Augmented Reality

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

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 TechCrunch.

In an email obtained by TechCrunch, 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 TechCrunch. “[I] wish the end result was different.”

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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 TechCrunch.

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.

The Knight Foundation launches $750,000 initiative for immersive technology for the arts

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is looking for pitches on how to enhance and augment traditional creative arts through immersive technologies.

Through a partnership with Microsoft the foundation is offering a share of a $750,00 pool of cash and the option of technical support from Microsoft, including mentoring in mixed-reality technologies and access to the company’s suite of mixed reality technologies.

“We’ve seen how immersive technologies can reach new audiences and engage existing audiences in new ways,” said Chris Barr, director for arts and technology innovation at Knight Foundation, in a statement. “But arts institutions need more knowledge to move beyond just experimenting with these technologies to becoming proficient in leveraging their full potential.”

Specifically, the foundation is looking for projects that will help engage new audiences; build new service models; expand access beyond the walls of arts institutions; and provide means to distribute immersive experiences to multiple locations, the foundation said in a statement.

“When done right, life-changing experiences can happen at the intersection of arts and technology,” said Victoria Rogers, Knight Foundation vice president for arts. “Our goal through this call is to help cultural institutions develop informed and refined practices for using new technologies, equipping them to better navigate and thrive in the digital age.”

Launched at the Gray Area Festival in San Francisco, the new initiative is part of the Foundation’s art and technology focus, which the organization said is designed to help arts institutions better meet changing audience expectations. Last year, the foundation invested $600,000 in twelve projects focused on using technology to help people engage with the arts.

“We’re incredibly excited to support this open call for ways in which technology can help art institutions engage new audiences,” says Mira Lane, Partner Director Ethics & Society at Microsoft. “We strongly believe that immersive technology can enhance the ability for richer experiences, deeper storytelling, and broader engagement.”

Here are the winners from the first $600,000 pool:

  • ArtsESP – Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts

Project lead: Nicole Keating | Miami | @ArshtCenter

Developing forecasting software that enables cultural institutions to make data-centered decisions in planning their seasons and events.

  • Exploring the Gallery Through Voice – Alley Interactive

Project lead: Tim Schwartz | New York | @alleyco@cooperhewitt@SinaBahram

Exploring how conversational interfaces, like Amazon Alexa, can provide remote audiences with access to an exhibition experience at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

  • The Bass in VR – The Bass

Project lead: T.J. Black | Miami Beach | @TheBassMoA

Using 360-degree photography technology to capture and share the exhibit experience in an engaging, virtual way for remote audiences.

  • AR Enhanced Audio Tour – Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

Project lead: Shane Richey | Bentonville, Arkansas | @crystalbridges

Developing mobile software to deliver immersive audio-only stories that museum visitors would experience when walking up to art for a closer look.

  • Smart Label Initiative – Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University

Project lead: Brian Kirschensteiner | East Lansing, Michigan | @msubroad

Creating a system of smart labels that combine ultra-thin touch displays and microcomputers to deliver interactive informational content about artwork to audiences.

  • Improving Arts Accessibility through Augmented Reality Technology – Institute on Disabilities at Temple University, in collaboration with People’s Light

Project lead: Lisa Sonnenborn | Philadelphia | @TempleUniv,@IODTempleU@peopleslight 

Making theater and performance art more accessible for the deaf, hard of hearing and non-English speaking communities by integrating augmented reality smart glasses with an open access smart captioning system to accompany live works.

  • ConcertCue – Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology

Project lead: Eran Egozy | Cambridge, Massachusetts | @EEgozy,@MIT,@ArtsatMIT@MIT_SHASS

Developing a mobile app for classical music audiences that receives real-time program notes at precisely-timed moments of a live musical performance.

  • Civic Portal – Monument Lab

Project lead: Paul Farber and Ken Lum | Philadelphia | @monument_lab@PennDesign@SachsArtsPhilly@paul_farber

Encouraging public input on new forms of historical monuments through a digital tool that allows users to identify locations, topics and create designs for potential public art and monuments in our cities.

  • Who’s Coming? – The Museum of Art and History at the McPherson Center

Project lead: Nina Simon | Santa Cruz, California | @santacruzmah@OFBYFOR_ALL

Prototyping a tool in the form of a smartphone/tablet app for cultural institutions to capture visitor demographic data, increasing knowledge on who is and who is not participating in programs.

  • Feedback Loop – Newport Art Museum, in collaboration with Work-Shop Design Studio

Project lead: Norah Diedrich | Newport, Rhode Island | @NewportArtMuse

Enabling audiences to share immediate feedback and reflections on art by designing hardware and software to test recording and sharing of audience thoughts.

  • The Traveling Stanzas Listening Wall – Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University Foundation

Project lead: David Hassler | Kent, Ohio | @DavidWickPoetry,@WickPoetry,@KentState@travelingstanza

Producing touchscreen installations in public locations that allow users to create and share poetry by reflecting on and responding to historical documents, oral histories, and multimedia stories about current events and community issues.

  • Wiki Art Depiction Explorer – Wikimedia District of Columbia, in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution

Project lead: Andrew Lih | Washington, District of Columbia | @wikimedia@fuzheado

Using crowdsourcing methods to improve Wikipedia descriptions of artworks in major collections so people can better access and understand art virtually.

Alibaba acquires Israeli VR startup Infinity Augmented Reality

Infinity Augmented Reality, an Israeli virtual reality startup, has been acquired by Alibaba, the companies announced this weekend. The deal’s terms were not disclosed. Alibaba and InfinityAR have had a strategic partnership since 2016, when Alibaba Group led InfinityAR’s Series C. Since then, the two have collaborated on augmented reality, computer vision and artificial intelligence projects.

Founded in 2013, the startup’s augmented glasses platform enables developers in a wide range of industries (retail, gaming, medical, etc.) to integrate AR into their apps. InfinityAR’s products include software for ODMs and OEMs and a SDK plug-in for 3D engines.

Alibaba’s foray into virtual reality started three years ago, when it invested in Magic Leap and then announced a new research lab in China to develop ways of incorporating virtual reality into its e-commerce platform.

InfinityAR’s research and development team will begin working out of Alibaba’s Israel Machine Laboratory, part of Alibaba DAMO Academy, the R&D initiative it is pouring $15 billion into with the goal of eventually serving two billion customers and creating 100 million jobs by 2036. DAMO Academy collaborates with universities around the world and Alibaba’s Israel Machine Laboratory has a partnership with Tel Aviv University focused on video analysis and machine learning.

In a press statement, the laboratory’s head, Lihi Zelnik-Manor, said “Alibaba is delighted to be working with InfinityAR as one team after three years of partnership. The talented team brings unique knowhow in sensor fusion, computer vision and navigation technologies. We look forward to exploring these leading technologies and offering additional benefits to customers, partners and developers.”

Microsoft wins $480M military contract to outfit soldiers with HoloLens AR tech

Microsoft is readying its HoloLens augmented reality tech for combat. The company just won a $480 million military contract with the U.S. government to bring AR headset tech into the weapon repertoires of American soldiers.

The two-year contract may result in follow-on orders of more than 100,000 headsets according to documentation describing the bidding process. One of the contract’s tag lines for the AR tech seems to be its ability to enable “25 bloodless battles before the 1st battle,” suggesting that actual combat training is going to be an essential aspect of the AR headset capabilities.

“Augmented reality technology will provide troops with more and better information to make decisions. This new work extends our longstanding, trusted relationship with the Department of Defense to this new area,” a Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement sent to TechCrunch.

Magic Leap was also pursuing the contract according to the report in Bloomberg. The military contract bid was perhaps a bit more of a stretch for the company which has previously maintained that its company’s efforts are focused centrally on consumers. The startup has only recently released its first development kit, while Microsoft’s tech has been in developer hands for more than two years.

Some of the documentation (PDF download) surrounding this bid is intensely interesting and really showcases how extensively the military has researched how augmented reality tech can alter the training and combat environments of soldiers.

Obviously, Microsoft wouldn’t just be planning to take what it’s been selling to factory workers and put it onto a battlefield, but the system requirements outlined in the contract already seem to eclipse what the current generation HoloLens optics are capable of, including items like the device’s FoV which will have a requirement of between 55 and 110 degrees.

Other stipulations include the device being no heavier than 1.5 pounds and being compatible with existing military helmets. The head-worn device would specifically track weapons and allow soldiers to see simulated fire from their real weapons while offering offering training with weapons like Javelin missile systems in a completely simulated environment.

These are all just early frameworks, but Microsoft now will be developing technologies that keep the U.S. military at the forefront of augmented reality tech, something that will probably be a boon to their enterprise focused solutions as well.

You’ll look ridiculous playing Snapchat’s new AR games, and maybe that’s OK

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When the iPad first came out, people looked kinda ridiculous using it out and about. 

That doesn’t quite compare to Snapchat’s new AR games feature, “Snappables,” which consists of games that let you control what’s happening using your face.

As witnessed in the Snappables trailer, you can fight aliens in an Space Invaders-style game by moving your head around, or pump iron at the gym with your eyebrows. You can also invite friends on Snapchat to play along in multiplayer games.

There are very few of us with the confidence to play Snappables in public, but at least Snap is encouraging you to try. Read more…

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Snapchat lenses just got a lot better, if you have an iPhone X

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Attention iPhone X owners: Snapchat is finally making good on its promise to make its augmented reality selfie lenses better.

Today, the company is officially launching a new lineup of lenses that’ve been optimized for the iPhone X’s front-facing TrueDepth camera.

First previewed last fall during Apple’s iPhone X launch event, Snap specially designed the lenses to take advantage of the face-tracking abilities of the iPhone X’s TrueDepth camera. What this means for you, a selfie-obsessed Snapchat user, is that the new lenses will be better able to “stick” to your face, making them look slightly more realistic (or, as “realistic” as a brightly-colored mask can look, anyway). Read more…

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Snap reportedly bought its very own 3D game engine

Snapchat’s parent company bought a web-based 3D game engine startup out of the UK this past May, Business Insider (paywalled) reports.

PlayCanvas is a development tool focused on letting people easily design rich 3D environments. Unlike products from companies like Unity and Epic Games, PlayCanvas’s game engine was entirely browser-based and was optimized to run on low-power devices. The focus of the WebGL engine stretches from configuring 3D models to running entire games.

The small London-based company was founded in 2011 and raised just $590,000 in seed funding from investors including the Microsoft Accelerator and DC Thomson Ventures according to Crunchbase. We don’t know how much the deal went for.

While many of Snap’s recent acquisitions have focused on bolstering consumer-facing features, PlayCanvas seems to be focused squarely on developers. The most obvious use of a tool would have been to integrate the technology into Snap’s Lens Studio product where developers can build their own AR Lens effects. Snap has recently been drawing more attention to third-party AR creations, and it’s clear that if the company wants to reach any sort of scale in its augmented reality plans, it’s going to have to hand over the reigns to a developer network.

We have reached out to Snap for confirmation.

Selfie app Snow, once a Snapchat clone, raises $50M from SoftBank and Sequoia China

 It’s been a while since we heard from Snow, the Snapchat clone app in Asia that Facebook once tried to buy, but today the company behind it has scooped up a $50 million investment from SoftBank and Sequoia China.
Snow was started by Naver, the Korean firm behind popular messaging app Line, and it had proven popular in Japan, Korea, China and other markets in Asia thanks to a focus on… Read More

The AR-powered fighting MekaMon robot goes on sale at Apple Stores

 After selling out of its initial run of 500, U.K.-based Reach Robotics scored a $7.5 million funding round to help it produce a more consumer-ready version of its battling robotics platform. Turns out VCs weren’t the only ones paying close attention to the company’s product: Apple has also been watching the company’s growth with keen interest. Read More

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This AR app lets you ‘try before you buy’ plants for your home

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Having more plants in your home can absorb airborne pollutants and improve your air quality, which can in turn affect your general wellbeingNASA knows it, we all know it. But what’ll work in your space, aesthetically?

New Australian app Plant Life Balance uses AR to help you “try before you buy,” and create a tangible shopping list of plants to take to your local nursery.

You can assess your current “plant-life balance” (how many rooms you have, how many plants), then use AR to drop in over 90 plant recommendations, and get an analysis of their benefits. Read more…

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Three computer vision experts join TechCrunch’s Tel Aviv event

 Who’s going to be the next Mobileye? Computer vision is a hot topic for the tech industry, and especially in Israel. It seems like Israeli entrepreneurs are one step ahead when it comes to developing computer vision technology. That’s why we’re excited to announce that three computer vision experts are going to join us on stage to share their knowledge about this space. First… Read More

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Microsoft HoloLens delivers first ever augmented reality Easter Egg hunt

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Easter Sunday is just hours away, and since it’s 2017, and we’re apparently living in the future, Microsoft has unveiled the first ever augmented reality Easter Egg hunt. 

The game was unveiled this weekend in Los Angeles at the VRLA conference where Microsoft and a team of AR developers allowed me to enter a surrealist forest construct where holographic eggs could be found using the HoloLens headset. 

While the rest of the world can only see the physical environment of the forest room space, using the HoloLens I was immediately presented with a living landscape, filled with the sounds of birds, animated flowers and rabbits furtively scurrying around the space. And when I discovered my first Easter Egg, the egg responded to my gaze by exploding open into a Disney-like flourish of color and sound.  Read more…

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Alibaba invests in WayRay, a maker of augmented-reality dashboards for smart cars

 After launching its first car last year, Alibaba is digging deeper into the automobile industry. The Chinese Internet and e-commerce behemoth is the lead investor in smart car tech developer WayRay’s $18 million Series B round, the startup announced. Read More

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Confirmed: Magic Leap acquires 3D division of Dacuda in Zurich

magicleap-shutterstock_344631905 Magic Leap, the augmented reality startup that has raised $1.4 billion in funding but has yet to release a product, has made an acquisition to expand its work in computer vision and deep learning, and to build out its operations into Europe.
The company has acquired the 3D division of Dacuda, a computer vision startup based out of Zurich. One of Dacuda’s focuses had been… Read More

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Let's turn off Magic Leap's mixed reality hype machine

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There is vaporware and then there’s oh-shut-up-and-just-release-the-damn-product-ware. The latter is what many have come to think of when the name Magic Leap is mentioned. 

And with good reason.

Founded back in 2011, the hype train for what many believe is an augmented reality headset or glasses company left the station around 2014. Since then, the company has racked up investments from the likes of Google and others amounting to over $1 billion, as well as tantalizing testimonials from high-profile names who have tried the technology and have indicated that it’s so impressive it may change computing forever.   Read more…

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Google is bringing a rainforest right to your smartphone

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Most of us have never stepped anywhere near a rainforest, much less had a chance to explore it — something Google hopes to change with its new augmented reality experience.

The “Into the Wild” exhibit sees some 1,000 square meters turned into a virtual rainforest, home to orangutans, Malayan tapirs and tiny mouse deer. 

In order to view the sights, visitors pick up a Lenovo smartphone enabled with Tango, an augmented reality platform developed by Google.

The exhibition, the first of its kind to launch in Asia, is held at Singapore’s ArtScience Museum. Read more…

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Snapchat’s next Lenses could identify and add to landscapes as well as faces

snapchat-world-lens Snap, Inc. is working on an updated version of its in-app Snapchat lenses that would be able to recognize landscapes as well as faces, according to The Information, and intelligently overlay augmented reality animations and objects overtop of scenes captured through your camera. This is different from its existing smart Lenses, which can add features like snowfall to scenes, because it can… Read More

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Hugo Barra joins Facebook to lead its VR efforts, including Oculus

16265529_10103456684228891_2797602321406032996_n Hugo Barra, who previously held a positions as a key VP for Android at Google, and led Xiaomi’s international efforts in a VP role at the Chinese company, is now joining Facebook. Barra announced his departure from Xiaomi on January 22, after a three-and-a-half year stint at the company. Barra will lead all of Facebook’s VR efforts, including Oculus, according to Facebook CEO… Read More

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Microsoft partners with Trimble, University of Cambridge to make HoloLens a better tool for the construction industry

2017-01-24_2120 Microsoft has long positioned its HoloLens augmented reality (AR) helmet as a tool for the enterprise. One of the verticals the company has been especially interested in is construction and late last year, Trimble’s $1,499 SketchUp Viewer became the first commercial HoloLens application for the construction industry in the Windows Store. Since then, Microsoft has partnered with Trimble… Read More

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Bots_alive kit imbues toy robots with charming, lifelike AI

bots_alive There will be no shortage at Toy Fair next month of robots and gadgets promising artificial intelligence — and generally falling short. But a more modest approach from an actual AI researcher has produced a clever and accessible way to create lifelike behavior through a simple and elegant modification of a popular existing robot. Read More

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Sundance merges VR with real life through props, AR, and vibrating suits

sundance-new-frontier-synesthesia-suit You can’t try this at home, even if you wanted to. Today’s premiere of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival’s New Frontier exhibit proved there are vivid opportunities for a third kind of virtual reality beyond tethered and mobile: VR installations. Outside the headset, custom art and physical effects set the scene before you enter, deepen the immersion while you’re enveloped… Read More

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