherical content in your newsfeed, and that’s no accident. Adding to the Book of Face’s massive plans for mixed reality technology, they have made good on their promise to make a 360 camera open source and available to anyone. Called the Surround 360, it is a high-end solution that uses 17 4MP cameras, 15 in a circle with fisheye cameras on the bottom and top of the camera (which looks just like a flying saucer).
The details are posted on GitHub, including assembly instructions, control software, and the code that stitches the images into seamless 360-degree content. Despite the fact that the cost of all the listed components clock in at around $30,000, Facebook’s goal is that these public blueprints can help others to create a bigger market for 360 camera. If you’re thinking it’s more difficult than your average IKEA assembly, you’d be right – it took a Facebook engineer from outside of the department four hours to put it together. More evidence of Facebook’s big plans for VR/AR: they plan on selling almost half a million Oculus Rift units by the end of 2016.
2. Speaking of the Metaverse… say hi to Metaworld
Later this year, HelloVR will be releasing an early version of a huge, open-world social VR experience called Metaworld. Describing itself as a “vast-scale social VR MMO experience,” Metaworld is built on a computing engine called SpatialOS created by Improbable, a London-based company that has been funded by Andreesen Horowitz. It will be a 10,000 sq miles that will be virtually persistent – meaning that, however you left your environment, that is how it will be when you return (this also means your mess doesn’t automatically get cleaned up). Instead of full body avatars, the avatars of Metaworld are floating heads and two hands – perhaps taking inspiration from Mr. and Mrs. Potatohead. The small company has a good background in making social virtual worlds, however – before building HelloVR, CEO Dedric Reid was Head of Design at Altspace (a social VR platform that has raised almost $16M in three rounds of funding). Interestingly enough, the open world features wildlife simulations provided by IBM’s Watson. Curioser and curioser…
3. Developers, rejoice!
Unity’s most recent update makes the cross-platform game engine even more equally optimized, so with only one API you can simply build for multiple platforms with hardware-specific tweaks held to a minimum. Already supporting the Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, HTC Vive, and PSVR – Unity will now support Google Daydream. Unity’s current popularity with developers will no doubt be boosted by more revolutionary features with their recent capital raise of $181M.
Sketchfab, the popular website that displays and shares 3D content online, announced new features that will enable VR distribution that is similar to YouTube. It claims to be the “largest destination for VR content in the world” and wants to make it a platform to upload 3D models in the same way YouTube acts as a depository for regular 2D videos. With more than 500,000 members and nearly 1M experiences viewable in VR, Sketchfab has a nice leg up on the competition in the VR distribution world.
4. Google Omnitone Surround Sound Support
3D audio, otherwise known as spatial audio, is a major key to truly immersive virtual reality experiences. Google Chrome’s WebAudio team is releasing an open source spatial audio renderer called the Omnitone project, which is a web-based system. Also known as WebVR, web-based VR is clearly a big theme for Google: the latest builds of Chrome beta are now supporting a WebVR shell that will allow all existing webpages to be viewed in virtual reality. Check out the Web Audio API here on GitHub.
5. Funding, Moves, and Money: Investments in the VR/AR Industry
Matterport, the end-to-end system built for 3D and VR versions of real-world spaces, was founded in 2010 and has raised $56M to date – and they just acquired Virtual Walkthrough. Although exact numbers of the deal were not disclosed, the London-based startup specialized in real estate virtual tours and had not raised any publicly-disclosed funds before this acquisition.
Despite the winsome name, Pixie Technology has raised some serious cash – to the tune of $18.5M. Founded in 2011, the California-based company specializes in Bluetooth LE-connected fobs that perform object-tracking and help you find lost items. Rather than the usual beeping that tunes you into the location of a lost tracked object, Pixie delivers an augmented display on your smartphone that shows where the item is located. Before this announcement, Pixie had raised over $5M, and this Series B round was led by Spark Capital, along with Cedar Fund, OurCrowd, and a handful of private investors.
Ostendo, based in Carlsbad, CA, was founded in 2005 to advance display technology, curved screens, and has been developing VR displays for over a decade for the military. Winning an almost $60M contract from the Department of Defense in 2014 to produce a synthetic-holographic 3D workstation prototype for the Air Force, in that same year Ostendo also reportedly raised $90M from investors including Peter Thiel (well-known investor, co-founder of PayPal, and author of “Zero to One”). According to a regulatory filing, Ostendo has now raised $41.8M in a new financing round… but the company is quite mysterious, a spokesperson saying they “prefer not to be covered by any media at this moment.” The 2014 DoD contract is over in this upcoming October – so should we expect a military-innovated Holodeck release?
Mirage, the Beijing-based game studio, has raised $1.5M in funding to add to their virtual reality development. The company recently launched its VR game “Heroes of the Seven Seas” and the investment round was led by SongHe Capital and Wistone.
Kite & Lightning, the Los Angeles-based cinematic VR startup, has raised $2.5M in seed funding to increase its team to create Bebylon Battle Royale. The game was initially described as “selfie stick wielding immortal babies beating each other up” but the scope of the game is way bigger than initially disclosed, and seems to be a social universe which will be first released in 2017, with more Bebylon worlds added every few months. This game looks like a whole lot of fun, with wild cigar-chomping babies in combat, and aims to support cross-play on PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift, and the HTC Vive.