If you’ve had your ear to VR this month, you may have heard about a new company called Wearality. As I write this, they have surpassed 90% of their $100,000 Kickstarter campaign with one week left left. Their goal is to bring new optical lens technology to the virtual reality market via their first consumer product. Wearality Sky is a head wearable display with the widest field of view (FOV) available. I backed the campaign as soon as I saw that I could clip it to the bill of my hat, but I wanted to better understand the company, and more importantly, whether or not people should care enough about FOV to justify spending $70.
I spoke with David Smith, the founder of Wearality and inventor of the Sky. He’s a serial entrepreneur and mad computer scientist who spent the last few decades building robotic limbs, virtual camera systems, and co-architecting the Croquet Project. When one of his companies was acquired by Lockheed Martin back in the oughties, the defense giant convinced David to come on board full time to tackle his white whale – a head mounted display that didn’t suck. Over the course of five years, he and his team at Lockheed told me they developed a top-secret arsenal of VR innovations. A few of them recently broke off, formed Wearality, and licensed back some of the technology they spent years building. The Sky will be the first such product to market.
See The Sky
Most VR companies are working on improving virtual reality experiences with software. Making it more enjoyable by improving positional tracking, latency, and rendering. Wearality is focusing on the fundamentals. Lenses. Expanding the periphery. The device itself looks simple enough; a beefed up version of Google Cardboard. Its crown jewels are a pair of Fresnel lenses that provide a 150 degree FOV. That’s a 50% increase over the current standard you’ll find in Cardboard, or even Oculus Rift.\
Update: You can now order just the lenses on Kickstarter to modify an existing VR headset or build your own.
Another interesting thing about Sky is the design. It weighs less than 100 grams, is small enough to fit into your pocket, and adjusts to most phones between five and six inches with eight live springs. One bummer is that they don’t recommend it for the standard iPhone 6. But if you’re packing an iPhone 6 Plus, or one of a litany of android devices, you should be good. As I mentioned, the feature that sold me is a pair of hat clips for hands-free viewing. I was also drawn to the dorky coke bottle aesthetic. It will be a nice touch for future civilizations studying a society who wore radioactive phones on their faces.
Touch the Sky
Still don’t think lenses are sexy? When I spoke with David and two of his engineers, we talked about how hard it is for people to appreciate the difference between Sky and other displays without experiencing it. Then he offered to put me in touch with one of his strategic advisors here in LA, the legendary Mark Bolas, to try it for myself. I accepted immediately.
Meeting Mark was an amazing experience in and of itself. More on that soon. To demo the Sky, he insisted we try experience called World’s a Mess. It’s an animated VR music video created by Otherworld Interactive, a trio of his former students.
Bolas lit up when he talked about the importance of bringing peripheral queues to virtual reality, saying how much he loves how animations “jump out and get you.” It’s true. Having now seen World’s a Mess through both Sky and Cardboard, I can attest to the difference the expanded FOV makes. The movement outside the center focus pulled me in different directions and made the world feel much bigger.
See For Yourself
You can still back Wearality Sky on Kickstarter for one more week. Or if you’re near San Francisco or Orlando, you may be able to track down the guys for a demo this week. If you’re lucky, your demo may come from Wearality’s new CEO, Michael Jones, the man behind Google Earth. Keep up with the Wearality road show on Twitter and check it out for yourself if you can.
Update: Wearality is letting the community decide where its final demo will be held. Tweet #WearalityDemo stating where (city, state) you want them to visit. They will tally up the results on Thursday and fly out for a series of demos this weekend.