Machines. We humans have a complicated relationship with them. Will they serve us, or will they control us? The smarter our machines get, the more control we relinquish to them. Smart machines already run a lot of our physical and social infrastructure, from the logic that drives our power plants to the algorithms that control our reading preferences, buying habits and even our love life. Soon enough they will be driving our cars and flying our planes.
Is that the only way forward though? Can we perhaps find another model for Human Machine interaction, one which does not replace humans with smart machines but instead integrates the capabilities of the two species to perform tasks that neither of them is capable of achieving on their own?
This is what the Xtend team set out to explore. The outcome of their effort is eXtended Reality, or XR: A new model for Human-Machine interaction, one in which human operators collaborate in real time with autonomous robots, in an immersive manner that allows complex tasks to be carried out with minimal training.
The breakthrough XR Platform created by the Xtend team supports a range of autonomous robots — aerial, terrestrial, or sub-terrestrial, indoors and outdoors, with its mixed-reality, sensory-enhancing UX using real-time 3D VR, AR/MR and computer vision solutions. With minimal training and light-weight equipment, not only can users sense and see, but they can also interact remotely with precision — anywhere in the world.
For us at lool, the Xtend investment thesis began with the team. Before there was even a company or business in place, we connected on a personal level with serial entrepreneurs Aviv Shapira and Matteo Shapira who had been through an amazing journey, selling Replay to Intel for $175m while twice winning an Emmy Award. As their exploration phase unfolded, Aviv and Matteo teamed up with long-time friends Adir Tubi, a veteran of Elbit, and Rubi Liani, the founder of the Israeli Drone Racing League, to brainstorm different ways they could improve the racing experience.
The team initially experimented with a small lightweight drone and a VR-integrated video streaming technology. Although we were blown away (literally) when we experienced the system, as we donned the virtual Iron Man suit and took off to the sky, we were equally as skeptical that there was a clear business case — while it might make racing more fun, we didn’t see a significant revenue opportunity in racing. It seemed to be the classic case of a technology looking for a problem. So we took a step back to watch the product and business utility mature.
A few months later, it became clear that something completely new and unexpected was emerging out of this experimental technology: a very different model for Human-Machine interaction. As the drones got smarter and the user experience more specialized, the team realized that unlike any other interaction model, they’ve created an experience in which humans and autonomous machines work hand in hand, collaborating to perform complex tasks that are otherwise impossible for any of them separately. XR was born, and with it the first use case moved quickly from a concept to an actual life saving solution : Xtend stealthily launched its first product, “Skylord”, and secured significant contracts with several Defense Agencies.
We learned that the key advantage to Xtend’s breakthrough revolved around the expensive and difficult training process required to control drones remotely. With minimal training and light-weight equipment, not only could users sense and see, but they could also interact remotely with precision — anywhere in the world.
As the company kicked off conversations with prospective customers and partners in Cinematography, Public Safety, Industrial Inspection, Tourism and Gaming industries, we felt comfortable that Xtend’s breakthrough could have a profound impact on the range of tasks that can now be taken on by humans supported by autonomous machines.
There is a lesson here, at least for us. As an industry, we tell startups founders that they must address a very specific “pain” for which they are The Solution, or else we sadly classify them into the technology-looking-for-a-problem bucket and move on. The lesson? Don’t underestimate play-time. Awesome things can happen when awesome founders with unique talents let themselves follow their passions all the way through.
We are happy to join Xtend’s exciting journey in developing a next-generation HMI platform and exploring its implications, alongside i3 Equity Partners and TAU ventures. Thanks for the lesson guys!