Another high-flying, heavily funded AR headset startup is shutting down – gpgmail


While Apple and Microsoft strain to sell augmented reality as the next major computing platform, many of the startups aiming to beat them to the punch are crashing and burning.

Daqri, which built enterprise-grade AR headsets, has shuttered its HQ, laid off many of its employees and is selling off assets ahead of a shutdown, former employees and sources close to the company tell gpgmail.

In an email obtained by gpgmail, the nearly 10-year-old company told its customers that it was pursuing an asset sale and was shutting down its cloud and smart-glasses hardware platforms by the end of September.

“I think the large majority of people who worked [at Daqri] are sad to see it closing down,” a former employee told gpgmail. “[I] wish the end result was different.”

The company’s 18,000+ square foot Los Angeles headquarters (above) is currently listed as “available” by real estate firm Newmark Knight Frank. The company’s Sunnyvale offices appear to have been shuttered sometime prior to 2019.

Daqri’s shutdown is only the latest among heavily funded augmented reality startups seeking to court enterprise customers.

Earlier this year, Osterhout Design Group unloaded its AR glasses patents after acquisition talks with Magic Leap, Facebook and others stalled. Meta, an AR headset startup that raised $73 million from VCs including Tencent, also sold its assets earlier this year after the company ran out of cash.

Daqri faced substantial challenges from competing headset makers, including Magic Leap and Microsoft, who were backed by more expansive war chests and institutional partnerships. While the headset company struggled to compete for enterprise customers, Daqri benefitted from investor excitement surrounding the broader space. That is, until the investment climate for AR startups cooled.

Daqri was, at one point, speaking with a large private-equity firm about financing ahead of a potential IPO, but as the technical realities facing other AR companies came to light, the firm backed out and the deal crumbled, we are told.

As of mid-2017, a Wall Street Journal report detailed that Daqri had raised $275 million in funding. You won’t find many details on the sources of that funding, other than references to Tarsadia Investments, a private-equity firm in Los Angeles that took part in the company’s sole disclosed funding round. We’re told Tarsadia had taken controlling ownership of the firm after subsequent investments.

In early 2016, Daqri acquired Two Trees Photonics, a small UK startup that was building holographic display technologies for automotive customers. The UK division soon comprised a substantial portion of the entire company’s revenues, sources tell us. By early 2018, the division was spun out from Daqri as a separate company called Envisics, leaving the Daqri team to focus wholly on bringing augmented reality to enterprise customers.

The remaining head-worn AR division failed to gain momentum after prolonged setbacks in adoption of its AR smart glasses, including difficulties in training workers to use the futuristic hardware, a source told gpgmail.

All the while, the company’s leadership put on a brave face as the startup sputtered. In an interview this year with Cornell Enterprise Magazine, Daqri CEO Roy Ashok told the publication that the startup was forecasting shipments of “tens of thousands” of pairs of its AR glasses in 2020.

Daqri, its founder and several executives did not respond to requests for comment.


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AR mapping startup 6D.ai expands platform as it exits beta – gpgmail


World-mapping computer vision startup 6D.ai is expanding support to new devices as its augmented reality platform exits beta.

The SF startup launched its beta in October and is now ready to let developers ship apps as it launches pricing for its services. The fixed subscription rates for 6D vary from $20-$50 per app based on the number of map download calls that users prompt. 6D will have custom-pricing for customers ushering in more than 50k map downloads.

The startup boasts Autodesk, Nexus Studios, Accenture among its customers.

The company’s platform has previously been confined to iOS devices but today, 6D announced that it is launching private beta support for Android phones and lightweight headsets.

Moving to the fractured Android platform presents more challenges than iOS, but 6D is beginning the rollout with recent ARCore-supported Samsung devices. The company plans to support all ARCore devices running Snapdragon 845 chips and newer.

The company is also announcing a partnership with Qualcomm, which is integrating the company’s tech into what basically seems to be a reference design for AR headset manufacturers. Headsets are a ways from being a central use case for the company’s technology but 6D is pursuing early partnerships to ensure that future hardware plays nicely with their platform. They have also partnered with Chinese headset-maker Nreal.


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Through crowdsourcing, Cerberus Interactive wants to take location based gaming to the masses – gpgmail


Sami Khan began his work in the startup world by marketing mobile-based investment services like Acorns.

Now the marketer who helped grow that business to a nearly $1 billion valuation is turning his attention to location based gaming in the hopes that he can take on leading contender, Niantic, with a faster, more flexible, and fan driven approach to game development with his new startup, Cerberus Interactive.

Khan’s pitch is that he’s taking the skills he’d honed building up services like Acorns or the browser extension for bargain hunters, Honey, to game development to make games more viral from their inception.

The biggest thing is how do you de-risk what is perceived as a hit driven industry?” Khan asks. “Games are closer to digital apps than back in the days of the console and companies should ship it like an ecommerce concept… If adoption of the game is going to be the decision factor of whether a game fails or succeeds…why isn’t the adoption fo the game tested before the title is built or while the game is being conceived?”

So for his first foray into gaming, Khan is combining a crowd-sourced approach to the development of the game and applying it to what many people think is gaming’s next big frontier —  the location based game phenomenon that hit its stride with Niantic’s Pokemon GO.

Right now in location based games you have the behemoth which is Niantic,” says Khan. “Right now the gaming industry looks at location based games as its own sub genre. But when we look at location based games, we believe that location based games have an aspect that it is a game mechanic within other games.” 

The first game that Cerberus is developing is a base building simulator akin to a title like “Age of Empires” but based on real-world locations. “Simulation games or casual games with location built in will have a bonus or an advantage over the stationary games that we play today,” says Khan.

The “Atlas Empires” title that Cerberus is currently developing is being made in concert with the gamers who might want to play it. So far, an undisclosed number of customers are already paying to have a say in certain aspects of the game’s development — kind of like a premiere tier within a crowdfunding campaign.

Khan, a New Orleans native who splits his time between Los Angeles and Austin, has enlisted some marquee investors in his bid to challenge both the traditional ways in which games have been developed and the current industry leader.

Strategic investor MobilityWare has signed on to back the company along with individual investors like Steve Huffman, the co-founder and chief executive of Reddit, and Blake Chandler, the chief business officer of the runaway social network hit, TikTok.

Khan traces his love of games to his time visiting his cousins in Bangladesh and playing “Prince of Persia” on an early Toshiba laptop. “I remember sitting around the computer, watching my oldest cousin play because my dad didn’t want any of the kids touching the laptop,” Khan says.

So far the beta version of “Atlas Empires” has had 50,000 downloads and has about 1,000 daily players, Khan says. The commercial version of the game is expected to go live in the first quarter of 2020, says Khan.

 


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The Void’s Curtis Hickman on scaling, creative IP and the future of VR experiences – gpgmail


What can you do with virtual reality when you have complete control of the physical space around the player? How “real” can virtual reality become?

That’s the core concept behind The Void. They take over retail spaces in places like Downtown Disney and shopping malls around the country and turn them into virtual reality playgrounds, They’ve got VR experiences based on properties like Star Wars, Ghostbusters, and Wreck-It Ralph; while these big names tend to be the main attractions, they’re dabbling with creating their own original properties, too.

By building both the game environment and the real-world rooms in which players wander, The Void can make the physical and virtual align. If you see a bench in your VR headset, there’s a bench there in the real world for you to sit on; if you see a lever on the wall in front of you, you can reach out and physically pull it. Land on a lava planet and heat lamps warm your skin; screw up a puzzle, and you’ll feel a puff of mist letting you know to try something else.

At $30-$35 per person for what works out to be a roughly thirty-minute experience (about ten of which is watching a scene-setting video and getting your group into VR suits), it’s pretty pricey. But it’s also some of the most mind-bending VR I’ve ever seen.

The Void reportedly raised about $20 million earlier this year and is in the middle of a massive expansion. It’s more than doubling its number of locations, opening 25 new spots in a partnership with the Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield chain of malls.

I sat down to chat with The Void’s co-founder and Chief Creative Officer, Curtis Hickman, to hear how they got started, how his background (in stage magic!) comes into play here, how they came to work with massive properties like Ghostbusters and Star Wars, and where he thinks VR is going from here.

Greg Kumparak: Tell me a bit about yourself. How’d you get your start? How’d you get into making VR experiences?


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YouTube’s new AR feature lets you virtually try on makeup while watching videos – gpgmail


Earlier this summer, YouTube announced its plans for a new AR feature for virtual makeup try-on that works directly in the YouTube app. Today, the first official campaign to use the “Beauty Try-On” feature has now launched, allowing viewers to try on and shop lipsticks from MAC Cosmetics from YouTube creator Roxette Arisa’s makeup tutorial video.

Makeup tutorials are hugely popular on YouTube, so an integration where you can try on the suggested looks yourself makes a ton of sense. While a lipstick try-on feature isn’t exactly groundbreaking — plenty of social media apps offer a similar filter these days — it could lead to more complex AR makeup integrations further down the road.

The new AR feature only works when you’re watching the video from a mobile device, and the YouTube app is updated to the latest version.

Then, when watching the video, you’ll see a button that says “try it on” which will launch the camera in a split-screen view. The video will continue to play as you scroll through the various lipstick shades below, applying the different colors to see which one works best. Unlike some of the filters in social apps like Instagram and Snapchat, the colors are evenly aligned with your lips and not bleeding out the edges. The result is a very natural look.

Image from iOS 1MAC Cosmetics will work with creators through YouTube’s branded content division, Famebit. The program connects brands with YouTube influencers who then market their products as paid sponsorships.

MAC is the first partner for this AR feature, but more will likely follow.

Prior to launch, YouTube tested the AR Beauty Try-On with several beauty brands, and found that 30% of viewers chose to active the experience in the YouTube iOS.

Those who did were fairly engaged, spending more than 80 seconds trying on virtual lipstick shades.

Google is not the first company to offer virtual makeup try-on experiences. Beyond social media apps, there are also AR beauty apps like YouCam Makeup, Sephora’s Virtual Artist, Ulta’s GLAMLab and others. L’Oréal also offers Live Try-On on its website, and had partnered with Facebook last year to bring virtual makeup to the site. In addition, Target’s online Beauty Studio offers virtual makeup across a number of brands and products.

YouTube’s implementation, however, is different because it’s not just a fun consumer product — it’s an AR-powered ad campaign.

Though some may scoff at the idea of virtual makeup, this market is massive. Millions watch makeup tutorials on YouTube every day, and the site has become the dominant source for referral traffic for beauty brands. In 2018, beauty-related content generated more than 169 billion views on the video platform.

You can watch the YouTube video here, or engage with the AR feature from the mobile YouTube app.

If you don’t see your face immediately after pressing the “try on” button, you probably need to update the YouTube app.


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Polarity raises $8.1M for its AI software that constantly analyzes employee screens and highlights key info – gpgmail


Reference docs and spreadsheets seemingly make the world go ’round, but what if employees could just close those tabs for good without losing that knowledge?

One startup is taking on that complicated challenge. Predictably, the solution is quite complicated as well from a tech perspective, involving an AI solution that analyzes everything on your PC screen — all the time — and highlights text onscreen that you could use a little bit more context on. The team at Polarity wants its tech to help teams lower the knowledge barrier to getting stuff done and allow people to focus more on procedure and strategy then memorizing file numbers, IP addresses and jargon.

The Connecticut startup just closed an $8.1 million “AA” round led by TechOperators, with Shasta Ventures, Strategic Cyber Ventures, Gula Tech Adventures and Kaiser Permanente Ventures also participating in the round. The startup closed its $3.5 million Series A in early 2017.

Interestingly, the enterprise-centric startup pitches itself as an AR company, augmenting what’s happening on your laptop screen much like a pair of AR glasses could.

The startup’s computer vision software that uses character recognition to analyze what’s on a user’s screen can be helpful for enterprise teams importing things like a company rolodex so that bios are always collectively a click away but the real utility comes from team-wide flagging of things like suspicious IP addresses that will allow entire teams to learn about new threats and issues at the same time without having to constantly check-in with their co-workers.

via Polarity

Using character recognition to analyze a screen for specific keywords is useful in itself, but that’s also largely a solved computer vision problem.

Polarity’s big advance has been getting these processes to occur consistently on-device without crushing a device’s CPU. Battista says that for the average customer, Polarity’s software generally eats up about 3-6% of their computer’s processing power though it can spike much higher if the system is getting fed a ton of new information at once.

“We spent years building the tech to accomplish [efficiency], readjusting how people think of [object character recognition] and then doing it in real time.” CEO Paul Battista tells me. “The more data that you have onscreen, the more power you use. So it does use a significant percentage of the CPU.”

Why bother with all of this AI trickery and CPU efficiency when you could pull this functionality off in certain apps with an API? The whole deliverable here is that it doesn’t matter if you’re working in Chrome, or Excel or pulling up a scanned document, the software is analyzing what’s actually being rendered onscreen, not what the individual app is communicating.

When it comes to a piece of software analyzing everything on your screen at all times, there are certainly some privacy concerns not only from the employee’s perspective but from a company’s security perspective.

Battista says the intent with this product isn’t to be some piece of corporate spyware, and that it won’t be something running in the background — it’s an app that users will launch. “If [companies] wanted to they could collect all of the data on everybody’s screens, but we don’t have any customers doing that.. The software is built to have a user interface for users to interact with so if the user didn’t choose to subscribe or turn on a metric, then [the company] wouldn’t be able to force them to collect it in the current product.”

Battista says that teams at seven Fortune 100 companies are currently paying for Polarity, with many more in pilot programs. The team is currently around 20 people and with this latest fundraise, Battista wants to double the size of the team in the next 18 months as they look to scale to larger rollouts at major companies.


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Light Field Lab raises $28 million to rethink the 3D TV – gpgmail


3D TVs may have grabbed all of the headlines a decade ago at CES, but the tech never found a useful inroad into consumers homes. Not everyone has given up on them, though they look a bit different now.

Light Field Lab, a Bay Area startup that emerged from stealth two years ago, wants to build holographic screens that enable viewers to see “volumetric” 3D without wearing special glasses. You won’t only see depth in the images, you’ll be able to physically move around the display and see new perspectives of the action, giving you the sensation that the digital content is floating mid-air.

“Light field” technology has had a rough go finding its way to market. Lytro, which was developing light field capture cameras, was bought by Google for a pittance and Magic Leap was unable to crack the technology for its first augmented reality product even after raising billions.

Light Field Lab hopes that the tech advances they’ve made for light field displays will be enough to get consumers onboard eventually, though the company certainly has plenty of residual problems from the 3D TV era left that need new solutions thought up.

For now, Light Field Lab isn’t focused on at-home light field experience, rather they want to build a modular platform that lets entertainment venues stack together tons of their devices to create huge 3D video walls that deliver a very unique 3D experience.

It’s a bold prospect but the company now has millions of VC dollars to carry it out.

Light Field Lab announced today that it has scored a $28 million Series A from Bosch Venture Capital and Taiwania Capital with further investment from Khosla Ventures, Samsung Ventures, Verizon Ventures, and Comcast also investing, among others. Last year, the company raised $7 million from Khosla Ventures and Sherpa Capital.

Although Light Field Lab will initially target large format location-based entertainment venues, a version of its holographic technologies will ultimately be developed for the consumer market. “Although Light Field Lab will initially target large format location-based entertainment venues, a version of its holographic technologies will ultimately be developed for the consumer market,” a press release from the company reads.


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Bosch is working on glasses-free 3D displays for in-car use – gpgmail


German auto industry giant Bosch is developing new technology that will add glasses-free 3D imaging to future versions of its in-car digital display technology. These 3D displays use passive 3D tech, which mans you won’t need to wear glasses to see the effect, and it also skips eye tracking, which is a key ingredient for most high-quality glasses-free 3D displays today.

Going glasses-free, and not requiring that a viewer look from a very specific position are both key ingredients for successfully bring 3D display tech to cars – for obvious reasons. A driver needs to be focused on the road, and the fundamental guiding principle for all Curren in-car display tech is that they provide easy-to-grasp information at a glance, so that a driver’s focus stays exactly where it should.

But why would a driver even want 3D visual effects in their instrument panel or infotainment display? Well, Bosch says that there are multiple compelling reasons, including making sure that crucial alerts really pop-out when they need to in an attention-catching way. Plus, parking cameras can present even more accurate 3D views to the driver so they really get a sense of the space they’re working with. And during navigation, guidance can offer 3D representations of where and when to turn, which can eliminate questions around whether that next corner really is the right corner you’re looking for.

That’s all stuff that could be beneficial now, but it’s also a bet on a future where vehicles are autonomous at least part of the time, and in-car immersive displays could be even more of an opportunity to entertain and inform passengers while they’re ferried to their destinations.

Bosch says that part of the reason they can do this now, compared to in the past, is that more powerful mobile computing has changed the game for what they can build. Instead of having essentially a myriad of tiny, cheap underpowered controllers scattered throughout a car’s tech stack, automakers are generally moving towards having one centralized computer that’s plenty more powerful, and that can be updated easily and quickly over-the-air.

The company doesn’t say when we’ll see these systems actually in use through their automaker customers in shipping cars, but especially in the high end where premium distinguishing features can make all the difference, it shouldn’t be long before some carmaker takes the plunge.


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Google launches ‘Live View’ AR walking directions for Google Maps – gpgmail


Google is launching a beta of its augmented reality walking directions feature for Google Maps, with a broader launch that will be available to all iOS and Android devices that have system-level support for AR. On iOS, that means ARKit-compatible devices, and on Android, that means any smartphones that support Google’s ARcore, so long as ‘Street View’ is also available where you are.

Originally revealed earlier this year, Google Maps’ augmented reality feature has been available in an early alpha mode to both Google Pixel users and to Google Maps Local Guides, but starting today it’ll be rolling out to everyone (this might take a couple weeks depending on when you actually get pushed the update). We took a look at some of the features available with the early version in March, and it sounds like the version today should be pretty similar, including the ability to just tap on any location nearby in Maps, tap the ‘Directions’ button and then navigating to ‘Walking,’ then tapping ‘Live View’ which should appear newer the bottom of the screen.

Live View
The Live View feature isn’t designed with the idea that you’ll hold up your phone continually as you walk – instead, in provides quick, easy and super useful orientation, by showing you arrows and big, readable street markers overlaid on the real scene in front of you. That makes it much, much easier to orient yourself in unfamiliar settings, which is hugely beneficial when traveling in unfamiliar territory.

Google Maps is also getting a number of other upgrades, including a one-stop ‘Reservations’ tab in Maps for all your stored flights, hotel stays and more – plus it’s backed up offline. This, and a new redesigned Timeline which is airing on Android devices only for now, should also be rolling out to everyone over the next few weeks.


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The Note’s most impressive new feature is only available on the 10+ – gpgmail


The new Note’s 3D scanning feature got what may well have been the loudest applause line of today’s big Samsung event. It’s an impressive feature for sure, but it’s the kind with little real-world value at the moment — and it’s only available on the pricier Note 10+. Understandable on the latter, at least.

After all, Samsung needs some ways to distinguish the more expensive unit. Aside from size and pricing, the 10+ also features a time of flight sensor missing on the standard Note. That brings an extra level of depth sensing. For now, uses for the feature are pretty limited. Take AR Doodle — that’s available on both versions of the device.

3D scanning is an impressive differentiator, and the demo rightfully got some cheers as a Samsung employee walked a circle around a stuffed beaver toy named “Billy” (I dunno, man). The phone did a solid job capturing the image in 3D and pulled it out of its background. From there, a user can sync its movements to their own and animate it, AR/Animoji-style.

Again, a neat demo, but pretty limited real-world use for most of us. Though that’s pretty standard for these sorts of features. It’s as much about showing that the company is thinking about AR and offering the hardware to do it. Making it truly useful, however, will be in the hands of developers.


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