In this weekly VRScout Report, Google Earth in VR is a rush, Facebook analyzes your face w/ augmented reality, GE uses AR to talk to machines, the funding wrap-up, cure lazy eye with VR, and more…
GOOGLE EARTH IN VR IS A RUSH
You float in outer space, gazing down upon our pale blue dot of a planet. You zoom in, closer and closer, until you are effortlessly flying down a city street. Made from high-res satellite imagery, aerial photography, and Street View data, Google Earth VR is surprisingly meditative when alone and fun when with a group. Yes, the buildings are pixelated when up close (but amazing from above), rural areas appear flattened (due to less available imagery), and search function does not yet exist (because you have to start somewhere). It’s not perfect, but who cares? Google’s first release of Earth VR is beautiful.
FACEBOOK BUYS AR COMPANY THAT ANALYZES YOUR FACE
Facebook is not disclosing the amount of cash it dropped for facial image analysis company FacioMetrics. Founded at Carnegie Mellon in 2015, the company created an app (now unavailable) called Intraface – which could recognize seven different emotions (anger, fear, joy, etc.). Facebook is pushing its live video hard, and is desperate to increase augmented reality functionalities to keep up with Snapchat (which reportedly is planning for an IPO in the $25B range). We’ll see the FacioMetrics tech make its way into videos and Live broadcasts in the near future – and eventually it is likely that facial image analysis would be useful for the customizable avatars that Oculus is creating, too (as well as create super datasets of human emotional reactions).
GE USES AR TO TALK TO MACHINES IN MICROSOFT PARTNERSHIP
Founded in the late 1800s, General Electric is one of Thomas Edison’s most successful and longest-running businesses. A publicly-traded company, GE ranked on Forbes 500 as the 14th most profitable business in the U.S. and is continuing to lead the enterprise space with augmented reality. Using human-computer interfaces, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, employees are communicating and interacting with machines via the Microsoft Hololens augmented reality device. GE creates “digital twins” – copies of actual machines at customer sites – and uses software to allow customers to communicate with the digital twin. These digital twins can provide remote repair support, and are also packed with data to run thousands of simultaneous simulations to predict things like breakdowns. Now when will Siri get this kind of an upgrade?
MONEY & FUNDING
Pioneering a unique form of haptic feedback that simulates sensation and touch, Tactical Haptics has raised $2.2M in seed funding to release a development kit of their Reactive Grip VR controller. $749,000 came from a National Science Foundation grant, and the remaining funding is venture capital – led by SV Tech Ventures and the Youku Global Media Fund. The company has been driving their product forward for a few years and led an unsuccessful Kickstarter in 2013, so this is a big deal for Tactical Haptics in their quest to commercialize haptic feedback technologies. In addition to obvious gaming use cases, the company is focusing on use cases like navigation aids for the blind, physical therapy, robotic and minimally invasive surgery, piloting drones, sports training, education, and telerobotics.
Founded in 2006, UK-based independent virtual reality gaming development studio nDreams has raised £2.0M (just under $2.5M) in funding. Led by pre-existing backer Mercia Technologies PLC and handful of angel investors, the company will use the funding to grow their team and continue developing VR-specific titles to join their already-impressive list: The Assembly, Perfect Beach, Gunner, and SkyDIEving. If you have access to Google Daydream, check out the excellently-named Danger Goat – their first title on Google’s new mobile VR platform.
TREAT LAZY EYE WITH VIRTUAL REALITY
Also known as lazy eye, amblyopia is caused by abnormal visual development from birth up to age 7 years and causes reduced vision and an inward or outward wandering eye. Traditional treatment consists of an eye patch, contact lenses, or even surgery. If the condition is not treated by age 9, then it is irreversible – that is, until virtual reality became accessible to a programmer with the condition. After being able to see in 3D for the first time while developing in VR, James Blaha was inspired to help others and founded Vivid Vision to treat the disorder. After existing in limited partner clinics for over a year, now people with lazy eye will be able to take the treatment home with them.