Outtakes from the VR Tuesday meetup in San Francisco
OK, you’ve heard about this virtual reality thing and know something big is coming down the road, but what is it, how big will it be and is it worth paying attention to?
Last night I wandered out to Shasta Ventures in South Park, the longtime epicenter of the tech revolution in San Francisco, for VR Tuesday #9, the ninth monthly gathering dedicated to unpacking the world of virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality and the digital 3D world. Founder Jacob Mullins, a partner at Shasta Ventures, brings in three entrepreneurs or developers every month to talk about the real-world, commercial applications of this stuff.
The event was well attended with about 40 participants. The male-to female ratio was about 4–1 — but since it’s open to everyone, you can’t complain if your gender isn’t turning out. (No reason it shouldn’t be 50–50.) What you should do is bring a woman friend to the next event.
(Side note: I continue to be disappointed by the falloff in the number of people who blog, or live-tweet, cool public events like this. While it was streamed on Facebook Live, Facebook makes you jump through ridiculous hoops to embed a video; so just go here and then scroll down to each presentation.)
Silvain Toromanoff, the first speaker, is product lead at Sayduck, the leading platform for AR and 3D for home decor. With more than 4,000 photorealistic products available in 3D, Sayduck enables consumers to visualize furniture in their homes thanks to a mobile AR app.
“Furniture is a good use case for AR,” Toromanoff said, and he’s right. Instead of buying furniture or wall hangings and taking them home to see how they’ll look in your house, in just a few years’ time millions of us will instead be donning AR goggles to see how different furniture and furnishings will look in our home and office spaces. Presumably retail outlets like Ikea, Made.com, Vitra, Alessi and Artemide will loan us the AR units, or perhaps send an AR rep out to our houses. This is a perfect use case for augmented reality — and furnishings represents an $836 billion market.
As you might know, there’s currently no way to experience AR or VR directly on the Web, since its power is generated by the immersive experience that comes with wearing an AR or VR headset. The best we can currently do is to interact with 3D — aka 360 — objects in a Web browser, as you can do with your cursor or finger if you go to a SayDuck product page like the Thea Kuta pendant lamp or Virgola chaise lounge (it takes few seconds to load)
SayDuck’s site is getting 150,000 monthly 3D views, Toromanoff said, and they expect 10x growth over the next 12 months (a bit ambitious methinks).
Next up was Charlie Miller, CEO of Alpha Computing Co. Their goal is to build a VR/AR interface based on human-focused design, teasing non-verbal social cues out of the physical space —particularly facial expressions — and translating them into the digital space.
This was the most fascinating presentation of the night. When you don an AR or VR “face mask,” all facial information about how you’re reacting to what you’re seeing is lost. So they’ve built a headset with an array of sensors that detect micro-expressions through muscle and eye movements (it’s more complex than that but that’s the gist). Very cool. They’ve taken it to the companies leading the VR charge (I’m guessing Facebook’s Oculus Rift, Microsoft’s HoloLens, et al.) and he basically said they were more interested in ripping off the technology than licensing or buying it.
He said of the VR adoption curve: “We don’t see the hockey stick yet.” Everyone’s hoping it happens in the next 18 months.
We got into a short discussion of “social VR,” and I asked whether the bulk of the marketplace would be about individuals wanting to interact remotely with people on the other side of the world, or groups of people in social settings — meetups, concerts, ball games (think San Francisco Giants), classrooms, offices — using VR and AR collectively to enhance their experience.
I was surprised that Miller gave the lone-wolf example of somebody talking with someone in India. I don’t think that will be the primary use case at all.
I asked Miller at the end how to contact him and he said his contact info should be on the VR Tuesday page; it isn’t. Isn’t the whole point of speaking at an event like this to drum up interest and contacts?
We all decided the coolest-named startup of the night was Vrtigo, a virtual reality analytics startup in San Francisco. Vrtigo helps 360 video creators and platforms track and improve their content using a combination of qualitative and quantitative tools. And if that sounds premature for such a young industry, it’s not.
CEO Ben Peirce (yes, it’s spelled like that) showed off a VR video experience and resulting analytics that tracked user retention and showed when people “dropped off,” similar to YouTube Analytics. It also offers “Audience Focus,” a heat map to see what people are looking at and how dispersed the video experience is.
In a year or two, as brands start adopting these emerging technologies, Vrtigo will be in a good spot.
Cross-posted to Medium.