Had a sit down with Mark Grob our expert on all things virtual, an Immersive Technology veteran who was building VR software way back when we were all collecting Tesco vouchers to get the free Acorn computer in primary school and later on worrying about the millennium bug. He is currently heading up a stealth mode build at EV but took some time out to answer my questions…and even send me a picture of the headsets he has amassed over the years. I said he should probably consider a conduit for the host of wires he had snaking around his lab.

‘So Mark, in your opinion what is the shelf life of a VR company?’

5-7 years approx. They have about 3 years to lock in to their core market…otherwise they’re done and will be surpassed by major players. Note, Magic Leap is still in a “research phase” but it very soon will start getting questioned by its core investors with a “Bulls**t” check. That will happen within the 7-9 years from their start, which means it will happen in the next 1 1/2 – 2 years.

‘What was the last Immersive company to excite you and why?’

Qualcomm and their OEM model for all in one Immersive devices… maybe, otherwise maybe HoloLens (but was let down by FOV of device). Note, Apple did not excite me with this latest release of ARkit and Expansion bays for VR (That is all catch up product releases, nothing was innovative).

‘Which Immersive companies should be getting investment?’

It’s a hard question to answer, it depends on the “comfort base” each investor has in any given area. I would advise investors to invest into VR based on what they know i.e. If you have knowledge and understanding of hardware it is wise to invest in hardware investments and not software. If you have a strong base in software I would make software based investments. Or get the advisor’s needed to guide the way. Knowledge crosses over from the core market, or rather it’s the immersive concepts bridging or jumping into different sectors that most investors already understand. Oculus jumped the gap into consumer gaming/entertainment from the vizsim industry (flight sims, visualization research, etc.). Note, they retrenched into only hardware and closed their content production studio, because they needed to catch up to the other device guys who were getting ahead.

Which VR companies would I personally invest in? I would invest in HTC*, Microsoft, Sony, Tensen (big Chinese electronics manufacturer), Apple. These guys have already tried Immersive Tech in one form or another. Oculus was the “trigger company” to start this current interest/wave (Immersive innovation wave cycle between 7-10 years) in the investment world… but I would argue it’s fallen behind since 2014. HTC Vive* is a good turnkey product for immersion but it is generally niche to gaming because of Steam.… also the HTC company as a whole has some strategic issues.

I would invest in Unity Technologies, Steam (Value), and Unreal because these guys are going to stick around because they are not dependent only on Immersive Tech. The investments should be looked at as “functional investments” not simply the Smoke and mirrors. Do the concepts for the venture truly and practically make sense or is there a “Magic” element to the investment for that investor? If “magic” is involved treat it as “dark magic” and stay away.

‘Why is AR the new reality?’

STOP using the term AR or VR… it’s all part of the same bag… Immersive Technology = wrapping constructive worlds or data around you so that you are the centre of those data points…. hence Immerse in data through the human Interface. AR and VR are terms used by Hardware makers (gold rushers) because their product has weak points on how it interfaces with internal/external work…for vizsim industry (bigger market). The gaming industry is child of the vizsim industry….this is what we called it in1999. Follow Bob Stone on Linkedin… get him going on the “New VR” rage… he is a great practical source… but even I disagree with some of his thoughts.

‘Give me a summary of the mapping techniques your latest project utilizes.’

Hybrid or mixed geo-spatial methods, we allow multiple geo sources to be visualized into one 3D space or world based on numerous standards such as flight-sims and the military. This layering of different types of material heightens the details and value of information, for example GIS (google maps) + LIDAR (drone sensors) + security grid point renders from camera feeds, start to layer a more hyper-real model of reality. Its focus is DoD data sets, but other methods are being used for the HyperReality being imagined in Silicon Valley. The term in the Valley is “MetaVerse” (Facebook, Meta, Oculus, Improbable, etc.) but in the terms of data being spatially aligned to data sets from the current Internet (Ads, video, 360 Panos, etc).

Then combine that with the virtual interface or data it can make the human almost super in perception… this is what our latest venture is looking to do for public safety. Hololens or VIVE users (holodeck team visualization in virtual space) advising real “boots” on the ground in real time. Its giving the boots the super powers of all the data in one visualization. Then you can add more interesting things like AI situational awareness and threat potentials (projected LOS, etc.). This becomes a real industrial tool for many markets, not just gaming.

‘So, in the example of a live situation, with say, the police responding to an emergency or troops in Iraq using Google maps to assess and plan in real-time – why is your solution better?’

On the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan most troops coordinate through the same tools, using a simple google maps with way points and markers… and maybe real-time updating of markers and chat between command vehicles. This is how it is – today…we are proposing an interface for public safety to give the boots on the ground all the sensor and telemetry via a human readable interface, AR glasses, ODG/Hololens even a Smartphone or in the command control centre (via a VIVE or dedicated space for immersion). Imagine a public safety officer having the ability to harness a sensor data that is properly aligned in AR/MR to the real situation. The drone becomes an arm of the solider.

Why is Improbable exciting and different from the rest?

Improbable is exciting because they want to make themselves the brand in Immersive Tech like Industrial Light and Magic did for Film. Once a market matures and hardware becomes a commodity, CONTENT IS KING. The owners of fast production tools (software) and channels will be the bigger owners of the market… this is how Microsoft became KING of the office eco system, this is how Adobe became the power house of desktop publishing… Autodesk king of 3D visualization. My concern with Improbable as an investor would be (even with that large investment “unicorn” money)… is it going to properly respond to the changing market trends in Immersive Technology… is it too focused on Gaming and missing the bigger picture? If they are only focused on VR content (internalized content for immersion), what if mixed reality plays a bigger role because of unforeseen innovations? In the 90’s Virtual Reality died because the Internet was born. The ease of access to Data exceeded the benefits of linking into the machine (VR)… people lost interest and watched porn instead.

‘Other VC’s may be wondering – why did Improbable receive such a large investment. Why do you think?’

Difficult one. Does the value they received match the perceived value of what they currently have and are doing? Does it match that value in 5 years? I don’t know. The comfort of the initial investors is why they received the huge investment that they got…is it a worthwhile investment or a bad idea? We will still need to see what decisions Improbable make. Having tons of money sometimes does not mean it’s too big to fail. Improbable’s executive team appears to be a good batch.

 

Andre Voisin works at Evertices Ventures supporting and developing companies applying technology to the world’s biggest challenges.