VR

Against Gravity is building a VR world that won’t stop growing

Posted by | Against Gravity, Gaming, Index Ventures, Rec Room, Recent Funding, Sequoia, Startups, Virtual reality, VR | No Comments

The quest to create a social auditorium in virtual reality has eaten many VC dollars over the years. While plenty of contenders have emerged, it’s likely Against Gravity’s href=”https://rec.net/”> Rec Room has been the most creative in its approach to capturing a niche market while plotting how to build a sustainable business based on users in VR headsets talking to one another.

The Seattle startup has told TechCrunch exclusively that it has bagged $24 million over two rounds of funding. The studio’s Series A was led by Sequoia and their Series B, which just recently closed, was led by Index Ventures . Against Gravity has a bevy of top investors that also participated in the rounds, including First Round Capital, Maveron, Anorak Ventures, Acequia Capital, Betaworks and DAG Ventures.

The company didn’t break down the specific details of the rounds. Against Gravity was authorized to raise up to $15.4 in its Series B at up to a $126 million post-money valuation, according to Delaware stock authorization docs we got from PitchBook. The company didn’t comment on the valuation.

Rec Room is hardly a household name compared to some major console titles, but among virtual reality users, the title has been a standby known for the diversity of gameplay available inside its walls and its wide support for hardware. Users are able to create experiences or “rooms” that can be accessed by other users. They don’t need any coding knowledge to build these spaces, as creation all happens within the game and can be done by multiple users simultaneously.

Rec Room is also about to surpass one million rooms created by users on the platform. The company says these environments include “sports games, shooters, adventure quests, nightclubs, club houses, and escape rooms.”

While companies like Linden Labs, the creator of Second Life, have focused their VR efforts on realistic but unvarying user-created environments, Against Gravity has seemingly one-upped their strategy by focusing on dynamic gameplay modes where the emphasis is on user interactions as opposed to graphic fidelity.

The Seattle startup, which was founded in 2016, now has 35 employees building out and maintaining Rec Room. The company is playable on a variety of platforms, and is about to add iOS support to its roster, an expansion that could bring a lot more users onto the VR-centric platform.

Rec Room’s content isn’t monetized too aggressively at the moment. CEO Nick Fajt thinks some of the user-generated experiences are going to offer an interesting opportunity down the road, prompting users to spend in-game tokens on more than just upgrades to the platform’s Playmobil-like avatars.

“I think a direction that we’re actually excited about is that we want to let the users creating some of this content charge tokens to play them,” Fajt tells TechCrunch. “I think that’s one that we’re kind of on the cusp of doing and we’re hoping to get that out later this year.”

For Against Gravity, timing has always been a key consideration for expansion, especially inside the slow-growing VR market, which has only recently seemed to hit a stride. I chatted with Fajt back in 2017, and he told me that the key for VR startups surviving was staying lean and biding their time until standalone mobile headsets with positional tracking and motion controllers were released. Facebook’s Oculus Quest headset, which came out less than a month ago, is perhaps the first clear device to fit that vision.

One of Facebook’s head AR/VR executives shared earlier this week that more than $5 million in Quest content had been sold in the company’s store in the first two weeks after the device’s launch. That’s a major development for an industry that hasn’t seen many smash hits, but for free-to-play game makers like Against Gravity, which has now raised $29 million to date, there’s plenty of maturation in the VR market that still needs to happen.

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Oculus Quest and Rift S now shipping

Posted by | Facebook, Gadgets, Gaming, Oculus Quest, Oculus Rift, Oculus Rift S, Oculus VR, Virtual reality, VR | No Comments

Facebook -owned Oculus is shipping its latest VR headgear from today. Pre-orders for the PC-free Oculus Quest and the higher end Oculus Rift S opened up three weeks ago.

In a launch blog, Oculus touts the new hardware’s “all-in-one, fully immersive 6DOF VR” — writing: “We’re bringing the magic of presence to more people than ever before — and we’re doing it with the freedom of fully untethered movement.”

For a less varnished view on what it’s like to stick a face-computer on your head, you can check out our reviews by clicking on the links below…

Oculus Quest

TC: “The headset may not be the most powerful, but it is doubtlessly the new flagship VR product from Facebook”

Oculus Rift S

TC: “It still doesn’t feel like a proper upgrade to a flagship headset that’s already three years old, but it is a more fine-tuned system that feels more evolved and dependable”

The Oculus blog contains no detail on pre-order sales for the headsets — beyond a few fine-sounding words.

Meanwhile, Facebook has, for months, been running native ads for Oculus via its eponymous and omnipresent social network — although there’s no explicit mention of the Oculus brand unless you click through to “learn more.”

Instead, it’s pushing the generic notion of “all-in-one VR,” shrinking the Oculus brand stamp on the headset to an indecipherable micro-scribble.

Here’s one of Facebook’s ads that targeted me in Europe, back in March, for e.g.:

For those wanting to partake of Facebook-flavored face gaming (and/or immersive movie watching), the Oculus Quest and Rift S are available to buy via oculus.com and retail partners including Amazon, Best Buy, Newegg, Walmart and GameStop in the U.S.; Currys PC World, FNAC, MediaMarkt and more in the EU and U.K.; and Amazon in Japan.

Just remember to keep your mouth shut.

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Reality Check: The marvel of computer vision technology in today’s camera-based AR systems

Posted by | animation, AR, ar/vr, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, Column, Computer Vision, computing, Developer, digital media, Gaming, gif, Global Positioning System, gps, mobile phones, neural network, starbucks, TC, Virtual reality, VR | No Comments
Alex Chuang
Contributor

Alex Chuang is the Managing Partner of Shape Immersive, a boutique studio that helps enterprise and brands transform their businesses by incorporating VR/AR solutions into their strategies.

British science fiction writer, Sir Arther C. Clark, once said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Augmented reality has the potential to instill awe and wonder in us just as magic would. For the very first time in the history of computing, we now have the ability to blur the line between the physical world and the virtual world. AR promises to bring forth the dawn of a new creative economy, where digital media can be brought to life and given the ability to interact with the real world.

AR experiences can seem magical but what exactly is happening behind the curtain? To answer this, we must look at the three basic foundations of a camera-based AR system like our smartphone.

  1. How do computers know where it is in the world? (Localization + Mapping)
  2. How do computers understand what the world looks like? (Geometry)
  3. How do computers understand the world as we do? (Semantics)

Part 1: How do computers know where it is in the world? (Localization)

Mars Rover Curiosity taking a selfie on Mars. Source: https://www.nasa.gov/jpl/msl/pia19808/looking-up-at-mars-rover-curiosity-in-buckskin-selfie/

When NASA scientists put the rover onto Mars, they needed a way for the robot to navigate itself on a different planet without the use of a global positioning system (GPS). They came up with a technique called Visual Inertial Odometry (VIO) to track the rover’s movement over time without GPS. This is the same technique that our smartphones use to track their spatial position and orientation.

A VIO system is made out of two parts.

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Harry Potter, the Platform, and the Future of Niantic

Posted by | Apps, AR, augmented reality, DigiLens, EC-1, Escher Reality, Gaming, geolocation, harry potter, harry potter wizards unite, john hanke, matrix mill, Mobile, niantic, Phil Keslin, Pokémon Go, Startups, TC, Virtual reality, VR | No Comments

What is Niantic? If they recognize the name, most people would rightly tell you it’s a company that makes mobile games, like Pokémon GO, or Ingress, or Harry Potter: Wizards Unite.

But no one at Niantic really seems to box it up as a mobile gaming company. Making these games is a big part of what the company does, yes, but the games are part of a bigger picture: they are a springboard, a place to figure out the constraints of what they can do with augmented reality today, and to figure out how to build the tech that moves it forward. Niantic wants to wrap their learnings back into a platform upon which others can build their own AR products, be it games or something else. And they want to be ready for whatever comes after smartphones.

Niantic is a bet on augmented reality becoming more and more a part of our lives; when that happens, they want to be the company that powers it.

This is Part 3 of our EC-1 series on Niantic, looking at its past, present, and potential future. You can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here. The reading time for this article is 24 minutes (6,050 words)

The platform play

After the absurd launch of Pokémon GO, everyone wanted a piece of the AR pie. Niantic got more pitches than they could take on, I’m told, as rights holders big and small reached out to see if the company might build something with their IP or franchise.

But Niantic couldn’t build it all. From art, to audio, to even just thinking up new gameplay mechanics, each game or project they took on would require a mountain of resources. What if they focused on letting these other companies build these sorts of things themselves?

That’s the idea behind Niantic’s Real World Platform. This platform is a key part of Niantic’s game plan moving forward, with the company having as many people working on the platform as it has on its marquee money maker, Pokémon GO.

There are tons of pieces that go into making things like GO or Ingress, and Niantic has spent the better part of the last decade figuring out how to make them all fit together. They’ve built the core engine that powers the games and, after a bumpy start with Pokémon GO’s launch, figured out how to scale it to hundreds of millions of users around the world. They’ve put considerable work into figuring out how to detect cheaters and spoofers and give them the boot. They’ve built a social layer, with systems like friendships and trade. They’ve already amassed that real-world location data that proved so challenging back when it was building Field Trip, with all of those real-world points of interest that now serve as portals and Pokéstops.

Niantic could help other companies with real-world events, too. That might seem funny after the mess that was the first Pokémon GO Fest (as detailed in Part II). But Niantic turned around, went back to the same city the next year, and pulled it off. That experience — that battle-testing — is valuable. Meanwhile, the company has pulled off countless huge Ingress events, and a number of Pokémon GO side events calledSafari Zones.” CTO Phil Keslin confirmed to me that event management is planned as part of the platform offering.

As Niantic builds new tech — like, say, more advanced AR or faster ways to sync AR experiences between devices — it’ll all get rolled into the platform. With each problem they solve, the platform offering would grow.

But first they need to prove that there’s a platform to stand on.

Harry Potter: Wizards Unite

Niantic’s platform, as it exists today, is the result of years of building their own games. It’s the collection of tools they’ve built and rebuilt along the way, and that already powers Ingress Prime and Pokémon GO. But to prove itself as a platform company, Niantic needs to show that they can do it again. That they can take these engines, these tools, and, working with another team, use them for something new.

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Microsoft expands HoloLens headsets to 29 new markets, now up to 39

Posted by | AR, augmented reality, Computer Hardware, computing, Europe, Gadgets, head-mounted displays, Headset, Microsoft, Microsoft HoloLens, microsoft windows, mixed reality, TC, VR, Windows 10 | No Comments

 Nearly three years on from Microsoft unveiling its HoloLens augmented reality headsets, the company today announced a major expansion of its availability: 29 more markets in Europe, nearly tripling the total number of countries where you can buy the device up to 39. The news shows that while we don’t have a firm number of how many units have been sold, we do know that Microsoft is… Read More

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Samsung joins Microsoft’s VR parade with its new high-end headset for Windows 10

Posted by | Gadgets, hardware, Headset, Microsoft, mixed reality, Samsung, TC, Virtual reality, VR | No Comments

 Microsoft is getting ready to launch the next major update to Windows 10. Part of this update includes full support for Windows Mixed Reality. After lining up support and headsets from partners like Acer, Dell HP and Lenovo, Microsoft today announced that Samsung is bringing a virtual reality headset for room-scale VR to its platform. Read More

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What to expect from Google’s October 4 Pixel 2 event

Posted by | chromebook, Gadgets, Google, google home, Google Pixel, hardware, Mobile, Pixel 2, Pixel 2 XL, Pixelbook, TC, VR | No Comments

 Google’s big hardware event is coming up fast – it all goes down next Wednesday, October 4. But we already know (or think we know) a fair amount about what will be revealed, including brand new Pixel smartphones with some big upgrades, and some devices that will flesh out Google’s broader hardware portfolio considerably. Here’s a list of what we can expect when Google… Read More

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Virtual science lab startup Labster bags $10M to accelerate its ed tech play

Posted by | 3d, AR, augmented reality, Balderton Capital, ed tech, Education, Europe, Fundings & Exits, gamification, Gaming, labster, science, simulation, TC, unity, Virtual reality, VR | No Comments

 Ed tech startup Labster whose software platform enables virtual simulations of laboratories for teaching life science to students, has closed a $10 million Series A round of funding led by early stage European VC firm Balderton Capital. Read More

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We went gaming at a VR arcade in Hong Kong

Posted by | Asia, Gadgets, hong kong, playdium, robot, TC, Virtual reality, VR, vr arcade | No Comments

 TechCrunch was in Hong Kong last week for tech conference Rise — where we watched two robots talking together on stage, among other things. The event is well-known for its after-parties and social activities, but one night we sneaked away from the crowd with a few friends to check out a virtual reality arcade. Playdium is a new entry to the city, having only opened its doors at the start… Read More

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