There was so much compelling news in the world of VR and AR this July I couldn’t possibly cover it all with the usual depth and relish to which readers have become accustomed. This is one of those cases where by the time I returned from vacation most of the July recap below wasn’t really news anymore but this news, taken as a group, is a testament to the continued entrepreneurial energy being lavished on immersive tech and illustrates how things come over the transom to me in no particular order.
This story contains news and commentary about new tricks from old dogs, like Dave & Busters, and new companies we’ve never heard of, like Looking Glass, who are developing Digital Assistants, Artificial Intelligence, and new Motion Capture techniques.
Jurassic World LBVR at Dave & Busters
Dave & Busters launched Jurassic World VR motion platform experience at all 111 Dave & Buster’s domestic locations. I spent an hour in Dave & Buster’s in Times Square last Wednesday and went through the simulation twice. It’s terrific. Best 5 minutes of VR $5 will ever buy you. D&B is not terribly crowded, as you would expect, at 9pm on a weeknight, but there was a crowd of thirty people waiting to board the bonafide theme park quality ride in the midst of the massive arcade. People loved it. Grandmothers and six-year-olds. Loved. It. Screaming their heads off and very, very present in Jurassic World. And they didn’t shoot anything but pictures.
Kudos to Dave & Buster’s for cooking the whole deal up with Universal Studios, The Virtual Reality Company, which did the content, and motion platform integration, and to VRStudios which provided the VRcade Attraction Management Platform.
I spent some time wandering around D&B and playing games after experiencing Jurrasic World, courtesy of a very generous D&B manager. None of these amusements compared to the experience just had. The VRCompany informs me they have already had 0ver 600 thousand patrons. Doing some quick math, that’s a gross of three million dollars and counting. No wonder people are excited about Location Based VR.
Meet Looking Glass – AR on Your Desktop Without Glasses
I had a chance to meet with Looking Glass Factory co-founder and CEO Shawn Frayne who gave me a demo of Looking Glass’ Holographic desktop Display for volumetric content. The device, targeting 3D content creators, is available for pre-order in limited quantities on Kickstarter until August 24th. I usually don’t write about Kickstarter campaigns, having been burned more than once, but in this case, I tried the product and recommend it without hesitation. It’s compatible with 3D creation programs like Maya, Unity, and Blender.
The AR display allows users to preview 3D objects, characters, and models and show them to clients, coworkers, or audiences without a headset. Most importantly, with its 50-degree field of view, a number of people can view the 3D simultaneously. Frayne told me the image is created with light field and volumetric display technology which creates 45 views of the object. Coupled with a Leap Motion Controller, the 3D objects displayed can be manipulated with the users’ hands.
Looking Glass passed its Kickstarter goal of $50,000 in a couple of hours. $509,969 has been pledged so far. Models will start shipping in September and continue as inventory is replenished from China through December. After the pre-order window is over, the Standard (8.9 inch) model is $600 and the Large (15.9 inch) goes for $3,000.
The Brooklyn, NY startup has raised $13 million in funding from investors like Brad Feld’s Foundry Group, Lux Capital, SOSV, and Uncork Capital.
Sanar – Intel – Smithsonian Create Virtual Burning Man
Jason Gholston and Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) Curator Nora Atkinson met me in a virtual replica in Sansar of SAAM’s Renwick Gallery in Washington, DC, to share their current exhibit, “No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man”. Unlike the exhibit in IRL this show will never close. Intel provided a valuable assist by processing the photogrammetric capture of the pieces in the exhibit, while massive virtual world Sansar provided the VR platform for the virtual gallery. I would note you can enter Sansar on your laptop. You do not need a VR rig to see this, although that is the best experience.
Burning Man is an annual event in the western United States at Black Rock City – a temporary city erected in the Black Rock Desert of northwest Nevada, approximately 100 miles north-northeast of Reno. I’ve always wanted to go. The exclusive annual event is a veritable nerd Woodstock, where art and technology meet in the desert for exhibitions, events, and community. One of the striking qualities of the exhibition is the scale of the art there. People cavort in colorful costumes around the large-scale art and working conceptual contraptions. In addition, many art pieces are mobile and/or interactive and some even travel around to many of the hundreds of campsites formed by the convergence of thousands of RVs and campers. Tickets to Burning Man are sold by lottery on their website. Many are re-sold on StubHub, Craigslist, and eBay for hundreds of dollars over face value. If you’re inclined to pay a premium, you can still go later this month: Burning Man takes place on the 26th of August through the 4th of September.
With support from Intel and Sansar (which is part of Linden Lab, which created and operates Second Life), SAAM was able to virtually recreate pieces from the exhibition in striking detail, at realistic scale, heretofore unachievable without being present at Burning Man.
Photogrammetry was used to capture the museum pieces, which include a sixty-foot tall metal statue of a woman, and a fully operational antique bus converted into a cinema. Photogrammetry is a process of capturing spaces and things with thousands of still photos taken from numerous angles. The images are crunched by a program that stitches the photos together into a detailed 3D space or object, which can be edited and enhanced.
Behind-the-scenes videos from the making of this experience, developed by Intel’s in-house creative team, Agency Inside, are available on YouTube:
The art of access, featuring the exhibit’s curator, Nora Atkinson
The art of The art of ‘Truth is Beauty’, featuring artist Marco Cochrane
The art of photogrammetry, featuring Academy award-winning photogrammetrist, Greg Downing
Lenovo’s New Smart Home Device Delivers Google’s Suite Of Digital Assistants
Lenovo opened a new front in the virtual assistant war between the Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. Enter the new Lenovo Smart Display with Google Assistant, which hit the shelves of major retailers (but not Amazon) last week. Like the Amazon Echo Show, the Smart Display addresses the “pain point” of speaker-only assistants. “We think the Smart Display can be the home’s IoT control center,” Lenovo’s Carly Okerfelt, Senior Product Manager, told me during a demo July 19th.
The Smart Display is sleek. There’s no battery. No keyboard. It’s not a pad. It’s a smart speaker with a screen. You use your voice for just about everything from, setting calendar reminders, making to-do lists, pulling up old Google Photos, and listening to music or podcasts. If you’ve got a Nest enabled home, you’ll be able to access the remote cameras, shut off the lights, and set the thermostat.
Lenovo extols use cases like finding recipes for cooking, listening to the news, pulling up directions, and easily connecting to Duo, Google’s answer to Facetime. As a kitchen assistant, the Lenovo Smart Display utilizes Google apps you may never have heard of, like Google Shopping Lists, and Google Expenses. Reviewers from The Verge, Cnet, Digital Trends, and TechRadar singled out the kitchen assistant abilities of the Smart Display. After all, how can you scroll to a Youtube video or a recipe with your hands covered in cake batter?
The screen can provide a richer experience around using a voice assistant. Ask for nearby restaurants and the Lenovo Smart Display shows you a list of options while the embedded Google Assistant reads them off. You can use your finger or your voice to get more specific venue information, such as directions and pictures. You can also use Lenovo’s display to make video calls or watch videos on YouTube.
The stylish Smart Display comes in two flavors, a $249 10″ screen or an 8″ priced at $199. The 7″ Echo show lists for $229, but Amazon is the only place selling it at that price. It has recently been discounted at Best Buy and Macy’s by $100 to $129.
At the same time, Mayfield Robotics announced this week the premature passing of its uber disappointing Kuri, the doe-eyed $800 home robot, basically Smart Display on wheels. I feel bad for the first adopters who took a chance on Kuri, believing the company’s claim it had developed a robust ecosystem for new apps.
Human Interact Lab Is Building The AI Platform Of The Future
Yao Huang, CEO of Venture Capital Group and Incubator The Hatchery, is an International Business Consultant with strong ties to China. She has an impressive record of brokering deals between large Western companies and the Chinese government.
Yao and I were recently introduced by a mutual friend, and she was kind enough to give me a crash course in AI two weeks ago over soup dumplings in Manhattan. Yao is personally leading The Hatchery’s investment in Chicago-based, Human Interact, and acting as its CEO.
Human Interact is building an AI platform with tech that originated at Microsoft. This short video explains it better than I can (link). And this short video (link) shows off Human Interact’s amazing AI-enabled VR experience, Starship Commander, which Human Interact developed to demonstrate the power of the platform they are building. It’s the dialogue, the ability to talk to the character that’s so interesting and potentially disruptive to so many verticals.
Holosuit Offers The First Full Body Motion Capture Suit & Gloves
Finally, I just gotta give a shout out to Kaaya Tech, led by CEO Harsha Kikkeri, who has finally made a full body mo-cap suit, including jacket or jersey, pants, gloves and haptic feedback, for cheap. The whole suit is $1,399, and the gloves alone $99 and will interface via Bluetooth or WiFi with any computer, tablet, smartphone or XR device. Their successful Kickstarter just ended, but the gear is for sale at their website https://www.holosuit.com/h_s_shop/.
Kikkeri, a former Microsoft executive who worked in the robotics division, has bootstrapped the entire project. In addition to the traditional B-to-B market for prosumer mo-cap solutions, the company envisions diverse use cases for training, medicine, and leisure. Kaaya Tech has partnerships in place for factory training, military simulation training and disaster response, surgery and paramedic training, a cricket academy and game development.
“The controller remains the Achilles heel of mixed reality, with cumbersome and unnatural handheld devices only tracking your hand movement in a limited range,” said Kikkeri. “We designed HoloSuit from the ground up to provide an unparalleled immersive, full-body and bidirectional AR/VR/MR experience.” Rocking my High Fidelity avatar with a full body mo-cap suit is something I can’t wait to try.
Charlie Fink is a former Disney & AOL exec and Forbes columnist. In the 90s, he ran VR pioneer Virtual World. He’s the author of Charlie Fink’s Metaverse, An AR Enabled Guide to VR & AR.