This week’s VR/AR business news truly runs the gamut. VentureBeat’s Dean Takahashi has a couple great posts on MIT’s new VR/AR + AI accelerator program and DigiLens’ $22 million funding to make better VR/AR eyeglass technology. In other news, FoxNext partners with Within, while IMAX ($50mm) and Facebook ($3B) make massive investments in VR. Meanwhile, brands like Realtor.com, Alibaba and Lyst are finding success with AR apps.
Additionally, VR live streams are gaining popularity across all types of content, from esports to Trump’s inauguration, while 360 video solidifies its position within mainstream media and advertising, embraced by AOL and Expedia. And finally, brands like RoOomy see promise with mixed reality and augmented reality, as the new media formats offer greater scope for consumers to engage with brands.
Below are the latest VR/AR business stories sparking discussion amongst our writers and analysts this week. Keep an eye out for our next VR/AR industry analysis next week (and in case you missed it, check out last week’s VR/AR analysis here: Live Nation + Hulu Create VR Win, Despite Losses Elsewhere).
MIT is launching Play Labs to accelerate startups that use “playful” technologies: augmented reality, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, 3D modeling, rendering, streaming, gamification, and machine vision.The accelerator targets MIT students and alumni: its first batch of companies will be only VR and AR tech, and will participate from June 2017 to August 2017. MIT is partnering with Bayview Labs, Seraph Group and MIT Game Lab on this endeavor– recently more attention to playful tech has been on the West Coast, so the creators think Boston is the perfect fit.
DigiLens plans on creating technology that will enable “eyeglass-thin” AR heads-up displays for motorcycle helmets, car windshields, VR headsets, aerospace applications such as fighter jets, and AR smartglasses with its new $22 million fund. According to tech advisor Digi-Capital, AR and VR could be a $108 billion market by 2021.
Following yesterday’s news about the creation of FoxNext immersive entertainment division, FoxNext is partnering with Chris Milk’s Within. The first two projects will be a Planet of the Apes experience, followed by an original VR film with the title “I Remember You.” The Planet of the Apes experience will use AI and be a social experience on the Within app.
Amazon is currently looking for a “Creative Director, Virtual Reality” whose tasks include to “envision the future of Amazon’s VR solutions and guide our creative and technical teams to produce compelling, world-class experiences.” This suggests that Amazon wants to build VR/AR apps for selling its products. Separately, Amazon has been quietly developing a VR initiative for Amazon Studios, the production arm for Amazon’s Prime Video service.
Gannett and USA Today Network have prioritized VR, including launching VRTually There– a weekly news show shot entirely for VR and 360-degree video platforms. On Inauguration Day, USA Today will air a four-hour live stream in VR and 360-video, which will include footage from the Capitol, the National Mall and along the parade route. USA Today will also utilize a “picture-in-picture” feature where viewers watching the VR/360 content will also be able to watch a regular, 2D video overlay of AP’s live coverage of the festivities.
Paris: Nike Lets Customers Customize Sneakers with AR
By Keith Nelson Jr. @ Digital Trends
Nike’s Paris store partnered with SmartPixels to unveil a new device that uses augmented reality to allow customers to customize shoe colors and see them projected on the sneaker. Nike has slowly been testing how AR can help customers. Last year, the company filed a patent application for an augmented reality exercising system that’s “a virtual representation of that user’s performance [is] to be displayed during a future exercise routine to motivate the user,” according to the patent filing.
VR is poised to be the biggest shift in the history of filmmaking. But before this moment occurs, the tech needs to be perfected– and this is where IMAX sees an opportunity. IMAX is investing big-time ($50 million fund for VR content, partnership with Google for better cameras, partnership with Starbreeze and Acer for higher resolution + wider field of view) to optimize a VR creation and monetization model. IMAX is hoping its new VR centers give it a first-mover advantage while getting more and more people to put on a headset.
Realtor.com announced two new features for its Android app: Street Peek and Sign Snap. Street Peek uses augmented reality to display details about a home when you point your phone’s camera– even if the house isn’t for sale. When you tilt your screen, the AR feature will also show you a map of what’s nearby.
Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook will pour $3 billion into virtual reality in the next decade in an effort to improve the tech and perfect VR for mass consumption.
Most immediately, brands are excited about AR and social VR. Alibaba created a location-based AR game for customers to promote its upcoming Singles’ Day sale. For 2016 London Fashion Week, online retail platform Lyst created “Humannequins”, a window installation featuring models who could be dressed using an AR app.
NASA Launches VR Experience
By Chase Martin @ MediaPost
In an effort to increase interest in outer space in a younger demographic, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center just launched three VR experiences. They’re developed by brandVR and include a virtual space walk around the International Space Station, a tour of the solar system and a virtual tour of the Space Center Visitor Complex itself. The experiences are contained within an individual smart phone app that works with NASA branded VR headsets.
Gannett-owned USA Today Network plans on streaming Trump’s inauguration in live virtual reality and 360-degree video, via its VRtually There YouTube channel.
This will be the first VR live stream for USA Today Network’s VRtually There, an ad-supported weekly VR show that launched in October and has garnered more than five million viewers to date.
SLIVER.tv, a prominent esports 360º virtual reality entertainment platform, has announced a 14-event partnership with the major players of ESL and DreamHack. These live VR broadcasts will enable viewers to immersively experience esports, while showcasing Silver.tv’s VR, live replay and stats technology.
With all of the hype around VR, consumers may have had unrealistic expectations and aren’t comfortable fully losing the world around them.
Following Pokemon Go‘s success, augmented reality is being considered as the bigger near- and long-term opportunity. But VR could succeed with time– lower prices, better content and wireless capabilities are all expected to broaden VR’s appeal. There are more and more opportunities to let people experience VR, such as Facebook’s pop-up “stores” over the holidays to showcase VR, while IMAX just opened its first VR experience in Los Angeles.
China’s Baidu Opens Augmented Reality Lab
By Cate Cadell @ Reuters
On Monday, Chinese search engine Baidu Inc launched an AR lab in Beijing as part of a $200 million effort to boost shrinking profits with cutting edge technology. The 55-person lab will drive revenue through AR marketing. According to a Baidu scientist, “AR marketing is taking off. There are few content formats where the content is evergreen – AR will be like that.”
VR and AR have been identified in Warc’s Toolkit 2017, produced with Deloitte Digital, as key marketing trends which marketers will be looking to in the coming year. VR has proven itself as a vehicle storytelling and high-end showrooms, while AR offers a greater scope for consumers to engage with brands.
VR home design startup RoOomy and Climb Real Estate are now working with Google’s Tango AR team to help consumers make decisions about buying and furnishing homes. The app will have VR and AR visualizations of homes so that users can virtually decorate rooms and virtually tour homes, with the ability to overlay their ideas onto different houses.
Expedia Norway partnered with Visit Flam and Flam Railway plus London-based agency Verve Search to create a 44-minute 360-degree VR film about taking a railway adventure through Norway. The video can be viewed on major-brand VR headsets and glasses in 360 degrees or watched online.
AOL‘s Build Studios have opened in Manhattan, a studio where interviews, performances and events will be shot in 360 and live video. The idea is for this to be a “physical embodiment of native advertising,” taking the content filmed at Build and then repurposing it for other channels like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. According to AOL VP of monetization Jesse Chambers, the space “opens up a lot of avenues” to create consumer experiences in partnership with brands.
Each week, we provided a detailed recap of the week’s VR/AR business stories which we produce with our partner Vertebrae, the VR/AR monetization platform and ad network.