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.

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#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.

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#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

Can advertising scale in VR?

One of VR’s prospective revenue streams is ad placement. The thought is that its levels of immersion can engender high engagement with various flavors of display ads. Think billboards in a virtual streetscape or sporting venue. Art imitates life, and all that.

This topic reemerged recently in the wake of Facebook’s experimental ads in Blaston VR. As TechCrunch’s Lucas Matney observed, it didn’t go too well. The move triggered a resounding backlash, followed by the game publisher, Resolution Games, backing out of the trial.

This chain of events underscored Facebook’s headwinds in VR ad monetization, which stem from its broader ad issues. In fairness, this was an experimental move to test the VR advertising waters … which Facebook accomplished, though it didn’t get the result it wanted.

VR advertising is a bit of a double-edged sword. It could take several years for VR usage to reach requisite levels for meaningful ad monetization.

Regardless, we’ve taken this opportunity to revisit our ongoing analysis and market sizing of VR advertising in general. The short version: There are pros and cons on both qualitative and quantitative levels.

The pros of VR advertising

VR advertising’s opportunity goes back to factors noted above: potentially high ad engagement given inherent levels of immersion. On that measure, VR exceeds all other media, which can mean higher-quality impressions, brand recall and other common display-ad metrics.

Historical evidence also suggests that VR could follow a path toward ad monetization. VR shows similar patterns to media that were increasingly ad supported as they matured. These include video, social media, mobile apps and games (just ask Unity).

To put some numbers behind that, 75% of apps in the Apple App Store’s first year were paid apps — similar to VR today. That figure declined to 15% in 2014 and hovers around 10% today. Over time, developers learned they could reach scale through free downloads.

Prevalent revenue models today include in-app purchases — especially in mobile gaming — and advertising. The question is whether VR will follow a similar path as developers learn that they can reach scale faster through free apps that employ “back-end monetization” like ad support.

This trend also follows audience dynamics: Early adopters are more likely to pay for content and experiences. But as a given technology or media matures, its transition to mainstream audiences requires different business models with less upfront commitment and friction.

“Today, there are only about 18% of applications in VR stores such as Steam and Oculus that are free,” Admix CEO Samuel Huber said. “This is fine for now because we are still very early in the market and most of these users are early adopters. They are willing to pay for content, just like they were willing to pay for prototype unproven hardware and generally, they have higher purchasing power than the average person.”

Drawbacks of VR advertising

Considering the above advantages, VR advertising is a bit of a double-edged sword (or beat saber). Those advantages are counterbalanced by a few practical disadvantages in the medium’s early stage. Much of this comes down to the requirement for scale.

#advertising-tech, #augmented-reality, #column, #digital-marketing, #ec-column, #ec-gaming, #ec-marketing-tech, #gaming, #marketing, #online-advertising, #virtual-reality

Osso VR raises $27 million to turn surgery into a video game

Virtual reality did not turn into the ultimate office replacement telepresence machine during the pandemic — and it wasn’t for lack of trying — but some startups focused on employee training in VR have found added validation in the past year as professionals across industries were forced to access institutional knowledge in remote settings.

Osso VR, a San Francisco-based virtual reality startup focused on medical training, has piqued investor attention as they’ve bulked up on partnerships with medical devices powerhouses like Johnson & Johnson, Stryker and Smith & Nephew during the pandemic. The startup tells TechCrunch they’ve recently closed $27 million in Series B funding led by GSR Ventures with additional participation from SignalFire, Kaiser Permanente Ventures and Anorak Ventures, among others.

CEO Justin Barad tells TechCrunch that the pandemic “created an intense level of urgency” for the startup as customers found new demand for their platform.

Osso VR is looking to upend modern surgical instruction with a virtual reality-based solution that allows surgeons to interact with new medical devices in 3D space, “performing” a surgery over and over on a digital cadaver from the comfort of anywhere they have enough room to stretch out their arms. Osso’s efforts are particularly useful to its medical device customers who can use the platform to boost familiarity with their solutions while helping surgeons gain proficiency in implanting them.

One of the startup’s broader aims is to bring video games’ multiplayer mechanics into the virtual operating room, allowing surgeons and medical assistants to collaborate in real-time so they not only know their responsibility but how they fit into the whole of each operation.

“It’s a lot like a symphony, everyone has a different role to play and you need to communicate with each other.” Barad says.

It’s a process that needs virtual reality’s spatial breadth, Barad notes, though instruction is always supplemented by text and videos as well.

Barad calls the startup’s aim “something unambiguously good,” a quality which has helped the team poach talent as it has scaled to some 100 employees, which includes what he claims is the world’s largest team of medical illustrators. That team has helped scale the platform’s content to more than 100 modules spanning 10 specialties.

Virtual reality founders have struggled in recent years to coax investor attention as consumer and enterprise uptake has proven slower than the early wild ambitions for the technology. In its stead, investors have looked more towards bets on adjacent technologies like gaming and computer vision that don’t require the specialized head-worn hardware. Osso VR’s platform runs on Facebook’s Oculus Quest 2 headset through the company’s Oculus for Business program.

#california, #ceo, #gsr-ventures, #johnson-johnson, #medical-devices, #mixed-reality, #oculus, #reality, #san-francisco, #tc, #technology, #virtual-reality

Apple and Snap partner JigSpace, the ‘Canva for 3D,’ raises a $4.7M Series A

When former Art Director Zac Duff started teaching a game development course online in 2015, he faced the same challenges that teachers around the globe have become all too familiar with after a pandemic-induced lockdown. So, he used his experience in 3D design to build a virtual reality classroom to make remote learning more engaging for his students. Instead of entering yet another Zoom lecture, the school gave students VR headsets to transport themselves to the Ancient Greek-inspired classroom that Duff built.

Still, Duff knew that this learning model couldn’t be easily scaled — most schools don’t have VR headsets to send out, and most teachers don’t have over a decade of game design experience to whip up a classroom with green fields and butterflies (yes, Duff made that). But he saw that there was potential for a user-friendly program that lets anyone create 3D presentations and share information in AR.

“Right at the center of it is knowledge transfer. It’s about one person giving knowledge to another person in a really effective way,” Duff told TechCrunch. He referenced products like Microsoft Powerpoint and Canva, which make it easy for the average user to create presentations and graphics that communicate their ideas. “We have those systems in 2D, but in 3D, we just didn’t have it, and it was a really complex, expensive technical process that you had to go through to build anything, and that stuck with me.”

Image Credits: JigSpace

Soon after, Duff took a Friday off from work to outline the company that would become JigSpace, which is poised to set the standard for knowledge-sharing in 3D. After launching in 2017, the JigSpace platform now has over 4 million users with a 4.8 average rating on the App Store. When you download the JigSpace app, you can interact in AR with 3D models that show how to fix a leaky sink, repair a dry wall, or even build a Lego Star Wars spacecraft. There are also educational models, or Jigs, that show how a piano works, the anatomy of the human eye, and even how the coronavirus spreads. The potential use cases for JigSpace are expansive — Duff says he hopes to work with manufacturing companies to have them make Jigs of their products. That way, let’s say you want to replace your AC filter, you can look at a 3D model in AR, rather than a black and white 2D drawing in an instruction booklet.

Today, JigSpace announced that it raised $4.7 million in Series A funding led by Rampersand, with Investible and new investors including Vulpes, and Roger Allen AM, also participating. The JigSpace app is free to use, and anyone can combine presets and templates of 3D modeled objects to create their own Jigs — the more tech savvy among us can upload up to 30 MB of files to make more customized Jigs on the free version. But the money-maker for Jigspace is its Jig Pro platform, which is designed for commercial businesses and manufacturers. Jig Pro‘s subscription for individuals is $49 per month, while the price of the enterprise offering isn’t listed online.

Image Credits: JigSpace

“The best area for us has been in durable manufacturing, because almost all manufacturing products have CAD files, so the 3D already exists,” said Duff. “Then, we’re able to work with those companies to give them the tools to create knowledge material around their products.”

Right after JigSpace launched its Pro version, it was featured in Apple’s iPhone 12 Keynote, demonstrating how the iPhone 12’s LiDAR scanner and 5G capabilities could be used to save time and money in manufacturing. JigSpace also partnered with Snapchat to create a Lens that allows you to scan kitchen items to reveal 3D Jigs that show how stuff works, from your microwave to your coffee maker.

Jig Pro’s customer base has grown 40% month-on-month since it launched in mid-2020, with the average user logging into the app at least once per day. Companies like Verizon, Volkswagen, Medtronic, and Thermo Fisher Scientific use JigSpace to develop 3D models to present to stakeholders, customers, and remote colleagues. Especially as products like Apple’s Capture emerge, it will become even easier for people to import their own 3D models into JigSpace.

Despite its commercial potential, it’s important to Duff that JigSpace always retains a free version that makes learning through AR easy.

“We want to make sure that all of the people with information they want to share, those are the people we serve, not just the technical people at the top,” Duff says. “From the beginning, my co-founder Numa Bertron and I always wanted to have a free version. Knowledge should be accessible to people in the best way possible, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be.”

#3d-imaging, #3d-modeling, #app-store, #apple-inc, #apps, #arkansas, #augmented-reality, #cad, #canva, #co-founder, #coffee-maker, #computing, #director, #funding, #iphone, #itunes, #jig, #manufacturing, #medtronic, #microwave, #smartphones, #snapchat, #technology, #thermo-fisher-scientific, #tools, #verizon, #virtual-reality, #volkswagen

Psychedelic VR meditation startup Tripp raises $11 million Series A

As an increasing number of startups sell investors on mobile apps that help consumers prioritize well-being and mindfulness, other startups are looking for a more immersive take that allow users to fully disconnect from the world around them.

Tripp has been building immersive relaxation exercises that seek to blend some of the experiences users may find in guided meditation apps with more free-form experiences that allow users to unplug from their day and explore their thoughts inside a virtual reality headset while watching fractal shapes, glowing trees and planets whir past them.

As the name implies, there have been some efforts by the startup to create visuals and audio experiences that mimic the feelings people may have during a psychedelic trip — though doing so sans hallucinogens.

“Many people that will never feel comfortable taking a psychedelic, this is a low friction alternative that can deliver some of that experience in a more benign way,” CEO Nanea Reeves tells TechCrunch. “The idea is to take mindfulness structures and video game mechanics together to see if we can actually hack the way that you feel.”

The startup tells TechCrunch they’ve closed a $11 Million in funding led by Vine Ventures and Mayfield with participation from Integrated, among others. Tripp has raised some $15 million in total funding to date.

Image via Tripp

VR startups have largely struggled to earn investor fervor in recent years as major tech platforms have sunsetted their virtual reality efforts one-by-one leaving Facebook and Sony as the sole benefactors of a space that they are still struggling to monetize at times. While plenty of VR startups are continuing to see engagement, many investors which backed companies in the space five years ago have turned their attention to gaming and computer vision startups with more broad applications.

Reeves says that the pandemic has helped consumers dial into the importance of mindfulness and mental health awareness, something that has also pushed investors to get bolder in what projects in the space that they’re backing.

Tripp has apps on both the Oculus and PlayStation VR stores and subscription experiences that can be accessed for a $4.99 per month subscription.

The company provides a variety of guided experiences, but users can also use the company’s “Tripp composer” to build their own visual flows. Beyond customization, one of Tripp’s major sells is giving consumers deeper, quicker meditative experiences, claiming that users can get alleviate stress with sessions as short as 8 minutes inside their headset. The startup is also exploring the platform’s use in enterprise in-office wellness solutions. Tripp is currently in the midst of clinical trials to study the software platform’s effectiveness as a therapeutic device.

The company says that users have gone through over 2 million sessions inside the app so far.

#articles, #augmented-reality, #ceo, #components, #composer, #display-technology, #facebook, #major, #mayfield, #mixed-reality, #oculus, #playstation-vr, #software-platform, #sony, #startup-company, #tc, #techcrunch, #technology, #virtual-reality, #virtual-reality-headset

Facebook’s entry into VR advertising isn’t going too well

Facebook’s efforts to bring advertising to the Oculus virtual reality platform it has spent billions of dollars building out doesn’t seem to be off to a great start.

The company announced last week that they were planning to roll out their first in-game ads inside the title Blaston from the prolific VR game developer Resolution Games, and just days later the game studio has shared that after hearing an earful from users they’ve decided to abandon the ad rollout.

“After listening to player feedback, we realize that Blaston isn’t the best fit for this type of advertising test,” a tweet from the Blaston account read. “Therefore, we no longer plan to implement the test. We look forward to seeing you in the arena and hope you try the Crackdown Update that went live today!”

This potential ad rollout had been particularly noteworthy because the ads were being tested inside a title from a third-party developer. Facebook has purchased a handful of VR studios in recent months and owns a number of the most popular Quest titles inside its marketplace, so the opportunity to roll out advertising with a third-party partner gave Facebook an chance to frame the advertising rollout as a way for other developers to open up their monetization channels, rather than for Facebook to do so.

The announcement last week still brought out plenty of critics in the VR community who weren’t thrilled about Facebook’s broader struggles with balancing advertising efforts with user privacy, but other users seemed to be more annoyed by the prospect of ads being rolled out inside a paid title they had already purchased. Blaston retails for $9.99 in the Oculus store.

Update: Resolution Games reached out to TechCrunch with a statement, floating the possibility of further ad tests down the road inside one of the developer’s free apps. “To make it clear, we realize that Blaston isn’t the best fit for this type of advertising test. As an alternative, we are looking to see if it is feasible to move this small, temporary test to our free game, Bait! sometime in the future.”

Resolution Games abandoning the test before it even started is an early setback for Facebook’s VR advertising efforts that showcases just how skeptical the Oculus platform’s most vocal users still are of Facebook. In a blog post last week, Facebook sought to address early concerns with what user data would be used to serve up advertising in VR, specifically noting that conversations recorded by the headset’s microphone and images analyzed by the onboard tracking cameras would not be used.

Facebook saw considerable backlash last year from virtual reality fans when they shared that new headset owners would need a Facebook account in order to activate their devices. While criticism poured in following the announcement, the recently released $299 Quest 2 headset has already outsold all of Facebook’s previous VR devices combined, the company has said.

We’ve reached out to Facebook for comment.

 

#computing, #facebook, #facebook-horizon, #mixed-reality, #oculus, #oculus-quest, #player, #software, #tc, #virtual-reality, #vr, #wearable-devices

Facebook begins tying social media use to ads served inside its VR ecosystem

Doctored image of a young man in a VR headset being examined in a padded cell.

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

Everything we’ve feared about the Facebookening of Oculus and its virtual reality ecosystem is starting to come true.

A Wednesday blog post has confirmed that Oculus, the VR-specific arm of Facebook, is now displaying advertisements in select VR games and apps to their players. As Facebook has since emphasized in emails sent directly to the press, these ads will leverage “first-party info from Facebook to target these ads”—and FB has yet to announce any limitations for what Facebook account data may be leveraged. (Ars Technica was not briefed about this news ahead of the announcement, and we did not get the opportunity to request the comments that other members of the media received.)

FB’s additional clarifying statements about biometric and use data inside of VR are carefully worded to clarify that the company does examine specific use data as it sees fit, and for now, that data won’t apply to its new advertising platform. Facebook says it processes and keeps track of the following data, uploaded by users while connected to any Oculus services:

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#facebook, #facebookening, #gaming-culture, #oculus, #virtual-reality

Facebook buys game studio BigBox VR

Facebook has bought several virtual reality game studios over the past couple years, and they added one more to their portfolio Friday with the acquisition of Seattle-based BigBox VR.

The studio’s major title, Population: One, was one of the big post-launch releases for Facebook’s Oculus Quest 2 headset and is a pretty direct Fortnite clone, copying a number of key gameplay techniques while adapting them for the movements unique to virtual reality and bringing in their own lore and art style.

As has been the case for most of these studio acquisitions, terms weren’t disclosed. BigBox raised $6.5 million according to Crunchbase, with funding from Shasta Ventures, Outpost Capital, Pioneer Square Labs and GSR Ventures.

“POP: ONE stormed onto the VR scene just nine months ago and has consistently ranked as one the top-performing titles on the Oculus platform, bringing together up to 24 people at a time to connect, play, and compete in a virtual world,” Facebook’s Mike Verdu wrote in a blog post.

It’s not unusual for a gaming hardware platform owner to build up their own web of studios building platform exclusives, but in the VR world things are a little different given that Facebook has few real competitors.

While many of the developers inside Oculus Studios continue to build titles for Valve’s Steam store which are accessible with third-party headsets, most non-Facebook VR platforms seem to be a shrinking piece of the overall VR pie, having been priced out of the market by Facebook’s aggressive pursuit of a mass market audience. Facebooks Oculus Quest 2 retails for $299 and the company has said that it outsold all of its previous devices combined in its first few months.

In April, Facebook acquired Downpour Interactive, maker of the VR shooter Onward.

#bigbox-vr, #display-technology, #downpour-interactive, #facebook, #facebook-horizon, #gsr-ventures, #mixed-reality, #oculus, #oculus-rift, #onward, #pioneer-square-labs, #seattle, #shasta-ventures, #virtual-reality, #vr, #wearable-devices

Facebook buys studio behind Roblox-like Crayta gaming platform

Facebook has been making plenty of one-off virtual reality studio acquisitions lately, but today the company announced that they’re buying something with wider ambitions — a Roblox-like game creation platform.

Facebook shared that they’re buying Unit 2 Games, which builds a platform called Crayta. Like some other platforms out there it builds on top of the Unreal Engine and gives users a more simple creation interface teamed with discovery and community features. Crayta has cornered its own niche pushing monetization paths like Battle Pass seasons giving the platform a more Fortnite-like vibe as well.

Unit 2 has been around for just over 3 years and Crayta launched just last July. Its audience has likely been limited by the studio’s deal to exclusively launch on Google’s cloud-streaming platform Stadia though it’s also available on the Epic Games Store as of March.

The title feels designed for the lightweight nature of cloud-gaming platforms with users able to share access to games just by linking other users and Facebook seems keen to use Crayta to push forward their own efforts in the gaming sphere.

“Crayta has maximized current cloud-streaming technology to make game creation more accessible and easy to use. We plan to integrate Crayta’s creation toolset into Facebook Gaming’s cloud platform to instantly deliver new experiences on Facebook,” Facebook Gaming VP Vivek Sharma wrote in an announcement post.

The entire team will be coming on as part of the acquisition, though financial terms of the deal weren’t shared.

#computing, #epic-games, #epic-games-store, #facebook, #fortnite, #google-stadia, #online-games, #roblox, #software, #stadia, #tc, #tencent, #video-gaming, #virtual-reality, #vp

Taipei-based computer vision startup eYs3D gets $7M Series A

eYs3D Microelectronics, a fabless design house that focuses on end-to-end software and hardware systems for computer vision technology, has raised a $7 million Series A. Participants included ARM IoT Capital, WI Harper and Marubun Corporation, who will each serve as strategic investors.

Based in Taipei, Taiwan, eYs3D was spun out of Etron, a fabless IC and system-in-package (SiP) design firm, in 2016. It will use its new funding to build its embedded chip business in new markets. The company’s technology, including integrated circuits, 3D sensors, camera modules and AI-based software, have a wide range of applications, such as robotics, touchless controls, autonomous vehicles and smart retail. eYs3D’s products have been used in the Facebook Oculus Rift S and Valve Index virtual reality headsets, and Techman Robots.

ARM, the microprocessor company, will integrate eYs3D’s chips into its CPU and NPUs. WI Harper, a cross-border investment firm with offices in Taipei, Beijing and San Francisco, will give eYs3D access to its international network of industrial partners. Marubun Corporation, a Japan-based company that distributes semiconductors and other electronic components, will open new distribution channels for eYs3D.

In a press statement, ARM IoT Capital chairman Peter Hsieh said, “As we look to the future, enhanced computer vision support plays a key role in ARM’s AI architecture and deployment. eYs3D’s innovative 3D computer vision capability can offer the market major benefits, and we are pleased to partner with the company and invest in the creation of more AI-capable vision processors.”

The new funding will also be used to expand eYs3D’s product development and launch a series of 3D computer vision modules. It will also work with new business partners to expand its platform and hire more talent.

eYs3D’s chief strategy officer James Wang told TechCrunch that the global chip shortage and Taiwan’s drought haven’t significantly impacted the company’s business or production plans, because it works with Etron as its integrated circuits manufacturing service.

“Etron Technology is one of the major accounts for the Taiwanese foundry sector and has strong relationships with the foundries, so eYs3D can receive products for its customers as required,” he said. “Meanwhile, eYs3D works closly with its major customers to schedule a just-in-time supply chain for their production pipelines.”

The company’s systems combine silicon design and algorithms to manage information collected from different sensor sources, including thermal, 3D and neural network perception. Its technology is capable of supporting visual simultaneous location and mapping (vSLAM), object feature depth recognition, and gesture-based commands.

Yang said eYs3D can provide end-to-end services, from integrated circuit design to ready-to-use products, and works closely with clients to determine what they need. For example, it offered its chip solution to an autonomous robot company for obstacle avoidance and people-tracing features.

“Since their expertise is in robotic motor controls and mechanicals, they needed a more complete solution for a design module for 3D sensing, as well as object and people recognition. We provided them with one of our 3D depth camera solutions and SDK along with middleware algorithm samples for their validation,” said Yang. “The customer took our design package and seamlessly integrated our 3D depth camera solution for proof-of-concept within a short period of time. Next, we helped them to retrofit the camera design to fit in their robot body prior to commercialization of the robot.”

#3d-sensor, #asia, #chips, #computer-vision, #eys3d, #fundings-exits, #integrated-circuits, #robotics, #startups, #taiwan, #tc, #virtual-reality

Holoride deploys Elrond blockchain and NFTs in prep for 2022 market launch

Holoride, the Audi spinoff that’s creating an in-vehicle XR passenger entertainment experience, is deploying blockchain technology and NFTs as the next stage in its preparation for a 2022 market launch. 

The company, which closed a $12 million Series A in April, announced it would be integrating Elrond blockchain into its tech stack to bring transparency to its ecosystem of car manufacturers and content creators. Holoride hopes to use NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, to incentivize developers into creating more content on holoride’s platform for the promise of more money earned off token purchases, and to attract passengers who want to personalize their in-car experience. 

Blockchain… NFTs… is holoride just trying to be internet trendy? Maybe, but the blockchain integration at least has been in the works for the past year, says holoride CEO and founder Nils Wollny.

Holoride’s immersive in-vehicle media platform doesn’t need blockchain to function. Its passenger experiences sync to the real-time motion and location-based data of the vehicle, so content adjusts to vehicle motion (meaning no motion sickness!). Where blockchain plays a role is to help holoride fairly and transparently distribute content and compensate developers based on user engagement time and value distribution. 

“We said we want to connect all our ecosystem partners in a very fair and transparent manner from the beginning, and blockchain technology delivers exactly on that,” Wollny told TechCrunch. “Every transaction and engagement can be stored in the blockchain. For car manufacturers, they can see how much time was spent with holoride experiences in their cars, and for content creators it’s transparent on how much time was spent with their title they have created for our platform.”

NFTs are unique digital tokens that have a marked place on the blockchain and cannot be replaced with anything else. Most NFTs are part of Ethereum’s blockchain, but holoride’s will be supported by Elrond’s blockchain. 

Wollny hopes the enticement of buying or collecting NFTs while immersed in holoride’s experiences will lead to more engagement. He also anticipates the acceleration of what futurists and other tech nerds are calling the ‘metaverse’ or the concept of the digital and virtual world increasingly intertwining with physical and augmented reality.

Need help visualizing how this works while you’re strapped into a headset being driven to your next destination? For holoride, an NFT might start by connecting elements in the virtual world to locations or events in the real world. 

“Imagine people are traveling in their virtual vehicle, maybe it’s a spaceship or a submarine, as their physical body is in a car driving through the real world,” said Wollny. “They might pass by a certain location where a content creator decided to put something passengers can collect on their way.”

So it’s kind of like Pokémon GO, but you’re sitting in a car with a VR headset on rather than walking around outside holding your phone in front of you and following augmented reality anime pets like a lunatic. And when you catch the Pokémon, it’s unique and yours and no one else can have it unless you decide to trade it.

“Or maybe the user is really good at a game they’re playing and they earn rewards while playing,” Wollny continued. “You can maybe display them to other users or trade them in the future, bringing the real world and the virtual world closer together.”

The future of holoride’s NFTs really depends upon the extent to which passengers find themselves so immersed in their in-car experiences that they seek attachment and personalization in the form of digital tokens. Maybe Wollny has been spending too much time in virtual reality, or maybe he knows something we don’t about our inevitable reliance on extended reality. But as he told TechCrunch, this is only the genesis of the startup’s ecosystem, a step towards making holoride the “transportation company for the metaverse.”

#audi, #blockchain, #entertainment, #holoride, #nft, #transportation, #virtual-reality, #vr

Facebook VR exec Hugo Barra is leaving

Four years after joining as Facebook’s first VP of VR, ex-Xiaomi exec Hugo Barra has left the company, he said in a social media post Tuesday.

Barra led Facebook’s VR efforts during a particularly tumultuous time for Oculus, coming aboard to helm the division as the once independent arm was folded deeper into its parent company after the departure of co-founder and CEO Brendan Iribe. During Barra’s time at Facebook, the company pivoted from PC-based VR systems towards all-in-one designs, relying on a partnership with Barra’s previous employer Xiaomi to help the company scale its entry-level Oculus Go headset which has since been discontinued.

The executive was eventually replaced in his role leading AR/VR inside Zuck’s inner circle by long-time Facebook veteran Andrew Bosworth and subsequently moved to a role leading partnerships. Barra leaves months after the launch of Facebook’s $299 Quest 2 headset, which arrived to positive reviews, and on the cusp of the company’s first foray into AR-based smart glasses.

“When Mark Zuckerberg approached me 5 years ago to come to Facebook to lead the Oculus team and work on virtual reality, I knew I was jumping into an ambitious journey to help build the next computing platform but I couldn’t have imagined just how much this team would get done in just a few years,” Barra wrote in a public Facebook post.

Barra didn’t detail where he’ll be landing next, but said he’s joining an effort in the healthcare technology space.

#andrew-bosworth, #arkansas, #brendan-iribe, #companies, #computing, #display-technology, #executive, #facebook, #hugo-barra, #mark-zuckerberg, #mixed-reality, #oculus, #quest, #technology, #virtual-reality, #vr, #wearable-devices, #xiaomi, #zuck

Demeo is the best multiplayer, virtual-reality D&D clone ever made

Have you ever liked something so much that it made you sad? It’s that weird moment when your emotional swingset goes over the handlebars, passing joy and turning into a strange version of regret. I’ve had this happen with movies I caught years too late, when finally getting a decent pair of headphones, or after learning that cool trick to instantly remove the stickers and plastic on a CD case. The sensation is something along the lines of, “I would’ve turned out differently as an adult if I’d had this sooner.”

That’s how I feel about the new virtual reality game Demeo. You can see it in the above gallery: This Dungeons & Dragons-styled video game recreates the franchise’s tactile, turn-based battles with friends. And it’s awesome.

I can move clunky, fantastical miniatures around a board, then watch them come to life to do battle while nearby friends scream in delight and/or agony when a dice roll changes everything at a moment’s notice? And all of that happens on-demand within a genius VR implementation? Yes, please. I love this stuff—a blend of tabletop and digital co-op gaming with a dash of real-life presence—and I wish I’d had it earlier. (Specifically, I wish I’d had it for the past 15 months.)

This recent VR game, available on SteamVR and Oculus Quest for $30 as of May 6, is absolutely not perfect. In fact. it’s arguably missing a critical “early access” tag. Getting through a session of this D&D facsimile without inventing a wish list of additional features may be a challenge, especially if you and your adventuring party have an established regimen of tabletop co-op adventure games.

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#dd, #demeo, #dungeons-dragons, #features, #gaming-culture, #oculus-quest, #steamvr, #virtual-reality, #vr

After another canceled year in the desert, Burning Man plans for a virtual event

Last month, the organization behind Burning Man announced that the festival/experience would not be returning to the desert of Nevada this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and would instead be attempting a virtual event once again aiming to bring attendees access to a handful of web-based experiences.

Today, the Burning Man org released tickets for its online events taking place between August 22 and September 7.

There have been few illusions for attendees that a virtual event is any substitute for the real thing, but organizers have tried to get creative when it comes to the social web experiences so that attendees can reclaim some of the camaraderie. While the organization won’t be setting up an official presence, some camps have already committed to hosting an unofficial return to the desert.

Last year, TechCrunch profiled the Burning Man org as they struggled to pull together a virtual event that captured the feeling of the in-person experience using virtual reality, mobile apps, and virtual experimental theater.

Most of the creators behind last year’s experience are back this year including a few VR-centric experiences and a handful of live-streaming and Zoom-based apps designed to spice things up a bit. This year’s apps include the VR-based BRCvr, interactive chat platform Build-a-Burn, 3D world Dusty Universe, ‘photo-realistic’ simulation The Infinite Playa, video chat Sparkleverse and livestream platform Burn Week.

This year, the apps have a reserve ticketing system set up for “early bird tickets” and they are all charging different prices based on the experience type. The most aggressive pitch is from Infinite Playa which is offering tickets ranging from a $16 two-hour pass to an $88 unlimited pass. Others are adopting donation-based pricing tiers, while the Burn Week livestream is offering a free stream to all viewers alongside a $29 “extended experience.”

#articles, #burning-man, #counterculture, #culture, #nevada, #online-events, #simulation, #tc, #virtual-reality

Xbox teams up with Tencent’s Honor of Kings maker TiMi Studios

TiMi Studios, one of the world’s most lucrative game makers and is part of Tencent’s gargantuan digital entertainment empire, said Thursday that it has struck a strategic partnership with Xbox.

The succinct announcement did not mention whether the tie-up is for content development or Xbox’s console distribution in China but said more details will be unveiled for the “deep partnership” by the end of this year.

Established in 2008 within Tencent, TiMi is behind popular mobile titles such as Honor of Kings and Call of Duty Mobile. In 2020, Honor of Kings alone generated close to $2.5 billion in player spending, according to market research company SensorTower. In all, TiMi pocketed $10 billion in revenue last year, according to a report from Reuters citing people with knowledge.

The partnership could help TiMi build a name globally by converting its mobile titles into console plays for Microsoft’s Xbox. TiMi has been trying to strengthen its own brand and distinguish itself from other Tencent gaming clusters, such as its internal rival LightSpeed & Quantum Studio, which is known for PUBG Mobile.

TiMi operates a branch in Los Angeles and said in January 2020 that it planned to “triple” its headcount in North America, adding that building high-budget, high-quality AAA mobile games was core to its global strategy. There are clues in a recruitment notice posted recently by a TiMi employee: The unit is hiring developers for an upcoming AAA title that is benchmarked against the Oasis, a massively multiplayer online game that evolves into a virtual society in the fiction and film Ready Player One. Oasis is played via a virtual reality headset.

Xbox’s latest Series X and Series S are to debut in China imminently, though the launch doesn’t appear to be linked to the Tencent deal. Sony’s Playstation 5 just hit the shelves in China in late April. Nintendo Switch distributes in China through a partnership with Tencent sealed in 2019.

Chinese console players often resort to grey markets for foreign editions because the list of Chinese titles approved by local authorities is tiny compared to what’s available outside the country. But these grey markets, both online and offline, are susceptible to ongoing clampdown. Most recently in March, product listings by multiple top sellers of imported console games vanished from Alibaba’s Taobao marketplace.

#asia, #call-of-duty, #china, #gadgets, #gaming, #honor-of-kings, #los-angeles, #nintendo, #nintendo-switch, #player, #ready-player-one, #tencent, #video-games, #video-gaming, #virtual-reality, #xbox

HTC’s newest headsets signal end of Vive’s 5-year “VR for the home” mission

Today’s VR-centric ViveCon 2021, presented by HTC’s Vive division of VR headsets, kicks off with two new headset models slated to launch this year.

That’s probably the headline HTC wants VR fans to focus on—hooray, new stuff to strap to faces—but a closer examination of both headsets (and feedback directly from HTC’s executive team) puts a damper on that, at least for any average consumer interested in buying either.

The Vive Focus 3, HTC’s newest “all-in-one” untethered VR headset, competes directly with the Oculus Quest 2, but it costs a whopping $1,000 more than the Facebook-branded option, at $1,299 MSRP. And the Vive Pro 2, a long-overdue spec bump to 2018’s Vive Pro, resembles the earlier model all too much while costing either $799 by itself or $1,399 for its “full kit.”

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#gaming-culture, #htc-vive, #oculus, #oculus-quest, #steamvr, #virtual-reality, #vr

Audi spinoff holoride collects $12m in Series A led by Terranet AB

Holoride, the company that’s building an immersive XR in-vehicle media platform, today announced it raised €10 million (approximately $12 million) in its Series A investing round, earning the company a €30 million ($36 million) valuation. 

The Swedish ADAS software development company Terranet led the round with €3.2 million (~$3.9 million), followed by a group of Chinese financial and automotive technology investors, organized by investment professional Jingjing Xu, and educational and entertainment game development company Schell Games, which has partnered with holoride in the past to create content. 

Holoride will use the fresh funds to search for new developers and other talent both as it prepares to expand into global markets like Europe, the United States and Asia, and in advance of its summer 2022 launch for private passenger cars. 

“This goes hand-in-hand with putting more emphasis on the content creator community, and as of summer this year, releasing a lot of tools to help them build content for cars on our platform,” Nils Wollny, holoride’s CEO and founder, told TechCrunch. 

The Munich-based company launched at CES in 2019. TechCrunch got to test out its in-car virtual reality system. Our team was surprised, and delighted, to find that holoride had figured out how to quell the motion sickness caused both by being a passenger in a vehicle, and by using a VR headset. The key? Matching the experience users have within the headset to the movement of the vehicle. Once holoride launches, users will be able to download the holoride app to their phones or other personal devices like VR headsets, which will connect wirelessly to the car itself, and extend their reality.  

“Our technology has two sides,” said Wollny. “One is the localization, or positioning software, that takes data points from the car and performs real time synchronization. The other part is what we call our Elastic Software Development Kit. Content creators can build elastic content, which adapts to your travel time and routes. The collaboration with Terranet means their sensors and software stack that allow for a more precise capture and interpretation of the environment at an even faster speed with higher accuracy will enable us in the future for even more possibilities.”

Terranet’s VoxelFlow™ software, which was originally designed for ADAS applications, will help holoride advance its real time, in-vehicle XR entertainment. Terranet’s CEO Par-olof Johannesson, describes VoxelFlow™ as a new paradigm within computer vision and object identification, wherein a combination of sensors, event cameras and a laser scanner are integrated into a car’s windshield and headlamps in order to calculate the distance, direction and speed of an object.

Terranet’s VoxelFlow™ uses computer vision and object identification via a combination of sensors, event cameras and a laser scanner, which are integrated into a car’s windshield and headlamps, in order to calculate the distance, direction and speed of an object.

Holoride, which is manufacturer-agnostic, will be able to use the data points calculated by VoxelFlow™ in real time if holoride were being used in a vehicle that was built integrated with Terranet’s software. But more important is the ability for holoride to reuse 3D event data for XR applications, giving it to creators so they can create the most interactive experience. Terranet is also looking forward to opening up a new vertical for VoxelFlow™

“We are of course very eager to access holoride’s wide pipeline, as well,” said Johannesson. “This deal is very much about expanding the addressable market and tapping into the heart of the automotive industry, where lead times and turnaround times are usually pretty long.”

Holoride is on a mission to revolutionize the passenger experience by turning dead car time into interactive experiences that can run the gamut of gaming, education, productivity, mindfulness and more. For example, around Halloween 2019, holoride teamed up with Ford and Universal Pictures to immerse riders into the frightening world of the Bride of Frankenstein, replete with monsters jumping out and tasks for riders to perform. 

Wollny said holoride always has an eye towards the next step, even though its first product hasn’t gone to market yet. He understands that the future is in autonomous vehicles, and wants to build an essential element of the future tech stack of future cars, cars in which everyone is a passenger. 

“Car manufacturers always focus on the buyer of the car or the driver, but not so much on the passenger,” said Wollny. “The passenger is who holoride really focuses on. We want to turn every vehicle into a moving theme park.”

#augmented-reality, #entertainment, #holoride, #tc, #transportation, #virtual-reality