Apple’s AR/VR headset will arrive in January 2023, analyst projects

An early augmented reality demo by Apple, using a smartphone instead of a headset.

Enlarge / An early augmented reality demo by Apple, using a smartphone instead of a headset. (credit: Apple)

Tech industry analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has offered the most specific prediction about a release date for an Apple augmented reality/virtual reality headset yet: January 2023.

Kuo has often made accurate, informed predictions about Apple’s plans in the past, based partly on information from sources in the company’s supply chain. On Thursday, he published a lengthy analysis of the VR headset industry and predicted that Apple’s device will “likely” arrive in January.

Kuo called the headset “the most complicated product Apple has ever designed,” noting that many current Apple suppliers are involved in the supply chain for the product. He also supported other recent leaks and speculation that the upcoming headset will not be exclusively or primarily focused on augmented reality (which places virtual options in real-world space) rather than virtual reality (which immerses the wearer in an entirely virtual space).

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#apple, #ar, #augmented-reality, #meta, #ming-chi-kuo, #mixed-reality, #tech, #tim-cook, #virtual-reality, #vr, #xr

The full saga of Apple’s troubled mixed reality headset has been revealed

A man in a tee-shirt sits onstage.

Enlarge / Jony Ive speaks onstage during the 2017 New Yorker TechFest in New York City. (credit: Brian Ach/Getty Images)

A series of reports in The Information paint a detailed picture of progression, politics, and problems facing Apple’s plan to develop a virtual, augmented, or mixed reality headset since the initiative picked up steam back in 2015.

Citing several people familiar with the product, including some who worked on it directly, the reports describe a contest of wills over the direction of the device. The standoff was between Apple’s mixed reality product team (called the “Technology Development Group”) and famed Apple designer Jony Ive and his industrial design team. The report sheds light on Apple’s direction for the device, which Bloomberg recently reported is nearing launch.

They also claim that Apple CEO Tim Cook has been relatively hands-off from the product compared to others like the iPhone, and that the Technology Development Group’s location in a separate office from the main Apple headquarters has been a source of problems and frustration.

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#apple, #ar, #augmented-reality, #jonathan-ive, #jony-ive, #mike-rockwell, #mixed-reality, #reality-os, #ros, #tech, #tim-cook, #virtual-reality, #vr, #xr

Quest 2 reveal flurry: Ghostbusters VR, Boneworks sequel, Cities VR, more

On Wednesday, the latest Oculu—er, Meta Quest virtual reality gaming showcase revealed a mix of sequels and new games coming to the all-in-one Quest 2 system “within the next year.”

The event’s biggest game reveal came in the form of Bonelab, a sequel to 2019’s innovative-but-clumsy PC-VR exclusive Boneworks. Its designers at Stress Level Zero insist that this sequel will come to the weaker Quest 2 hardware, along with a PC-VR version “later this year.”

Like the PC original, Bonelab will revolve around a mix of parkour- and physics-driven interactions with guns and melee weapons, only this time, it will take place in a variety of fantasy-style levels and include new monsters, like walking skeletons—which VR players can apparently grab with their hands and tear apart, bone by bone. Its Quest 2 version will support community-made mods like maps, weapons, and outfits—though it’s unclear exactly how those will be built and imported into the Quest version.

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#gaming-culture, #meta-quest, #oculus-quest, #virtual-reality

Apple’s AR/VR headset isn’t just a prototype anymore, sources say

An augmented reality demo by Apple, using a smartphone instead of a headset.

Enlarge / An augmented reality demo by Apple, using a smartphone instead of a headset. (credit: Apple)

Apple’s mixed reality headset has moved beyond the prototype phases and is barreling toward production, according to a new report in DigiTimes that cites component suppliers. DigiTimes claims that Apple has already conducted “second-phase engineering validation and testing (EVT 2)” for the headset.

“EVT 2” is a phase along Apple’s path to production. The company begins with prototypes before moving on to the first EVT (engineering validation testing) phase. “EVT 2” indicates that this is the second phase of testing for the device during that phase.

After engineering validation, Apple moves on to design validation and then to production validation before production finally begins.

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#apple, #ar, #augmented-reality, #digitimes, #mixed-reality, #tech, #virtual-reality, #vr, #xr

Metaverse vs. employment law: The reality of the virtual workplace

Metaverse vs. employment law: The reality of the virtual workplace

Enlarge (credit: Meta)

In December, 43-year-old doctoral researcher Nina Jane Patel put on a headset and entered Meta’s virtual world to see what was happening that day. “Within seconds of being there, there were three avatars near me,” she says. “Suddenly they were taking selfies… I couldn’t see at first that they were groping the avatar’s upper body… They were yelling at me, ‘Don’t pretend you don’t like it, this is what you came for.’”

The incident took place in the metaverse, an immersive virtual world accessed via wearable technology in which tech groups expect us to spend a far greater proportion of time in the future, both playing and, crucially, working.

When it comes to employment laws, however, it is unclear what rules of engagement apply in a universal digital realm. What counts as harassment in the metaverse? Can an avatar be discriminated against, or worse? Will national legislation protect employees or does working in the metaverse require a new rule book altogether?

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#employment-law, #facebook, #meta, #metaverse, #policy, #virtual-reality

Apple’s “realityOS” surfaces in GitHub commits, App Store logs

An enormous ring-shaped building on a green campus.

Enlarge / Apple’s global headquarters in Cupertino, California. (credit: Sam Hall/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Software developers have discovered apparent references to a new Apple operating system called “realityOS” in App Store upload logs and in GitHub repositories used by the company.

The references were shared widely by developers Rens Verhoeven and Steve Troughton-Smith on Twitter. Verhoeven tweeted:

The tweet was accompanied by a screenshot from the logs that included “com.apple.platform.realityos” alongside a similar reference for an existing platform, “com.apple.platform.watchos.”

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#apple, #ar, #augmented-reality, #github, #ios, #mark-gurman, #ming-chi-kuo, #mixed-reality, #realityos, #rens-verhoeven, #ros, #steve-troughton-smith, #tech, #virtual-reality, #vr, #xr

Sony patent could solve the “god ray” problem in PSVR2

The small light-absorbing portions (labeled 12 in this diagram) are key to Sony's solution to the "god ray" problem.

Enlarge / The small light-absorbing portions (labeled 12 in this diagram) are key to Sony’s solution to the “god ray” problem. (credit: Sony / USPTO)

If you’ve spent any significant amount of time in virtual reality, you’ve probably encountered issues with “god rays,” a specific type of lens flare that looks a bit like a sunbeam shining through the clouds and right on your eye. Now, a recently unearthed patent from Sony suggests the PlayStation VR maker may have solved that problem for its upcoming PlayStation VR2 headset.

The presence of god rays (or crepuscular rays, to use a more technical and less religious term) in virtual reality is an artifact from the use of Fresnel lenses in most headsets. Unlike a traditional dome-shaped lens, a Fresnel lens uses precisely angled concentric grooves on the surface of a clear flat panel to focus light on a specific point.

This lets Fresnel lenses operate at a much smaller focal length and with a thinner and lighter profile than a traditional lens, making them ideal for virtual reality headsets. But the downside is that the edges of those concentric grooves sometimes throw a ray of light sideways rather than focusing it, which can show up as a crepuscular ray when it hits your eye.

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#gaming-culture, #psvr, #psvr2, #sony, #virtual-reality, #vr

Meta establishes four-foot “personal boundary” to deter VR groping

Cartoon representation of personal boundaries between virtual avatars.

Enlarge / In the metaverse the actual boundaries will be invisible, but the results will be the same. (credit: Meta)

In the real world, the idea of personal space is ingrained from a young age and enforced mainly by unspoken interpersonal contract and subtle social pressure. In the world of virtual reality, on the other hand, Facebook parent Meta is now using software enforce a four-foot zone of “personal space” for each avatar in its metaverse-style social spaces.

As detailed in a recent blog post, Meta’s Horizon Worlds and Horizon Venues spaces now include a default personal boundary that “prevents avatars from coming within a set distance of each other, creating more personal space for people and making it easier to avoid unwanted interactions.”

The system in effect sets up an invisible cylinder with a two-foot radius that surrounds each avatar; if user movement would cause two cylinders to overlap, “the system will halt their forward movement as they reach the boundary” without any other overt feedback. Two users will be able to jointly reach outside their personal boundary for interactions like a high-five or fist-bump, Meta writes. Having the system on by default will “help to set behavioral norms—and that’s important for a relatively new medium like VR,” Meta writes.

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#gaming-culture, #horizon, #meta, #virtual-reality

Exploring mind-bending questions about reality and virtual worlds via The Matrix

Virtual worlds might be digital, but they can be as real and meaningful as our physical world, philosopher David Chalmers argues in his new book, <em>Reality+: Virtual Worlds and the Problems of Philosophy.</em>

Enlarge / Virtual worlds might be digital, but they can be as real and meaningful as our physical world, philosopher David Chalmers argues in his new book, Reality+: Virtual Worlds and the Problems of Philosophy. (credit: Aurich Lawson | Getty Images | David Chalmers)

There’s a famous scene in The Matrix where Neo goes to see The Oracle. He meets another potential in the waiting room: a young child who seemingly bends a spoon with his mind. Noticing Neo’s fascination, he tells him, “Do not try and bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth.” And what is that truth? “There is no spoon,” the child says.

The implication is that the Matrix is an illusion, a false world constructed by the machines to keep human beings sedated and docile while their bodies serve as batteries to power the Matrix. But what if this assumption is wrong, and the Matrix were instead just as real as the physical world? In that case, the child would more accurately have said, “Try to realize the truth. There is a spoon—a digital spoon.”

That’s the central argument of a new book, Reality+: Virtual Worlds and the Problems of Philosophy, by New York University philosopher David Chalmers. The Australian-born Chalmers is perhaps best known for his development in the 1990s of what’s known as the hard problem of consciousness. Things like the ability to discriminate, categorize, and react to environmental stimuli; the brain’s ability to integrate information; and the difference between wakefulness and sleep can all be explained by identifying an underlying mechanism.

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#books, #gaming-culture, #philosophy, #science, #science-philosophy, #technology, #technology-and-culture, #technophilosophy, #the-matrix, #virtual-reality

First details leak on Project Iris, Google’s next AR headset

Promotional image of AR glasses.

Enlarge / Product photography of the Google Glass wearable. Project Iris won’t look like this; it is said to more closely resemble ski goggles than casual glasses. (credit: Google)

Google engineers are developing a new augmented reality (AR) headset, according to a report by The Verge citing two people familiar with the project.

Google hopes to ship the product—codenamed “Project Iris”—sometime in 2024, but that date is likely not set in stone.

Like Apple’s rumored mixed reality glasses, Project Iris would be wireless and use external cameras to send an augmented image of the real world to you. And like one of the devices Apple has reportedly worked on, the glasses would leave the heavy-duty graphics processing to an external computer. In Google’s case, the device will rely on cloud computing instead of nearby hardware.

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#ar, #augmented-reality, #clay-bavor, #google, #google-glass, #mixed-reality, #project-iris, #project-starline, #tech, #the-verge, #virtual-reality, #vr, #xr

Report: Apple’s first AR/VR headset faces delays

The "Sword of Damocles" head-mounted display, the original augmented reality headset, circa 1968.

Enlarge / The “Sword of Damocles” head-mounted display, the original augmented reality headset, circa 1968. (credit: Ivan Sutherland)

Apple may delay the launch of its first mixed reality headset, according to Bloomberg.

Multiple sources had previously claimed that the device was likely to launch in 2022, and Apple seemed poised to introduce its new mixed reality platform to developers at the company’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) this June.

But according to “people familiar with the situation” with whom Bloomberg reporters Mark Gurman, Takashi Mochizuki, and Debby Wu spoke, the announcement of the new headset could fall to “the end of 2022 or later, with the product hitting shelves by 2023.”

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#apple, #apple-vision, #ar, #augmented-reality, #bloomberg, #mark-gurman, #mixed-reality, #tech, #virtual-reality, #vr, #xr

Report: Meta pulls the plug on its AR/VR operating system ambitions

The Oculus Quest 2, Meta's most popular VR headset today.

Enlarge / The Oculus Quest 2, Meta’s most popular VR headset today. (credit: Sam Machkovech)

Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, has pulled the plug on its current efforts to develop an operating system for AR and VR devices, The Information reported today.

Citing “two people familiar with the decision,” the article claims that Meta will return to the status quo of running Oculus devices—and perhaps future mixed reality devices—on a modified version of Google’s Android operating system for mobile phones.

The project, which was internally called XROS, had reportedly been underway for years and “involved hundreds of employees.” Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg was talking up its potential only a few short months ago. The reasons for Meta’s decision to pull the plug are not publicly known at this time.

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#apple, #ar, #facebook, #mark-zuckerberg, #meta, #mixed-reality, #tech, #virtual-reality, #vr, #xr

Sony confirms PlayStation VR2’s specs, first official game

It's not much to look at, but at least the name is official.

Enlarge / It’s not much to look at, but at least the name is official. (credit: Sony)

Sony’s trickle of information about its future in virtual reality continued on Tuesday with the surprise announcement of an unsurprising name: PlayStation VR2. Thankfully, the name comes with a dump of specs that confirm Sony’s aspirations to deliver one of the most robust VR systems yet on the consumer market.

The upcoming VR add-on, which will require a PlayStation 5 to function, is still missing crucial stats like a release date, a price, or even a photo of what the primary headset will look like. In some ways, it’s reminiscent the Meta Quest 2 (formerly Oculus Quest 2), as it includes a comparable pixel resolution (2,000 x 2,040 pixels per eye, or roughly 15.7 percent more than Quest 2’s per-eye count), a comparable field-of-view of 110 degrees, and a comparable “inside-out” array of cameras that will track a user’s space without requiring an external device like the original PSVR‘s webcam.

It’s thinking (and watching)

We previously knew that PSVR2 would require a hardwired connection to PlayStation 5 consoles, unlike the default wireless freedom of Quest 2. Today, however, Sony revealed two potentially huge differentiators over its VR headset competition: haptic feedback, and internal eye-tracking.

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#gaming-culture, #meta-quest-2, #oculus-quest, #oculus-quest-2, #playstation-vr, #playstation-vr-2, #psvr, #virtual-reality

What to expect from Apple in 2022: ARM desktops, portless iPhones, and more

Close-up photograph of the ports on the side of a notebook computer.

Enlarge / The 2021 MacBook Pro with MagSafe isn’t the last Apple Silicon transition we’ll see. The Mac Pro and 27-inch iMac will probably be updated in 2022. (credit: Samuel Axon)

2021 might have been the calm before the storm.

Except for the introduction of a few new Apple Silicon Macs, 2021 has been a quiet year for Apple. The new iPhones offered improved cameras and battery life but were otherwise nearly identical to 2020’s models. And apart from a slight bump in screen size, the new Apple Watch is barely distinguishable from its predecessors.

As 2021 draws to a close and we look ahead to 2022, it’s a safe bet that next year is going to be a lot more interesting. So we have some predictions to share.

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#apple, #ar, #augmented-reality, #imac-pro, #iphone-14, #m1-max, #m1-pro, #m2, #mac-pro, #mixed-reality, #tech, #virtual-reality, #vr, #xr

With Mesh for Teams, Microsoft plans to bring 3D workspaces to remote workers in 2022

An interface and virtual workspace for Mesh for Teams.

Enlarge / An interface and virtual workspace for Mesh for Teams. (credit: Microsoft)

Microsoft has announced its intention to create an immersive 3D platform called “Mesh for Teams” for virtual meetings. As the name suggests, Mesh for Teams builds on the company’s existing Teams collaboration platform and implements the mixed reality features of Microsoft Mesh.

Announced earlier this year, Mesh is a platform for virtual meetings and other collaborative gatherings in mixed reality (a catch-all term for virtual reality, augmented reality, or any combination of the two) using a variety of devices like the company’s own HoloLens products and Windows Mixed Reality headsets, among others. Users would have persistent avatars that accurately reflect their body language and facial expressions and would be able to wander around a virtual workplace.

Workplaces would use Mesh for Teams to invite employees to log in to 3D or 2D collaborative workspaces. Sitting around a virtual conference table, workers would be able to do some things that aren’t possible in the real world. For example, a presenter could see her notes in 3D space near a virtual white board while those watching the presentation only see what she writes on the board.

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#ar, #augmented-reality, #meetings, #metaverse, #microsoft, #microsoft-mesh, #microsoft-mesh-for-teams, #microsoft-teams, #mixed-reality, #tech, #virtual-reality, #virtual-workplace, #vr, #xr

Apple’s first headset will focused on “high-quality” games, reporter claims

An augmented reality demo by Apple.

Enlarge / An augmented reality demo by Apple. (credit: Apple)

In the past few days, two new reports have shed light on the specifications and strategy behind Apple’s upcoming mixed reality headset. Both claim that Apple is on a path to launching its first augmented reality/virtual reality headset as soon as next year and that the product will feature ultrahigh-end specifications and technologies.

Writing in his weekly Bloomberg newsletter, reporter Mark Gurman says the new headset will feature “advanced” chips, displays, and sensors and that it will have “avatar-based features.” That latter point indicates that Apple has a similar vision for how the headset could be used to that of Meta, whose CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been declaring a vision of social interconnectedness through AR and VR experiences.

Gurman also writes that Apple’s first headset will be a mixed reality one, supporting both VR and AR applications. The long-rumored consumer AR glasses will come much later, “years down the road.” While investment has been pouring into research on AR technology, there remain numerous major technological roadblocks to mass-market consumer AR glasses, and it is unclear when all that investment might translate into a viable, mainstream product.

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#apple, #ar, #augmented-reality, #bloomberg, #mark-gurman, #ming-chi-kuo, #mixed-reality, #tech, #virtual-reality, #vr, #xr

Resident Evil 4 VR analysis: Use Sidequest to access what Facebook denies you

This faked perspective of <em>Resident Evil 4</em>'s monsters coming at you implies that playing the new VR version will make your VR lenses crack. Ars Technica can verify that this is not actually the case—and even better, after applying some manual, "developer mode" toggles, the game is quite good.

Enlarge / This faked perspective of Resident Evil 4‘s monsters coming at you implies that playing the new VR version will make your VR lenses crack. Ars Technica can verify that this is not actually the case—and even better, after applying some manual, “developer mode” toggles, the game is quite good. (credit: Capcom / Facebook)

After testing Thursday’s virtual reality launch of Resident Evil 4 (RE4VR), currently an Oculus Quest exclusive, I found myself equally impressed and puzzled. As the roughly 4,000th port of RE4 since the game’s original 2005 launch, this new version manages to establish itself as the action-horror classic’s best version. New and old players should give this one a try—even if it’s missing a few crucial elements.

But as of press time, our recommendation comes with some asterisks, so this is both a review and a technical guide. Facebook may sell the Oculus Quest as a simple “set-and-forget” path to VR, but in the case of RE4VR, I recommend going through some complicated steps to make the game far more playable on its target platform of the Quest 2—and I’ll explain the iffy method to unlock the game’s compatibility with the Quest 1. It’s unfortunate that Facebook, Capcom, and porting studio Armature didn’t straighten all this out for average customers in the first place.

Investigating the Quest 1 restriction

For now, this version of Resident Evil 4 only works on Oculus Quest hardware, not on Windows PCs or PlayStation 4’s VR mode. Capcom seems to love locking VR versions of its horror games to specific platforms, as the groundbreaking VR mode in 2017’s Resident Evil 7 remains exclusive to PlayStation VR. (Seriously, Capcom? Five years later, and you still haven’t ported that wonderful game to a more powerful VR system?)

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#gaming-culture, #oculus-quest, #resident-evil, #resident-evil-4, #virtual-reality, #vr

Vive Flow is HTC’s newest “all-in-one” VR headset, coming October 15 for $499

After a few ho-hum announcements earlier this year, HTC’s virtual reality division has returned with arguably its boldest (and most mysterious) product launch yet: the HTC Vive Flow.

The new headset, whose basic concept leaked on Tuesday via a massive Twitter image dump, will be available for preorder at some point today (perhaps right now, as this story goes live) for $499. Unlike HTC’s Vive Pro line, this new VR headset does not appear to prioritize gaming or other higher-fidelity use cases.

Instead, this all-in-one headset—whose massive, outward-facing lenses resemble something from a Venture Bros. henchman’s outfit—appears to have casual users in mind. Today’s announcement highlights apps that focus on “meditation,” “brain training,” and “collaborating and socializing,” and the latter example requires using HTC’s own Vive Sync virtual conferencing software. Additionally, promotional materials provided to Ars ahead of today’s reveal mention simple VR games for the platform, like Space Slurpies. (No, I never thought I’d type the words “space slurpies” in an Ars article, either.) The headset does not currently include any way to connect to gaming-grade computers, either wired or wireless, to run higher-fidelity VR experiences.

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#gaming-culture, #htc-vive, #htc-vive-flow, #virtual-reality, #vr

VR, AR, wearables, and smart home tech are now mainstream, research says

It wasn’t long ago that virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) headsets, smartwatches, and voice-controlled homes were the fantasies of books and movies. Today, VR, AR, wearables, and smart home tech have passed the early-adoption phase and are all firmly part of the “mass market,” according to research that the International Data Corporation (IDC) shared today. The global research firm predicted that the combined market will hit $369.6 billion by the end of 2021 and grow to $524.9 billion in 2025. 

IDC expects AR and VR combined to show the most growth out of the three categories, thanks to both businesses and individual consumers. The latter is particularly interested in “robust gaming solutions,” IDC said. Businesses represent the bulk of AR spending today, but IDC thinks the market for AR headsets targeting the general public will grow. It predicted a 67.9 percent compound annual growth rate from 2020 to 2025 for AR and VR combined, which is more than 10 times the next competitor, smart home tech (10.1 percent growth rate).

Smart home tech will represent the most valuable market, however, with a predicted 2025 value of over $400.3 billion. The biggest sellers will reportedly be smart TVs, streaming players, and other “networked entertainment devices,” which are expected to represent $229 billion in 2025. 

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#ar, #augmented-reality, #idc, #smart-home, #tech, #uncategorized, #virtual-reality, #vr, #wearables

A new “standalone” Valve VR headset teased by deep SteamVR file dive

What might the next Valve VR headset look like? Will it resemble the existing Valve Index, complete with a "frunk" and giant, hovering speakers? And will it ever launch at retail? Those details remain unclear, but our reporting suggests something that features Oculus Quest-like "standalone" operability.

Enlarge / What might the next Valve VR headset look like? Will it resemble the existing Valve Index, complete with a “frunk” and giant, hovering speakers? And will it ever launch at retail? Those details remain unclear, but our reporting suggests something that features Oculus Quest-like “standalone” operability. (credit: Aurich Lawson | Ars Technica)

What’s in the future for VR headsets made by Valve, who launched the pricey, bulky, and impressive Valve Index in August 2019? The best information in the wild right now seems to be coming from Valve themselves—with datamining discoveries and patent applications adding up to something that looks like a brand-new Valve VR system with some form of built-in wireless functionality.

Sources familiar with matters at Valve have confirmed to Ars that information in the wild is legitimate—at least, in terms of products being made within Valve’s headquarters, though not necessarily seeing retail launch.

A new, unclear “ism”

This week’s information roundup comes courtesy of VR industry reporter and YouTube channel host Brad Lynch, who received a tip after tracking months of Valve patent applications. The tip came in the form of a code-named device, “Deckard,” mentioned in SteamVR’s publicly available branches from as far back as January. Ars can confirm the legitimacy of “Deckard” as a code-named device worked on inside of Valve’s headquarters.

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#gaming-culture, #steamvr, #valve, #valve-index, #virtual-reality, #vr

Niio announces $15M Series A following strategic partnership with Samsung Displays

Niio, a Tel Aviv-based digital art platform featuring work ranging from contemporary artists and galleries through to NFTs, announced today it has closed $15 million Series A funding in the wake of a strategic partnership with Samsung Displays, announced last week.

The round was co-led by L Catterton, a joint venture between LVMH and Catterton, Entrée Capital and Pico Venture Partners. Additional investors also joined, including Saga VC, as well as leading artists, art collectors, museums, gallerists and trustees at institutions such as MOMA and Guggenheim as well as Shalom McKenzie, an online gambling entrepreneur and investor who also invests in NFTs. Prior to the Series A round, Niio had raised $8 million, initially from strategic angels, followed by a seed round from institutions in 2017.

Niio will use its capital to grow its artist community and scale its app-enabled subscription and purchase platform, which is blockchainbased and will include a trading-enabled marketplace for NFTs and other digital art assets.

“Digital art has become an accepted, mainstream medium with the market accelerating largely due to the explosive growth of NFTs,” said Niio CEO and co-founder Rob Anders. “The transformation people are experiencing is the most significant and consequential moment for culture in decades, making new kinds of art accessible and experienced on screens in ways like never before.”

Niio’s technology enables users to stream digital artwork on any digital screen, bridging the gap between art and creating a platform similar to what music and entertainment streaming services have done for albums and movies.

Niio, founded by Rob Anders and Oren Moshe in 2014, combines an accessible streaming subscription service alongside the ability for people to purchase editioned NFT artwork directly from artists, galleries and content owners, through its public marketplace or via private transactions, Anders told TechCrunch.

Niio is launching its subscription service at the end of 2021 followed by its NFT marketplace — which makes Niio, backed by a global community of art professionals, the most comprehensive end-to-end solution for the digital art medium and ensuring that premium digital art is easily accessible by anyone on any screen, Anders continued.

By providing Niio’s tools to a global community of 6,000 galleries, institutions and artists, Niio’s platform and blockchain enables artists to distribute, manage, monetize and preserve their work.

Niio claims it will be free for all artists, forever, to respect and support the creative community and artists’ ability for publishing, managing and protecting their life’s work.

“We have realized our vision for a platform that first and foremost empowers artists and enables their work to be experienced digitally and available globally. We are gratified by the trust that more than 6,000 artists have placed in us — as we enable them to publish, manage protect and monetize their life’s work,” Niio co-founder Oren Moshe said.

Approximately 10,000 global business customers have been using the Niio platform for the past two to three years, Anders said. Clients range from art professionals, including galleries, museums, studios and art schools, to luxury brands, hotel chains and real estate developers, who subscribe and display curated art streams from the 15,000 premium works available on the platform, to millions of people across public spaces and places in over 30 countries, Anders said.

“There are over 1 billion smart TVs in the market and our partner Samsung has 30-40% of the market contributing to our ability to offer a ‘last mile’ proposition,” Anders said.

The digital art market is projected to be approximately $50 – $100 billion by 2025, according to Anders.

“Digital art has long been on our radar at L Catterton. We are very bullish on its future, and our ongoing evaluation of the sector brought us to Niio,” said Michael Farello, managing partner at L Catterton’s Growth Fund. “We are convinced that their platform approach including both subscription and an NFT offering combined with the reputation they have built in the critical artist community and the validation from their partnership with Samsung – will make them a market leader.”

#digital-art, #funding, #l-catterton, #nfts, #niio, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #virtual-reality

For the love of the loot: Blockchain, the metaverse and gaming’s blind spot

The speed at which gaming has proliferated is matched only by the pace of new buzzwords inundating the ecosystem. Marketers and decision makers, already suffering from FOMO about opportunities within gaming, have latched onto buzzy trends like the applications of blockchain in gaming and the “metaverse” in an effort to get ahead of the trend rather than constantly play catch-up.

The allure is obvious, as the relationship between the blockchain, metaverse, and gaming makes sense. Gaming has always been on the forefront of digital ownership (one can credit gaming platform Steam for normalizing the concept for games, and arguably other media such as movies), and most agreed upon visions of the metaverse rely upon virtual environments common in games with decentralized digital ownership.

Whatever your opinion of either, I believe they both have an interrelated future in gaming. However, the success or relevance of either of these buzzy topics is dependent upon a crucial step that is being skipped at this point.

Let’s start with the example of blockchain and, more specifically, NFTs. Collecting items of varying rarities and often random distribution form some of the core “loops” in many games (i.e. kill monster, get better weapon, kill tougher monster, get even better weapon, etc.), and collecting “skins” (e.g. different outfits/permutation of game character) is one of the most embraced paradigms of micro-transactions in games.

The way NFTs are currently being discussed in relation to gaming are very much in danger of falling into this very trap: Killing the core gameplay loop via a financial fast track.

Now, NFTs are positioned to be a natural fit with various rare items having permanent, trackable, and open value. Recent releases such as “Loot (for Adventurers)” have introduced a novel approach wherein the NFTs are simply descriptions of fantasy-inspired gear and offered in a way that other creators can use them as tools to build worlds around. It’s not hard to imagine a game built around NFT items, à la Loot.

But that’s been done before… kind of. Developers of games with a “loot loop” like the one described above have long had a problem with “farmers”, who acquire game currencies and items to sell to players for real money, against the terms of service of the game. The solution was to implement in-game “auction houses” where players could instead use real money to purchase items from one another.

Unfortunately, this had an unwanted side-effect. As noted by renowned game psychologist Jamie Madigan, our brains are evolved to pay special attention to rewards that are both unexpected and beneficial. When much of the joy in some games comes from an unexpected or randomized reward, being able to easily acquire a known reward with real money robbed the game of what made it fun.

The way NFTs are currently being discussed in relation to gaming are very much in danger of falling into this very trap: Killing the core gameplay loop via a financial fast track. The most extreme examples of this phenomena commit the biggest cardinal sin in gaming — a game that is “pay to win,” where a player with a big bankroll can acquire a material advantage in a competitive game.

Blockchain games such as Axie Infinity have rapidly increased enthusiasm around the concept of “play to earn,” where players can potentially earn money by selling tokenized resources or characters earned within a blockchain game environment. If this sounds like a scenario that can come dangerously close to “pay to win,” that’s because it is.

What is less clear is whether it matters in this context. Does anyone care enough about the core game itself rather than the potential market value of NFTs or earning potential through playing? More fundamentally, if real-world earnings are the point, is it truly a game or just a gamified micro-economy, where “farming” as described above is not an illicit activity, but rather the core game mechanic?

The technology culture around blockchain has elevated solving for very hard problems that very few people care about. The solution (like many problems in tech) involves reevaluation from a more humanist approach. In the case of gaming, there are some fundamental gameplay and game psychology issues to be tackled before these technologies can gain mainstream traction.

We can turn to the metaverse for a related example. Even if you aren’t particularly interested in gaming, you’ve almost certainly heard of the concept after Mark Zuckerberg staked the future of Facebook upon it. For all the excitement, the fundamental issue is that it simply doesn’t exist, and the closest analogs are massive digital game spaces (such as Fortnite) or sandboxes (such as Roblox). Yet, many brands and marketers who haven’t really done the work to understand gaming are trying to fast-track to an opportunity that isn’t likely to materialize for a long time.

Gaming can be seen as the training wheels for the metaverse — the ways we communicate within, navigate, and think about virtual spaces are all based upon mechanics and systems with foundations in gaming. I’d go so far as to predict the first adopters of any “metaverse” will indeed be gamers who have honed these skills and find themselves comfortable within virtual environments.

By now, you might be seeing a pattern: We’re far more interested in the “future” applications of gaming without having much of a perspective on the “now” of gaming. Game scholarship has proliferated since the early aughts due to a recognition of how games were influencing thought in fields ranging from sociology to medicine, and yet the business world hasn’t paid it much attention until recently.

The result is that marketers and decision makers are doing what they do best (chasing the next big thing) without the usual history of why said thing should be big, or what to do with it when they get there. The growth of gaming has yielded an immense opportunity, but the sophistication of the conversations around these possibilities remains stunted, due in part to our misdirected attention.

There is no “pay to win” fast track out of this blind spot. We have to put in the work to win.

#blockchain, #column, #cryptocurrencies, #cryptocurrency, #facebook, #gaming, #loot, #mark-zuckerberg, #metaverse, #nfts, #opinion, #roblox, #startups, #virtual-reality

VR review: Space Pirate Trainer’s new “Arena” is massive, must-play (if you can)

VR review: Space Pirate Trainer’s new “Arena” is massive, must-play (if you can)

Enlarge (credit: I-Illusions)

If you already thought the average VR use case was too inconvenient, you are absolutely not the target market for Space Pirate Arena. Later today, this brand-new mode lands as a free update to the five-year-old VR hit Space Pirate Trainer (whose new name, Space Pirate Trainer DX, still only costs $15 and is a fine VR-action option even for the smallest, weakest VR rigs).

Like other popular VR games, Space Pirate Arena requires strapping into a face-covering headset, which is inconvenient enough. In good news, this game’s wholly free new mode doesn’t require any cables, PCs, or external sensors, owing to its exclusivity to the self-contained Oculus Quest platform. You are, in some ways, quite liberated as this brand of space pirate.

But Arena‘s playable convenience ends there, as the mode pushes Quest and Quest 2 headsets to their room-sensing limit: an exact 10 m x 10 m square (32.8 ft x 32.8 ft) in your VR lasering room of choice, not a centimeter (inch) less. This is because Space Pirate Arena is a fully blown laser tag facsimile, meant to resemble the real-life zap-a-rama that you might associate with ’80s and ’90s malls.

Read 27 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#gaming-culture, #space-pirate-trainer, #virtual-reality, #vr

Meet retail’s new sustainability strategy: Personalization

We have been raised to believe in recycling, but it has mostly been a sham — only 9% of all plastic waste produced in 2018 was recycled. The beauty industry produces over 120 billion units of packaging every year, little of which is recycled. Globally, an estimated 92 million tons of textile waste ends up in landfills.

Reducing waste is key to meeting environmental milestones, and some retail firms have narrowed in on a unique approach to minimize what their customers throw away: personalization. Accurate personalization can guide consumers to the right products, reducing waste while increasing conversion and loyalty.

Reducing waste is key to meeting environmental milestones, and some retail firms have narrowed in on a unique approach to minimize what their customers throw away: personalization.

For big brands and retailers, personalization is expected to be the top category for tech investment this year. Moreover, personalization holds high appeal, with 80% of survey respondents indicating they are more likely to do business with a company if it offers personalized experiences and 90% indicating that they find personalization appealing, according to a survey by Epsilon.

Startups that deliver sustainable personalization solutions that also improve business for retailers and brands fall into three categories:

  • AR virtual try-on with shade matching.
  • Advanced virtual fitting rooms with VR/AR for fashion.
  • Smart packaging with IoT and distributed ledger technology.

AR virtual try-on with shade matching

Faces are easy to map, since it’s not difficult to virtually place a lipstick color on a face, but using AR and AI to recommend skin-tone-matching makeup products has been challenging for many AR virtual try-on companies. “I’ve been searching for an intuitive foundation-shade-finder tool since launching Cult Beauty in 2008, and nothing has lived up to the experience of having a professional match you in daylight until I discovered MIME,” says Alexia Inge, founder of Cult Beauty. “There are so many variables like light, skin tones, prevalent undertones, device, screen, OS, formula density, formula oxidation, as well as preferences for coverage levels, finish, brand and skin type,” she says.

MIME founder and CEO Christopher Merkle said, “Virtual try-on has exploded in the past few years, but for color cosmetics, the technology doesn’t help solve the primary customer pain point: shade matching. From day one, I decided to focus our company’s R&D efforts exclusively on color accuracy. I want to make sure that when the consumer receives their foundation or concealer in the mail, it’s the perfect shade once applied to their skin.”

MIME’s Shade Finder AI allows consumers to take a photo of themselves, answer a few questions, then get matched with a makeup color that pairs with their skin tone. MIME helps retailers and brands increase their online and in-store purchase conversion by up to five times. More than 22% of beauty returns are due to poor customer color purchases, but Merkle says MIME can get returns as low as 0.1%.

#amazon, #apple-inc, #arkit, #artificial-intelligence, #augmented-reality, #body-labs, #column, #cosmetics, #ec-column, #ec-consumer-applications, #ec-ecommerce-and-d2c, #ec-food-climate-and-sustainability, #ecommerce, #marketing, #new-york, #online-shopping, #personalization, #startups, #tc, #true-ventures, #virtual-reality, #walmart

Apple’s dangerous path

Hello friends, and welcome back to Week in Review.

Last week, we dove into the truly bizarre machinations of the NFT market. This week, we’re talking about something that’s a little bit more impactful on the current state of the web — Apple’s NeuralHash kerfuffle.

If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny


the big thing

In the past month, Apple did something it generally has done an exceptional job avoiding — the company made what seemed to be an entirely unforced error.

In early August — seemingly out of nowhere** — the company announced that by the end of the year they would be rolling out a technology called NeuralHash that actively scanned the libraries of all iCloud Photos users, seeking out image hashes that matched known images of child sexual abuse material (CSAM). For obvious reasons, the on-device scanning could not be opted out of.

This announcement was not coordinated with other major consumer tech giants, Apple pushed forward on the announcement alone.

Researchers and advocacy groups had almost unilaterally negative feedback for the effort, raising concerns that this could create new abuse channels for actors like governments to detect on-device information that they regarded as objectionable. As my colleague Zach noted in a recent story, “The Electronic Frontier Foundation said this week it had amassed more than 25,000 signatures from consumers. On top of that, close to 100 policy and rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, also called on Apple to abandon plans to roll out the technology.”

(The announcement also reportedly generated some controversy inside of Apple.)

The issue — of course — wasn’t that Apple was looking at find ways that prevented the proliferation of CSAM while making as few device security concessions as possible. The issue was that Apple was unilaterally making a massive choice that would affect billions of customers (while likely pushing competitors towards similar solutions), and was doing so without external public input about possible ramifications or necessary safeguards.

A long story short, over the past month researchers discovered Apple’s NeuralHash wasn’t as air tight as hoped and the company announced Friday that it was delaying the rollout “to take additional time over the coming months to collect input and make improvements before releasing these critically important child safety features.”

Having spent several years in the tech media, I will say that the only reason to release news on a Friday morning ahead of a long weekend is to ensure that the announcement is read and seen by as few people as possible, and it’s clear why they’d want that. It’s a major embarrassment for Apple, and as with any delayed rollout like this, it’s a sign that their internal teams weren’t adequately prepared and lacked the ideological diversity to gauge the scope of the issue that they were tackling. This isn’t really a dig at Apple’s team building this so much as it’s a dig on Apple trying to solve a problem like this inside the Apple Park vacuum while adhering to its annual iOS release schedule.

illustration of key over cloud icon

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch /

Apple is increasingly looking to make privacy a key selling point for the iOS ecosystem, and as a result of this productization, has pushed development of privacy-centric features towards the same secrecy its surface-level design changes command. In June, Apple announced iCloud+ and raised some eyebrows when they shared that certain new privacy-centric features would only be available to iPhone users who paid for additional subscription services.

You obviously can’t tap public opinion for every product update, but perhaps wide-ranging and trail-blazing security and privacy features should be treated a bit differently than the average product update. Apple’s lack of engagement with research and advocacy groups on NeuralHash was pretty egregious and certainly raises some questions about whether the company fully respects how the choices they make for iOS affect the broader internet.

Delaying the feature’s rollout is a good thing, but let’s all hope they take that time to reflect more broadly as well.

** Though the announcement was a surprise to many, Apple’s development of this feature wasn’t coming completely out of nowhere. Those at the top of Apple likely felt that the winds of global tech regulation might be shifting towards outright bans of some methods of encryption in some of its biggest markets.

Back in October of 2020, then United States AG Bill Barr joined representatives from the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, India and Japan in signing a letter raising major concerns about how implementations of encryption tech posed “significant challenges to public safety, including to highly vulnerable members of our societies like sexually exploited children.” The letter effectively called on tech industry companies to get creative in how they tackled this problem.


other things

Here are the TechCrunch news stories that especially caught my eye this week:

LinkedIn kills Stories
You may be shocked to hear that LinkedIn even had a Stories-like product on their platform, but if you did already know that they were testing Stories, you likely won’t be so surprised to hear that the test didn’t pan out too well. The company announced this week that they’ll be suspending the feature at the end of the month. RIP.

FAA grounds Virgin Galactic over questions about Branson flight
While all appeared to go swimmingly for Richard Branson’s trip to space last month, the FAA has some questions regarding why the flight seemed to unexpectedly veer so far off the cleared route. The FAA is preventing the company from further launches until they find out what the deal is.

Apple buys a classical music streaming service
While Spotify makes news every month or two for spending a massive amount acquiring a popular podcast, Apple seems to have eyes on a different market for Apple Music, announcing this week that they’re bringing the classical music streaming service Primephonic onto the Apple Music team.

TikTok parent company buys a VR startup
It isn’t a huge secret that ByteDance and Facebook have been trying to copy each other’s success at times, but many probably weren’t expecting TikTok’s parent company to wander into the virtual reality game. The Chinese company bought the startup Pico which makes consumer VR headsets for China and enterprise VR products for North American customers.

Twitter tests an anti-abuse ‘Safety Mode’
The same features that make Twitter an incredibly cool product for some users can also make the experience awful for others, a realization that Twitter has seemingly been very slow to make. Their latest solution is more individual user controls, which Twitter is testing out with a new “safety mode” which pairs algorithmic intelligence with new user inputs.


extra things

Some of my favorite reads from our Extra Crunch subscription service this week:

Our favorite startups from YC’s Demo Day, Part 1 
“Y Combinator kicked off its fourth-ever virtual Demo Day today, revealing the first half of its nearly 400-company batch. The presentation, YC’s biggest yet, offers a snapshot into where innovation is heading, from not-so-simple seaweed to a Clearco for creators….”

…Part 2
“…Yesterday, the TechCrunch team covered the first half of this batch, as well as the startups with one-minute pitches that stood out to us. We even podcasted about it! Today, we’re doing it all over again. Here’s our full list of all startups that presented on the record today, and below, you’ll find our votes for the best Y Combinator pitches of Day Two. The ones that, as people who sift through a few hundred pitches a day, made us go ‘oh wait, what’s this?’

All the reasons why you should launch a credit card
“… if your company somehow hasn’t yet found its way to launch a debit or credit card, we have good news: It’s easier than ever to do so and there’s actual money to be made. Just know that if you do, you’ve got plenty of competition and that actual customer usage will probably depend on how sticky your service is and how valuable the rewards are that you offer to your most active users….”


Thanks for reading, and again, if you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox from the newsletter page, and follow my tweets @lucasmtny

Lucas Matney

#american-civil-liberties-union, #apple, #apple-inc, #apple-music, #artificial-intelligence, #australia, #bryce-durbin, #bytedance, #canada, #china, #computing, #electronic-frontier-foundation, #encryption, #extra-crunch, #facebook, #federal-aviation-administration, #icloud, #india, #ios, #iphone, #japan, #linkedin, #new-zealand, #pico, #richard-branson, #siri, #spotify, #tech-media, #technology, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #virgin-galactic, #virtual-reality, #y-combinator

TikTok owner ByteDance buys a top virtual reality hardware startup

TikTok parent company ByteDance seem to be looking to one-up Facebook anywhere it can. After taking over the mantle of most-downloaded social media app in the world with TikTok, ByteDance is coming for Facebook’s moonshot, buying up its own virtual reality headset maker called Pico.

The deal first reported on by Bloomberg last week was confirmed by the company on Monday, though ByteDance didn’t disclose a price tag for the deal. Pico had raised some $62 million in venture funding from Chinese firms including a $37 million Series B in March. Like Oculus, they create both hardware and software for their VR devices. Unlike Oculus, they have a substantial presence in China. Pico may not hold the same name recognition as Oculus or HTC, but the company is a top VR hardware maker, selling to consumer audiences in China and enterprise customers in the Western world.

With Pico finding its home now at ByteDance, two of the world’s largest virtual reality brands now reside inside social media companies. Ironically, many of the company’s North American customers I’ve chatted with over the years seem to have at least partially opted for Pico headsets over Oculus hardware due to general weariness of Facebook’s data and ads-dependent business models which they fear Oculus will eventually become a larger part of.

It’s no secret that the virtual reality market has been slow out of the gate, but Facebook has blazed the trail for the technology dumping billions of dollars into an ecosystem that traditional investors have largely seemed uninterested in, in recent years.

Without knowing broad terms of the deal (I’m asking around), it’s hard to determine whether this is a moment of resurgence for VR or another sign of a contracting market. What seems most likely to me is that ByteDance is indeed interested in building out a consumer VR brand and is aiming to follow in Facebook’s footsteps closely while learning from their missteps and capitalizing on their contributions to the ecosystem. Whether the company solely focuses on the consumer markets in China or loosely pursue enterprise clients stateside as well is a big question ByteDance will have to address.

#bytedance, #china, #companies, #display-technology, #facebook, #mixed-reality, #oculus, #oculus-rift, #social-media, #social-media-app, #software, #technology, #tiktok, #virtual-reality, #virtual-reality-headset, #vr

Korean 3D spatial data tool startup Urbanbase closes $11.1M Series B+ round

Urbanbase, a Seoul-based company that develops a 3D spatial data platform for interior planning and design, announced today it has raised $11.1 million (13 billion won) in a Series B+ round as it scales up.

This round of funding was led by Hanwha Hotel & Resort, which is a subsidiary of South Korean conglomerate Hanwha Corporation.

Urbanbase, founded in 2013 by chief executive officer and a former architect Jinu Ha, has now raised $20 million (approximately 23 billion won) in total.

Existing investors did not join this round. The company had raised Series A funding of $1.8 million and an additional $1.2 million in 2017 and its first Series B round in April 2020, from backers that included South Korea-based Shinsegae Information & Communication, Woomi Construction, SL Investment, KDB Capital, Shinhan Capital, Enlight Ventures, CKD Venture Capital, and Breeze Investment, Ha said.

The latest funding will be used for enhancing its B2B SaaS, investing in R&D for advanced virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and 3D tools, which are considered core technologies of metaverse that is its new business Urbanbase plans to enter, according to Ha. Global metaverse market size is projected to increase $280 billion by 2025 from $30.7 billion in 2021, based on Strategy Analytics’ report.

Companies that focus on opportunities in the so-called “metaverse” have been growing as part of a next-generation approach to building viable business models in areas like virtual and augmented reality, and all the hardware and software and new tech that are being built for them. Big tech corporations, ranging from Facebook, Intel to Microsoft, are targeting to move in the area. Apple also waded into the area of virtual reality, working on developing a high-end VR headset.

Urbanbase also plans to upgrade its home interior software platform, Urbanbase Studio, that has functions to transform 2D indoor space images into 3D displays via Urbanbase’s patented algorithm, visualize interior products in augmented reality and analyze spatial images based on the AI technology.

Urbanbase claims 50,000 monthly active users with 70,000 registered B2C users. The company has about 50 B2B customers.

“Most of our B2B clients are large conglomerates in South Korea and Japan, for example, LG Electronics, Japan-based Mitsubishi Real Estate Service, Nitori Holdings, Dentsu Group and SoftBank, but we would like to extend our B2B clients base to small, midsized companies and bring more B2C users after closing the Series B+ funding,” Ha mentioned.

Urbanbase is seeking an acquisition target in prop-tech and construction technology sectors, Ha told TechCrunch. Urbanbase currently focuses on developing the interior tools for apartment buildings because about 70-80 percent of total households in South Korea and Japan live in apartments, Ha said, adding that it will diversify its portfolio by acquiring a startup that covers different types of residence.

It currently operates the platform in Korean and Japanese, but it will add English language service prior to entering in Singapore in the end of 2021, Ha said.

#artifical-intelligence, #artificial-intelligence, #asia, #augmented-reality, #funding, #japan, #metaverse, #saas, #singapore, #south-korea, #startups, #tc, #virtual-reality

AI voice, synthetic speech company LOVO gets $4.5M pre-series A funding

“Voice skins” have become a very popular feature for AI-based voice assistants, to help personalize some of the more anodyne aspects of helpful, yet also kind of bland and robotic, speaking voices you get on services like Alexa. Now a startup that is building voice skins for different companies to use across their services, and for third parties to create and apply as well, is raising some funding to fuel its growth.

LOVO, the Berkeley, California-based artificial intelligence (AI) voice & synthetic speech tool developer, this week closed a $4.5 million pre-Series A round led by South Korean Kakao Entertainment along with Kakao Investment and LG CNS, an IT solution affiliate of LG Group.

Its previous investor SkyDeck Fund and a private investor, vice president of finance at DoorDash Michael Kim, also joined the funding.

The proceeds will be used to propel its research and development in artificial intelligence and synthetic speech and grow the team.

“We plan on hiring heavily across all functions, from machine learning, artificial intelligence and product development to marketing and business development. The fund will also be allocated to securing resources such as GPUs and CPUs,” co-founder and chief operating officer Tom Lee told TechCrunch.

LOVO, founded in November 2019, has 17 people including both co-founders, chief executive office Charlie Choi and COO Lee.

The company plans to double down on improving LOVO’s AI model, enhance its AI voices and develop a better product that surpasses any that exists in the current market, Lee said.

“Our goal is to be a global leader in providing AI voices that touches people’s hearts and emotions. We want to democratize limitations of content production. We want to be the platform for all things voice-related,” Lee said.

With the mission, LOVO allows enterprises and individual content creators to generate voiceover content for using in marketing, e-learning, customer support, movies, games, chatbots and augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR).

“Since our launch a little over a year ago, users have created over 5 million voice content on our platform,” co-founder and CEO Choi said.

LOVO launched its first product LOVO Studio last year, which provides an easy-to-use application for individuals and businesses to find the voice they want, produce, and publish their voiceover content. Developers can utilize LOVO’s Voiceover API to turn text into speeches in real-time, integrated into their applications. Users also can create their own AI voices by simply reading 15 minutes of script via LOVO’s DIY Voice Cloning service.

LOVO owns more than 200 voice skins that provide users with voices categorized by language, style, and situation suited for their various needs.

The global text to speech (TTS) market is estimated at $3 billions, with the global voiceover market at around $10 billion, according to Lee. The Global TTS market is projected to increase $5.61 billion by 2028 from $1.94 billion in 2020, based on Research Interviewer’s report published in August 2021.

LOVO already secured 50,000 users and more than 50 enterprise customers including the US-based J.B. Hunt, Bouncer, CPA Canada, LG CNS, and South Korea’s Shinhan Bank, Lee mentioned.

LOVO’s four core markets are marketing, education, movies and games in entertainment and AR/VR, Lee said. The movie Spiral, the latest film of the Saw Series, features LOVO’s voice in the film, he noted.

It is expected that LOVO will create additional synergies in the entertainment industry in the wake of the latest funding from a South Korean entertainment.

VP of CEO Vision Office at Kakao Entertainment J.H. Ryu said, “I’m excited for LOVO’s synergies with Kakao Entertainment’s future endeavors in the entertainment vertical, especially with web novels and music,” Ryu also added, “AI technology is opening the doors to a new market for audio content, and we expect a future a where an individual’s voice will be utilized effectively as an intellectual property and as an asset.”

Founding Partner at SkyDeck Fund Chon Tang said, “Audio is uniquely engaging as a form of information but also difficult to produce, especially at scale. LOVO’s artificial intelligence-based synthesis platform has consistently out-performed other cloud-based solutions in quality and cost.”

LOVO is also preparing to penetrate further to international market, “We have a strong presence in the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and are getting signals from the rest of Europe, South America and Asia,” Lee said. LOVO has an office in South Korea and is looking to expand into Europe soon, Lee added.

#asia, #fundings-exits, #kakao-entertainment, #recent-funding, #startups, #synthetic-speech, #tc, #virtual-reality, #voiceover

Upcoming game turns Quest VR headsets into real-life laser tag machines

Coming September 9. We've only played a few minutes of this, but rest assured, Ars Technica will absolutely have a review of this real-world VR laser tag option upon the game's launch on Oculus Quest VR headsets.

Enlarge / Coming September 9. We’ve only played a few minutes of this, but rest assured, Ars Technica will absolutely have a review of this real-world VR laser tag option upon the game’s launch on Oculus Quest VR headsets. (credit: I-Illusions)

If you own either of the Oculus Quest VR headset models, you’re about to get one heck of a must-buy gaming option… especially if you have access to a massive play space and a friend with a Quest system.

Space Pirate Trainer, one of the first arcade-shooter games to launch on the HTC Vive VR system in 2016, has continued receiving support on newer VR systems in the years since. The game’s next update, launching on September 9, is its biggest yet—and it’s entirely free for existing game owners. Dubbed Space Pirate Trainer Arena, the long-teased mode is currently an Oculus Quest exclusive, and it requires a massive play space and up to two untethered VR systems to enable real-world laser tag.

In the real world, you and a friend will stand on opposite sides of a large play space, like an indoor tennis or basketball court, and map out a Quest “chaperone” space for your system, no smaller than 10 m x 10 m (33 ft x 33 ft). Once the game starts, onlookers will see the two of you flailing around with headsets, looking like danged fools. In the VR space, however, your and your friend’s play will sync up, and you’ll each see a far more complicated virtual battlefield full of walls, hallways, and other architecture, as if you’re inside an elaborate laser tag arena—with the object of finding and blasting your opponent before they do the same to you.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#gaming-culture, #htc-vive, #oculus-quest, #space-pirate-trainer, #virtual-reality, #vr

Messenger celebrates its 10th anniversary with new features and a plan to become the ‘connective tissue’ for real-time experiences

To celebrate its ten year anniversary, Messenger today announced a handful of new features: poll games, word effects, contact sharing, and birthday gifting via Facebook Pay. But beyond the fun features, Facebook has been testing a way to add voice and video calls back into the Facebook app, rather than on Messenger.

“We are testing audio and video calls within the Facebook app messaging experience so people can make and receive calls regardless of which app they’re using,” a representative from Facebook told TechCrunch. “This will give people on Facebook easy ways to connect with their communities where they already are.”

Although earlier in Facebook history, the Messenger app had operated as a standalone experience, Facebook tells us that it’s now starting to see Messenger less as a separate entity — more of an underlying technology that can help to power many of the new experiences Facebook is now developing.

“We’ve been focused more on real-time experiences — Watch Together, Rooms, Live Audio Rooms — and we’ve started to think of Messenger as a connective tissue regardless of the surface,” a Facebook spokesperson told us.  “This is a test, but the bigger vision is for us to unlock content and communities that may not be accessible in Messenger, and that the Facebook app is going to become more about shared real-time experiences,” they added.

Given the company’s move in recent months to integrate its underlying communication infrastructure, it should come to reason that Facebook would ultimately add more touchpoints for accessing its new Messenger-powered features inside the desktop app, as well. When asked for comment on this point, the spokesperson said the company didn’t have any details to share at this time. However, they noted that the test is a part of Facebook’s broader vision to enable more real-time experiences across Facebook’s services.

Despite the new integrations, the standalone version of Messenger isn’t going away.

Facebook says that people who want a more “full-featured” messaging, audio and video calling experience” should continue to use Messenger.

Image Credits: Messenger

As for today’s crop of new features — including polls, word effects, contact sharing, and others — the goal is to  celebrate Messenger’s ability to keep people in touch with their family a friends.

To play the new poll games, users can tap “Polls” in their group chat and select the “Most Likely To” tab — then, they can choose from questions like “most likely to miss their flight?” or “most likely to give gifts on their own birthday?”, select names of chat participants to be included as potential answers, and send the poll.

Contact sharing will make it easier to share others’ Facebook contacts through Messenger, while birthday gifting lets users send birthday-themed payments on Messenger via Facebook Pay. There will also be other “birthday expression tools,” including a birthday song soundmoji, “Messenger is 10!” sticker pack, a new balloon background, a message effect, and AR effect to celebrate Messenger’s double-digit milestone.

Image Credits: Messenger

Meanwhile, word effects lets users manually input a phrase, and any time they send a message with that phrase, an accompanying emoji will float across the screen. In an example, Messenger showed the phrase “happy birthday” accompanied with a word effect of confetti emojis flooding the screen. (That one’s pretty tame, but this could be a remarkable application of the poop emoji.) The company only shared a “sneak peak” of this feature, as it’s not rolling out immediately.

In total, Facebook is announcing a total of ten features, most of which will begin rolling out today.

Messenger has come a long way over the past decade.

Ten years ago, Facebook acqui-hired a small group messaging start-up called Beluga, started by three former Google employees (apparently, a functional group thread was a white whale back then — simpler times). Several months later, the company unveiled Messenger, a standalone messaging app.

But three years into Messenger’s existence, it was no longer an optional add-on to the Facebook experience, but a mandatory download for anyone who wanted to keep up with their friends on the go. Facebook removed the option to send messages within its flagship app, directing users to use Messenger instead. Facebook’s reasoning behind this, the company told TechCrunch at the time, was that they wanted to eliminate the confusion of having two different mobile messaging systems. Just months earlier, Facebook had spent $19 billion to acquire WhatsApp and woo international users. Though removing Messenger from the Facebook app was controversial, the app reached 1.2 billion users three years later in 2017.

Today, Facebook has declared that it wants to evolve into a “metaverse” company, and on the same day as the anti-trust filing last week, Mark Zuckerberg unveiled a product that applies virtual reality in an impressively boring way: helping people attend work meetings. This metaverse would be enabled by technologies built by Facebook’s platform team, noted Vice President of Messenger Stan Chudnovsky. However, he added that people in the metaverse will still need platforms like Messenger.

“I don’t think messaging is going anywhere, even in the metaverse, because a asynchronous communication is going to continue to exist,” Chudnovsky said. People will still need to send messages to those who aren’t currently available to chat, he explained. Plus, Chudnovsky believes this sort of communication will become even more popular with the launch of the metaverse, as the technology will help to serve as a bridge between your phone, real life, and the metaverse.

“if anything is gonna happen more, not less. Because messaging is that things that just continues to grow with every new platform leap,” he said.

Additional reporting: Sarah Perez

#apps, #computing, #facebook, #facebook-messenger, #instagram, #instant-messaging, #mark-zuckerberg, #messenger, #mobile-applications, #social, #social-media, #software, #stan-chudnovsky, #technology, #virtual-reality, #whatsapp

You can now buy the $299 Oculus Quest 2 with 128GB of storage

Following its announcement late last month, Facebook’s new 128GB model of the Oculus Quest 2 is now available to buy. You can purchase the VR headset from the company’s website for the same $299 price as the previous 64GB base model. “Long story short? We’ve created this 128GB model so that players can easily store and access more games and apps on a single device,” Facebook says of the new variant.

Facebook announced the 128GB model at the same time it issued a voluntary recall of the Quest 2 to address an issue with the original face insert that came with the headset. The company temporarily stopped selling the Quest 2 for about a month so that it could add a new silicone face cover inside the box of each new unit. If you’re a current Quest 2 owner, you can request Facebook send you the new silicone cover by visiting the My Devices section of the account settings. The new 128GB model also comes with the silicone cover inside the box.

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Engadget.

#facebook, #oculus, #oculus-quest, #tc, #tceng, #virtual-reality, #vr

Facebook finally made a good virtual reality app

Facebook’s journey toward making virtual reality a thing has been long and circuitous, but despite mixed success in finding a wide audience for VR, they have managed to build some very nice hardware along the way. What’s fairly ironic is that while Facebook has managed to succeed in finessing the hardware and operating system of its Oculus devices — things it had never done before — over the years it has struggled most with actually making a good app for VR.

The company has released a number of social VR apps over the years, and while each of them managed to do something right, none of them did anything quite well enough to stave off a shutdown. Setting aside the fact that most VR users don’t have a ton of other friends that also own VR headsets, the broadest issue plaguing these social apps was that they never really gave users a great reason to use them. While watching 360-videos or playing board games with friends were interesting gimmicks, it’s taken the company an awful lot of time to understand that a dedicated ”social” app doesn’t make much sense in VR and that users haven’t been looking for a standalone social app, so much as they’ve been looking for engaging experiences that were improved by social dynamics.

This all brings me to what Facebook showed me a demo of this week — a workplace app called Horizon Workrooms which is launching in open beta for Quest 2 users starting today.

The app seems to be geared towards providing work-from-home employees a virtual reality sphere to collaborate inside. Users can link their Mac or PC to Workrooms and livestream their desktop to the app while the Quest 2’s passthrough cameras allow users to type on their physical keyboard. Users can chat with one another as avatars and share photos and files or draw on a virtual whiteboard. It’s an app that would have made a more significant splash for the Quest 2 platform had it launched earlier in the pandemic, though it’s tackling an issue that still looms large among tech savvy offices — finding tech solutions to aid meaningful collaboration in a remote environment.

Horizon Workrooms isn’t a social app per se but the way it approaches social communication in VR is more thoughtful than any other first-party social VR app that Facebook has shipped. The spatial elements are less overt and gimmicky than most VR apps and simply add to an already great functional experience that, at times, felt more productive and engaging than a normal video call.

It all plays into CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s recent proclamation that Facebook is transitioning into becoming a “metaverse company.”

Now, what’s the metaverse? In Zuckerberg’s own words, “It’s a virtual environment where you can be present with people in digital spaces. You can kind of think of this as an embodied internet that you’re inside of rather than just looking at.” This certainly sounds like a fairly significant recalibration for Facebook, which has generally approached AR/VR as a wholly separate entity from its suite of mobile apps. Desktop users and VR users have been effectively siloed from each other over the years.

Generally, Facebook has been scaling Oculus like they’re building the next smartphone, building its headsets with a native app paradigm at their core. Meanwhile, Zuckerberg’s future-minded “metaverse” sounds much more like what Roblox has been building towards than anything Facebook has actually shipped. Horizon Workrooms is living under the Horizon brand which seems to be where Facebook’s future metaverse play is rooted. The VR social platform is interestingly still in closed beta after being announced nearly two years ago. If Facebook can ever see Horizon’s vision to fruition, it could grow to become a Roblox-like hub of user-created games, activities and groups that replaces the native app mobile dynamics with a more fluid social experience.

The polish of Workrooms is certainly a promising sign of where Facebook could be moving.

#ceo, #computing, #facebook, #mark-zuckerberg, #metaverse, #oculus, #operating-system, #roblox, #smartphone, #software, #tc, #virtual-reality, #wearable-devices

Zuckerberg is turning trillion-dollar Facebook into a ‘metaverse’ company, he tells investors

#andrew-bosworth, #augmented-reality, #ceo, #cfo, #computing, #facebook, #gaming, #horizon, #instagram, #mark-zuckerberg, #metaverse, #oculus, #roblox, #software, #tc, #virtual-reality, #vp, #vr, #wearable-devices

Microsoft Flight Simulator’s new PC boosts: Yes, the VR mode is finally good

Anyone who has played a flight simulator knows that screen real estate is critical. Your average 16:9 TV or monitor is fine for most video games, but flight simulators are all about the spatial awareness of sitting in a cockpit, peeking at a massive console of virtualized buttons and screens, and having your midair view framed by a plane’s windshields and windows.

A wider monitor is better for that simulation, while a freakin’ virtual reality headset opens up the virtual skies—but at the cost of VR’s high processing demands.

Since July 2020, the teams responsible for Microsoft Flight Simulator have been pledging to deliver a truly playable VR version of the game. That pledge kicked off months later with serious turbulence, and after my earliest tests, I warned interested fans to prepare their stomachs for a bumpy ride.

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#flight-simulator, #gaming-culture, #microsoft-flight-simulator, #oculus-quest, #oculus-quest-2, #valve-index, #virtual-reality, #vr

Facebook’s metaverse gambit is a distraction from its deep-seated problems

Mark Zuckerberg demonstrates an Oculus Rift headset at a 2016 event.

Enlarge / Mark Zuckerberg demonstrates an Oculus Rift headset at a 2016 event. (credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Facebook mastered social media by giving people an easy way to share their offline lives with friends, family, and complete strangers on the Internet. So why is the company now trying to invent a virtual universe that effectively turns its back on reality?

Over the past week, the social media company has blitzed media outlets with news about its “metaverse” initiative, a plan to create virtual worlds where people can interact to play games, have meetings, and so on. Last week, CEO Mark Zuckerberg shared his metaverse plans with the public in an interview with The Verge. Then, earlier this week, Facebook announced that it would be putting together a metaverse team staffed with a handful of longtime VPs.

It’s clear that Zuckerberg has been thinking about this metaverse idea for a while. But the timing of Facebook’s announcement is interesting, to say the least. Facebook has “a history of doing these kinds of technical projects that look like they might be revolutionary at times when they’re being criticized for their lack of social responsibility,” Jen Goldbeck, a computer scientist and professor at the University of Maryland, told Ars.

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#facebook, #mark-zuckerberg, #metaverse, #policy, #social-media, #virtual-reality, #vr

Facebook recalls 4 million Quest 2 VR face masks over “rashes and hives”

One day, the VR industry may be boosted with sensory tricks like smell-o-vision. That's different from the itching and burning sensations reported by Quest 2 users—unless one of Quest 2's VR zombie games is really, really ahead of its time.

Enlarge / One day, the VR industry may be boosted with sensory tricks like smell-o-vision. That’s different from the itching and burning sensations reported by Quest 2 users—unless one of Quest 2’s VR zombie games is really, really ahead of its time. (credit: Oculus | Aurich Lawson)

Facebook’s VR division is recalling every single foam facial liner included in its Oculus Quest 2 VR headset in North America, the company confirmed, as part of a US CPSC recall notice. An investigation found 5,716 reports of “skin irritation” from system owners, along with “approximately 45 reports of consumers that required medical attention.”

The recall applies to “about 4 million” customers, which is the closest public estimate we’ve yet seen for Quest 2 hardware sales in the US since the system went on sale in late 2020. Since this estimate includes standalone purchases of face covers, it’s not an exact measure, but considering how ho-hum the default face masks are, we’re confident that few people were rushing to buy duplicates of it, as opposed to superior third-party options.

In light of the recall, Facebook is also taking the extreme measure of pausing all Oculus Quest 2 sales in North America, in addition to offering silicon-liner replacements to all existing owners. This news comes after UploadVR confirmed Facebook’s plans to launch a new price point for the VR system in August: $299 for a 128GB model (up from 64GB) and $399 for a 256GB model (up from 128GB). Facebook now says that the August 24 relaunch will mark the system’s return to retail outlets with an updated silicon face cover packed in by default.

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#facebook, #gaming-culture, #oculus, #oculus-quest, #oculus-quest-2, #virtual-reality, #vr

#Brandneu – 5 neue Startups: Valyria, Field 33, Ritzi, PeekUp, Grundriss in Lebensgröße


deutsche-startups.de präsentiert heute wieder einmal einige junge Startups, die zuletzt, also in den vergangenen Wochen und Monaten an den Start gegangen sind, sowie Firmen, die zuletzt aus dem Stealth-Mode erwacht sind. Übrigens: Noch mehr neue Startups gibt es in unserem Newsletter Startup-Radar.

Valyria
Das Berliner PropTech Valyria, das insbesondere von Robin Behlau, Gründer von Käuferportal (inzwischen als Aroundhome bekannt) vorangetrieben wird, kümmert sich um den Kauf und Verkauf von Mehrfamilienhäusern. Valyria kombiniert dabei “die neueste Technologie mit Expertise”.

Field 33
Field 33, von Sebastian Wohlrapp gegründet wurde, möchte Unternehmen insbesondere dabei unterstützen, “die immer komplexer werdenden Wechselwirkungen von strategischen Zielen und externen Einflussfaktoren zu verbinden und so besser managen zu können”.

Ritzi
Ritzi aus Bad Honnef positioniert sich als “Live-Shopping-Marketplace für Jeden”. Mit dem jungen Startup, das vom Seriengründer Kai Stubbe gegründet wurde, können Händler und Marken ihren “ganz eigenen und professionellen Verkaufskanal kreieren”.

PeekUp
PeekUp hilft seinen Kunden beim Ausmisten und “holt alle überflüssig gewordenen Dinge ab”, alles mit Lastenrädern. Zudem betreibt PeekUp einen Shop für “gut erhaltene oder reparierte Gegenstände”. Das Startup wurde von Martin Rammensee, der schon busliniensuche.de aufgebaut hat, gegründet.

Grundriss in Lebensgröße
Das Unternehmen Grundriss in Lebensgröße bietet “maßstabsgetreue, virtuelle Grundrisse in Lebensgröße”. Mit Hilfe von echten Möbeln und Wänden auf Rollen entsteht so ein virtuelles Abbild der Traumimmobilie. Zielgruppe sind unter anderem private Bauherren, Bauträger und Immobilienmakler.

Tipp: In unserem Newsletter Startup-Radar berichten wir einmal in der Woche über neue Startups. Alle Startups stellen wir in unserem kostenpflichtigen Newsletter kurz und knapp vor und bringen sie so auf den Radar der Startup-Szene. Jetzt unseren Newsletter Startup-Radar sofort abonnieren!

Startup-Jobs: Auf der Suche nach einer neuen Herausforderung? In der unserer Jobbörse findet Ihr Stellenanzeigen von Startups und Unternehmen.

Foto (oben): Shutterstock

#aktuell, #bad-honnef, #berlin, #brandneu, #field-33, #grundriss-in-lebensgrose, #grunwald, #peekup, #proptech, #re-commerce, #ritzi, #stuttgart, #valyria, #virtual-reality