Funding the Future of VR/AR with Amitt Mahajan, cofounder of Presence Capital

Funding the Future of VR/AR with Amitt Mahajan, cofounder of Presence Capital

This week’s episode features an interview with Amitt Mahajan, co-founder of Presence Capital-- a $10M early stage fund focused on VR and AR that launched in December 2015. We chat about Amitt’s past experience building the mobile game FarmVille for Zynga, and how that story could be a lesson to VR content creators about early-mover advantages on emerging platforms. We talk about a few of the companies in Presence’s portfolio like Baobab Studios (the seemingly omnipresent content studio), STRIVR (immersive training-- for NFL quarterbacks to Walmart cashiers), and Sky Lights (making flying on airplanes less painful)-- and the reasons why Presence invested. Amitt also addresses augmented reality, the limitations of mobile AR, and the advantages and limitations of ARKit for iOS - www.presencecap.com/  

THIS WEEK’S (10/12/17) TOP5 VR&AR NEWS

THIS WEEK’S (10/12/17) TOP5 VR&AR NEWS

In this week's news update covers all the breaking news from Oculus Connect 4, Google spends $1.1B to acquire HTC’s smartphone talent and IP, Google’s ARCore bring augmented reality to Android, Microsoft Acquires VR Social App AltspaceVR, the investment & funding wrap-up, and more….

Talking VR Content with Jenna Seiden, Head of Content Acquisition & Partnerships of Viveport at HTC Vive

Talking VR Content with Jenna Seiden, Head of Content Acquisition & Partnerships of Viveport at HTC Vive

Jenna Seiden is Head of Content Acquisition & Partnerships at Viveport for HTC Vive, and we talk about Viveport as a content platform (also in relation to HTC Vive in context of Valve’s Steam store), what defines good content, and how the company sources that content. Jenna goes in depth on the Viveport Arcade program, how she thinks about branded content, and shares some great VR experience recommendations as well - https://www.viveport.com

VR/AR + Emerging Tech for Good: Interviews from Esalen, at Digital Raign's Reality Summit

VR/AR + Emerging Tech for Good: Interviews from Esalen, at Digital Raign's Reality Summit

This week's episode is a series of mini-interviews from Digital Raign's Reality Summit at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, CA in September 2017. United around the common thread of emerging technology, social impact and mindfulness, the episode features Dr. Tom Furness (aka "Grandfather of VR" and founder of the Virtual World Society), Cassandra Vieten (President, Institute of Noetic Sciences - IONS), Marco DeMiroz (investor, Venture Reality Fund), Melissa Sutor (Dragonfly Healing Center), Joanna Popper (Singularity University), Sari Stenfors (cyborg anthropologist, Augmented Leadership Institute) - www.digitalraign.com/ and www.esalen.org/ 

VRScout Report: The Health & VR Mixer - Discover the Best in Virtual Reality

VRScout Report: The Health & VR Mixer - Discover the Best in Virtual Reality

This week's episode is a live recording from the panel conversation at VRScout's most recent monthly mixer, which was all about Health & VR. This is a fascinating conversation showcasing a variety of perspectives on the huge range of healthcare and wellness applications utilizing immersive technology. Guest hosted by Kristi Hansen Onkka (founder at HealthiAR), the panel features Carrie Shaw (founder at Embodied Labs), Dr. Brennan Spiegel (Director of Health Services Research at Cedars-Sinai), Shauna Heller (founder of Clay Park VR and Executive Director of VR Med Tech Initiatives), Jacki Morie (founder and Chief Scientist at All These Worlds), and Dr. Wen Dombrowski (Chief Convergence Officer of CATALAIZE).

THIS WEEK’S (8/23/17) TOP5 VR&AR NEWS

THIS WEEK’S (8/23/17) TOP5 VR&AR NEWS

1. PUT YOUR HANDS TOGETHER FOR A PRICE BREAK ON THE VIVE

Oh baby, it might be time to finally break down and get yourself that sweet roomscale VR (right out of the box!... well, sort of. You still have to set it up). After much recent speculation of a possible price drop, the HTC Vive has joined the Oculus Rift in the discount club -- cutting $200 off the previously $799 cost. Heck, even if you wait a bit, it seems like HTC is setting themselves up for some nice sales numbers this holiday season.
 

Related Stocks:  Facebook, Inc. ($FB), HTC Corporation ($2498.TW)

 

2. CLASH OF CLANS PARTNERS WITH FACEBOOK TO BRINGS AR TO FANS

I have to admit I’ve never played the game, but regardless if you’re a fan or not -- the numbers are undeniable: Clash of Clans is one of the top grossing mobile games. Supercell, the company behind the addictive little world of the Builder, raked in $2.3B in revenue last year -- and they just partnered with Facebook to use the AR Camera Effects platform in a unique celebration of the Clash of Clans’ 5th birthday. Although the execution seems almost standard to anyone who has enjoyed Snapchat for any length of time (you can augment your face to look like the Builder character, or turn the camera around to place a 3D Builder in your real world environment), it’s significant in a couple of ways. One is the social sharing implementation-- you can share your Builder creations directly to your Facebook Timeline. Another one is numbers: Clash of Clans has 100M daily users. Will all those players try it? That is an unlikely possibility, as this activation is not featured or accessible via the Facebook Camera -- you have to go to Clash of Clan’s page to find this post linking you to Facebook’s Camera Effects page which auto-launches the AR camera. It seems likely that Facebook will take another page out of Snap’s playbook eventually, and offer brands the option to have their AR app featured within the Facebook Camera itself.
 

Related Stocks:  Facebook, Inc. ($FB)

 

3. CONTROL VR WITH YOUR THOUGHTS

Brain computer interfaces… so hot right now. Early one-way BCIs have been around since the 1920s in the form of EEGs, and studies in the 1970s showed that brains can be used as controllers -- or at least in monkeys. Although not a new concept, BCIs are getting a lot of attention recently with high-profile entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Bryan Johnson forming brain-focused companies, and even the 2015 Disney Accelerator included a hardware company making wearable brain devices. Not one to be left out, Facebook is in on the action too--  announcing this past spring that they’re building BCIs for “skin hearing” and typing with your mind. With that being said, BCIs are typically not very dependable outside of controlled lab settings when distractions, lack of expertise, and other factors come into play. With all this being said, maybe we can expect to see mind-controlled VR games come to arcades next year… if a BCI VR/AR company called Neurable gets their way. 
 

Related Stocks:  Facebook, Inc. ($FB) , The Walt Disney Company ($DIS)

 

4. NEW PREDICTIONS FOR GLOBAL VR/AR SPENDING & INVESTMENT OVER NEXT 4 YEARS

A new report from International Data Corp is now live, predicting that the immersive technology market will rise by 100%+ over each of the next four years. Predictably, the retail and manufacturing segments will be the starting leaders for adoption as well as investment -- but IDC sees education, government, and transportation as big embracers of VR/AR solutions. The report also looks to regions like Canada, Central/Eastern Europe, and Western Europe to be the fastest-growing areas, and also says the US is be the largest in terms of spending total -- at least in 2017. 

 

5. INVESTMENT & FUNDING WRAPUP

Based out of Erfurt, Germany, software company Fayteq has been acquired by Facebook for an undisclosed amount. Selling tools to video editor software companies like Adobe, their plug-ins empower video editors to track objects -- and then use that tracking data to add or remove desired objects. Facebook recently launched its Camera Effects platform for augmented reality, so this acquisition of talent/patents/IP could help their near-term uses for Fayteq’s technology. It could also be useful for adding objects to live streaming in real time, or for Instagram Stories (remember, Facebook paid $1B to buy Instagram back in 2012 -- which some people predict would have been worth somewhere in the range of $25B-$50B if it was not acquired).

Related Stocks:  Facebook, Inc. ($FB)
 

Emeryville, California-based immersive ad company Immersv announced $10.5M in funding. The company provides a platform for advertisers in 360 video content and VR, and says they are generating revenue. Rogers Venture Partners led the Series A round, with participation coming from the Venture Reality Fund, Foundation Capital, Initial Capital HTC, Gree, East Ventures, MCJ, i-mobile, Metaps, and angel Gigi Levy.

 

Based in Edmonton, Canada, virtual reality training company Serious Labs has raised $5M in Series A funding for their work in immersive training solutions for the heavy industry/construction industry -- like cranes, backhoes, and forklifts. United Rentals and Brick and Mortar Ventures provided the equity financing, and the company has secured $3.5M in new development contracts.

 

Chinese tech platform HiScene, based in Shanghai, has raised a $14M Series B investment round. The company is an SDK, cloud, and management platform for augmented reality -- enables AR companies to build for iOS, Windows, and Android. HiScene focuses on the education, healthcare, and marketing industries, and also has image recognition tech and AR hardware devices. The round was led by Chinese investment firm Shanghai Cableway Investment, with participation from Vstar Capital, Sincere Capital, and Meitu Inc.

 

Based in the US with offices in San Francisco and New York, financial technology company Lampix has raised $14.2M… via blockchain. The company is creating a blockchain-based “image mining” network for computer vision systems -- and augmented reality. Lampix was founded in 2015, and is building an ecosystem (from database to software to hardware) that they descibe as a “new blockchain that will hold data-sets of real world objects” and aims to transform any flat surface into a smart surface. Want more details? Knock yourself out, the company wrote an 85-page whitepaper on the project.

 

...and just a few more

 

Mario Kart VR in Japan looks amazing

 

Has social vr pioneer Altspace been brought back to life?

 

New omnidirectional solution Strider VR uses a treadmill, rotating ball array, and a Kinect sensor

 

UPS is using VR to train its drivers

 

Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s new virtual reality film is showcased at LACMA

 

This AR headset helps the hearing impaired… with subtitles

THIS WEEK’S (8/15/17) TOP5 VR&AR NEWS

THIS WEEK’S (8/15/17) TOP5 VR&AR NEWS

1. NFL REFS GET THE VIRTUAL TRAINING TREATMENT

The STRIVR company was born out of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford back in 2015 (founded in 2003 by Jeremy Bailenson, who founded STRIVR w/ ex-Stanford kicker Derek Belch). The company has been working with NFL, college football teams, and the NBA to better train athletes’ response times and give them the ability to re-live moments--- and now, the company is also using VR to prepare NFL referees for the upcoming football season. A Series A funding round of $5M at the end of 2016 helped the company also expand into corporate training, announcing a customer service training program with Walmart employees at the beginning of June. In other VR sporting news, the MLB keeps expanding their 360 video content (they teamed up with Google to make a MLB At Bat VR experience for Daydream, they have a MLB Homerun Derby VR game, and also have been live streaming games with Intel)... and now you can step into the locker room with your favorite pro baseball players in a new original content series that takes you behind-the-scenes of pro baseball.
 

Related Stocks:  Alphabet, Inc. ($GOOG), Intel Corporation ($INTC)

 

2. AUGMENTED MAGAZINE COVERS… IS THIS GOING TO BE A THING?

Augmented reality that makes graphics on t-shirts, posters, album covers, etc., come to life is nothing new -- but we’ve been seeing a spate of AR magazine covers lately. Another sports-themed news bit, Sports Illustrated released an AR companion to its college football preview edition. Although not the first time SI has dabbled in AR (their May edition “Capturing Everest” brought a little bit of the mountain to your living room), and to be honest this is very light AR (basically it just triggers a 2D video to play), it still builds Sports Illustrated’s momentum in the space -- remember their Swimsuit Edition VR app from the beginning of 2016? The fashion world never wants to be outdone, and W Magazine is in on the trend as well -- making Katy Perry come alive in a surreal 3D artistic exploration of her face.
 

Related Stocks:  Time Inc. ($TIME)

 

3. SURE, EYE IMPLANTS… BECAUSE WHAT COULD GO WRONG?

Millions of people have lens implants as solutions to help cataracts -- but this company wants to make contact lens implants work as augmented reality devices. Of course, other tech companies are also chasing the eyeball train (like Google and Samsung), but what is fundamentally different about Omega Ophthalmics’s approach is they want to be a platform to host a number of different solutions (perhaps in the healthcare field, or augmented reality, etc.). This is far-off technology, and so far Omega has a very small clinical trial, involving… seven people. But hey -- it’s been over six months without “incident” in the human subjects, so maybe they’re onto something!

Related Stocks:  Alphabet, Inc. ($GOOG), Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd ($005930.KS)

 

4. WANT YOUR DJ SOFTWARE IN VR? NO PROBLEM

There’s a lot of music content, apps, tools, and social experiences in VR, but not really any that build on existing software. Ableton Live is one of the most popular programs for DJs, and now a new VR app called AliveinVR lets you build your sick beats in a 3D space. You can sample and mix in the psychedelic virtual music room, and then fine-tune your audio creations later-- in the real world! As a related sidenote, if you’re a developer looking for sweet spatial audio tools, check out G’Audio’s digital audio workstation plugin.

 

5. INVESTMENT & FUNDING WRAPUP

Los Angeles, CA-based VR content production studio Here Be Dragons has raised $10M in funding, led by Discovery Communications (and participation from former Havas CEO David Jones and David Droga -- founder of huge ad agency Droga5). The company was co-founded by CEO Patrick Milling-Smith and director Chris Milk (whose company Within just announced $40M in funding recently), and was formerly known as VRSE.works. The award-winning studio has a high production pedigree, making content for entities like the United Nations and the New York Times -- and will use the funds to increase its staff and expand into AR and MR creations.
 

Related Stocks:  Discovery Communications, Inc. ($DISCA)

THIS WEEK’S (8/8/17) TOP5 VR&AR NEWS

THIS WEEK’S (8/8/17) TOP5 VR&AR NEWS

1. SOCIAL VR PIONEER ALTSPACE CAN’T “KEEP THE VIRTUAL LIGHTS ON ANYMORE”

Founded all the way back in 2013 by Eric Romo, Altspace VR was a social world that broke new ground--  allowing new and old friends to virtually congregate. Announcing via blog post that they ran into  “unforeseen financial difficulty,” Altspace had raised almost $16M and was not able to finalize another round of funding. The platform was notable for its cross-platform functionality, enabling both mobile VR and high-end PC users to join in on the fun; it was also criticized for its lack of avatar customization (yes, everyone looked like robots) and lack of creator tools and monetization opportunities. It seems that, alas --  the death of Altspace is here. Their timing was just too early (this is also a good moment to point out to any Chicken Littles out there that the rate of startup failures 90% and there will be many more in the VR/AR industry… just like any other industry). But worry not, virtual friends: we still have VRChat, High Fidelity, BigScreen, Rec Room, vTime, Facebook Space, JanusVR, Decentraland (link to article), Sansar (join the now-open beta), and WebVR’s official debut is… now.

 

2. SOCIAL VR WORLD SANSAR FINALLY LAUNCHES OPEN BETA

Announced 3 years ago, virtual enthusiasts have been eagerly awaiting Project Sansar -- and now it’s here. Now just Sansar, the platform has launched its open beta so anyone can explore and build immersive spaces. This new metaverse is from Linden Lab, the same company that built Second Life-- and they clearly have taken learnings from that open world to Sansar: namely, monetization opportunities for creators. You can make 3D models and sell them on the Sansar store, and eventually you’ll be able to charge membership or ticket prices to attendees of virtual events (if, of course, your virtual venue is hot enough). Currently available on the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and accessible via PC, you can build up to 3 of your own worlds -- and after that, Sansar charges a $9.99+/month fee depending on how many worlds you want to build. It looks gorgeous so far, and another great thing is that you can share your created world via its own individual link.

Related Stocks:  Facebook, Inc. ($FB), HTC Corporation ($2498.TW)

 

3. THE INTERNET IS NOW VR-READY… AT LEAST ON FIREFOX

Rolling out to the Firefox browser, with Chrome support expected later this year, WebVR is JavaScript API that lets you create virtual reality experiences… in your browser. It is essentially an internet protocol that lets your browser act like a regular web browser -- except it can now take you to VR content for the Rift and the HTC Vive. What does this mean? It makes it a lot easier for developers AND content consumers -- you can just send a friend a link, no lengthy descriptions of what store to go to, what app to download and which experience to locate. In a nutshell… the metaverse just got a whole lot closer.
 

Related Stocks:  Facebook, Inc. ($FB), HTC Corporation ($2498.TW), Alphabet, Inc. ($GOOG)

 

4. JUST LIKE IN THE 90s, THE GENERAL PUBLIC WILL FIRST TRY VR WITH DISNEY

Regardless of which Disney movie is your personal favorite (and we all have one -- mine is Lion King), we can all admit that Disney is sitting on a mountain of cartoons made of money. The company’s IP is legendary, and just like in the 90s (did you go EPCOT as a kid?) Disney is making sure that the general public’s first taste of virtual reality will be with a world you already love… in this case, Star Wars. Teaming up with The VOID from Utah, the team behind the Ghostbusters immersive activation in Time Square, Disney is bringing us immersive Star Wars experiences to similar high-foot traffic areas. So, if you’re right outside of the official park gates of Anaheim or Orlando-- you can jump into the world of jedis without buying a ticket to the park. Sounds like Disney really wants you to experience the magic.
 

Related Stocks:  The Walt Disney Company ($DIS)

 

5. FUNDING & INVESTMENT WRAPUP

Based in Tel Aviv, Inception VR announced a Series A round of $15M hot on the heels of their recent partnership with Pitchfork. A production house and content platform, the company aims to be the Netflix of VR. Europe’s biggest broadcaster, RTL Group, led the round -- with participation from Gigi Levy-Weiss, James Packer, and iAngels.

 

Based in Los Angeles, content company and platform Within has raised $40M in Series B funding; this round brings their total investment to $56.6M. The company was originally known as Vrse, and you probably know co-founder and CEO Chris Milk as the empathy machine guy. They have a big partnership with IMAX for location-based rollouts, and the Series B round was led by Emerson Collective and Temasek with participation from 21st Century Fox, Raine Ventures, WPP, Macro Ventures, and Andreesen Horowitz.

 

The Venture Reality fund, makers of fantastic industry infographics and who just released their Q2 Augmented Reality landscape, share their findings on the VR sector’s investment activity in Europe. The fund identified almost 500 companies, up from 300 from the first Europe-focused report from February 2017. It looks like regional points of concentration are the UK, France, Sweden, and Germany-- and rising areas of focus are user input and enterprise solutions (like Improbable, which recently raised $500M), while gaming is the most competitive and saturated vertical.
 

Related Stocks:  IMAX Corporation ($IMAX), Twenty-First Century Fox, Inc. ($FOX)

...and just a few more

 

STRONG SALES BOOSTS APPLE STOCK, PRIMES RELEASE OF ARKIT

 

CREATORS OF AMERICAN IDOL LAUNCH MIXED REALITY TV SHOW IN NORWAY

 

WILL GOOGLE LET YOU ANIMATE YOUR SCENES MADE WITH BLOCKS SOON?

 

THE METAVERSE TRYING TO BUILD ON BLOCKCHAIN

 

THE POPULAR CREATOR TOOL ‘QUILL’  LIVES ON UNDER FACEBOOK’S SOCIAL VR TEAM

 

HP WANTS YOU TO PUT YOUR COMPUTER ON YOUR BACK

 

THE 2ND GOOGLE TANGO COMPATIBLE PHONE IS FINALLY HERE… AND IT’S NOT MADE FOR GIANTS