Three Startups Ready to Augment Your Reality
At the Vision Summit, Vuforia, Baobab, and Scope AR showed us how virtual and augmented reality can transform entertainment and your business.
Over 1,200 virtual, mixed, and augmented reality creators were in Hollywood in early May for the Vision Summit, hosted by Unity Technologies, to learn what’s next in the realm of the unreal. PCMag sat down with executives from Vuforia, leading VR animation studio Baobab, and Scope AR, which specializes in AR-based remote connectivity for businesses.
Vuforia has extended its Smart Terrain platform to support Google Tango devices (such as the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro), which will allow for room-scale AR experiences. Smart Terrain lets developers define objects within 3D meshes, so consumers can interact in a seamless way between the real and the augmented visual layer.
It’s still a work in progress, so in the meantime, Jay Wright, president and general manager, used toys for some Vuforia-based VR/AR demos from companies such as SwapBots. The U.K.-based startup lets users “put blocks together to create new characters and then they do things together,” Wright explained.
Viewed through a Vuforia-enabled mobile device, a blue and pink gelatinous creature was triggered by a SwapBot block and gurgled oddly in mid-air.
Wright turned to a member of the Vuforia demo team. “Can you make it so the sombrero works, too?”
And there it was; the octopus-style creature morphed into Mexican hat-wearing mode before our eyes. It was fun, engaging, and one got the memo that toys that don’t go 4D are dead now.
“Every toy manufacturer in the market today, including Lego, has something in play with Vuforia,” Wright said. “We don’t put new technology into Vuforia until we can deliver in a robust fashion.”
It’s a good point; there’s plenty of vaporware in the market. Another company with an actual business model is Scope AR. CEO and co-founder Scott Montgomerie gave PCMag a demo of RemoteAR, which is being used by clients including Boeing, Caterpillar, and Lockheed Martin.
“I developed a computer vision technology as part of an earlier startup and found a market much later when a mining company came to us and said, ‘Hey, can we use this for training?’,” Montgomerie said. “So we did a quick AR proof of concept with them showing how to replace a fuse on one of their massive high-capacity haul trucks, which are as high as a two-story house. The problem they faced was their equipment is very expensive, and not easy to maintain, so their dream was to have in-the-field, on-the-fly training. That’s what we built for them.”
During a demo, we grabbed a tablet and played the role of an on-site maintenance engineer learning how to replace parts on a rock drill drive shaft. Montgomerie, who played the role of teacher back at a manufacturer’s headquarters, drew on a tablet of his own, offering step-by-step instructions and virtually walking us through the procedure. Everything he did showed up on our tablet, in real time, with accompanying audio/video support
“One of the most amazing moments in The Matrix is when Trinity requests the program to fly a B-212 helicopter,” Montgomerie said. “RemoteAR is kinda like that. We’re not there yet — we need a cognitive brain implant — but this is one step on the way.”
It’s true. Should I find myself in a shaft mining colliery (you never know), I’m confident I could repair anything — if connected to RemoteAR.
Our final meeting was with Maureen Fan, CEO and co-founder of VR animation studio Baobab, which has raised over $31 million (20th Century Fox and Shanghai Media Group are among its investors) and attracted talent from Dreamworks, Pixar, and Zynga.
Fan gave us a sneak peek of its latest project, Rainbow Crow, an animated VR series with voice talent from John Legend, Diego Luna, and Constance Wu. The idea is to feel as though you are “walking inside a dream,” Fan’s favorite description of merging reality and animated worlds.
Baobab’s team draws heavily on neuroscience research to affect emotion; it has done “a lot of research, drawing on the neuroscience notion of ‘mirror neurons’ — as in the main character mirrors your actions to build connection and emotions,” Fan said.
The company is testing different business models with each release, from subscriptions, pay per view, and in-app purchases to ticket sales from VR-enabled movie theaters. Hollywood has noticed. Roth Kirschenbaum Films — started by Joe Roth, former Chairman of Walt Disney Studios, and Jeffrey Kirschenbaum, former president of Universal — is partnering with Baobab to make one of its earlier projects, Invasion, into a full-length feature.
The past few years have seen an explosion in experiments around VR, AR, and MR, including mental health, chronic pain, urban planning, the rehabilitation of wounded warriors, and re-entry from military into civilian life. What was clear from this year’s Vision Summit is that manufacturing, heavy industry, and Hollywood have now entered the game and found a way to make it pay.
Read more: “First Look at IMAX’s VR Experience Centre”
Originally published at www.pcmag.com.