Viewpoints: March 2021 wrap-up

Welcome to this month’s curated digest of viewpoints, news and investment activity covering areas including XR, the metaverse and the inevitable shift towards spatial computing. If you know of anyone else that would find this investment-focused digest useful then please pass it along!

You can also join Viewpoints every week on Clubhouse, Monday 6pm BST. Last month guests included Rec Room, Venture Reality Fund, Roblox, Wolf3D, Sense Of Space, Matt Miesnieks and more. Listen here.

Dave Haynes & Petri Rajahalme

A New VR Unicorn

We've been big fans on Rec Room for a while now (check our Viewpoints podcast with Rec Room's Shawn Whiting). So we were thrilled to see them reach unicorn status last month, raising at a $1.25bn valuation. For more background and an interesting account of their fundraising journey, the recent Acquired podcast with CEO Nick Fajt is well worth a listen. This is an important milestone for the company, which has now surpassed 15m 'lifetime users' and 1m monthly active users in VR alone.

Spectacle Speculation

There has been a lot of reports and speculation over the past few weeks as the major tech companies jostle for prime position in the AR rumour mill.

Superdata reported that despite global lockdowns, Niantic clocked up $1.92bn in AR revenue through Pokemon GO last year and has now extended its partnership with Nintendo. So it's not surprising that the company is keen to hint towards its bigger vision of mapping the world and rolling out planet scale AR. In doing so it pointed towards a new large-scale multiplayer 5G demo, supported by its AR Alliance partners - Deutsche Telekom, Globe Telecom, Verizon and Telstra. And CEO John Hanke took to Twitter to remind us of their AR glasses plans.

Meanwhile, The Information told us that Snap is readying a new push into hardware with a more advanced version of its Spectacles smart glasses. And elsewhere the Apple rumor drumbeat got louder, with sources claiming a wearable AR device is almost certainly coming, potentially earlier than the 2022 date (that we still find to be more likely).

And what's one of the first thing we're going to do with these glasses? Probably just finding our Samsung-tagged luggage or Uber driver quicker ;)

New inputs for the next era of computing

As we take a giant leap into the era of spatial computing, one thing for certain is that there's still a lot of innovation left to come in the area of input and user interfaces. Several news stories this month reminded us of that.

In terms of tangible products, HTC released an updated version of its VIVE Tracker, whilst also bringing a new Facial Tracker to market. In a similar category, we also learnt about a new camera-less eye-tracking technology for AR glasses being developed by Adhawk Microsystems, a company that has attracted funding from the likes of Samsung, Sony, HP and Intel Capital.

Meanwhile, on the same day that Sony unveiled its next-gen VR motion controller for PS5, Facebook was putting forward its vision for the next era of human-computer interaction and showing off the developments it has made in wrist-based input, since acquiring CTRL Labs in 2019 for close to $1bn. It emerged that Facebook now has almost a fifth of its employees working on AR and VR, but that hasn't stopped startups like Finnish-based Port 6 and projects such as ETH Zurich's TapID from also continuing to innovate close to the wrist.

Fundraising Round-Up

Rec Room have raised $100m from Sequoia Capital and Index Ventures at a $1.25bn valuation. This makes the cross-platform social gaming world the first VR unicorn.

Pico Interactive have raised $37m from Chinese investors including Shenzhen Yidun Media Investment Fund as it gears up to release its next standalone VR headset.

Augmedics have raised $36m for its FDA-approved AR surgical image guidance system that allows surgeons to visualize 3D spinal anatomy during surgery.

AppliedVR have raised $29m from F-Prime Capital, Cedars-Sinai and others to continue growing its digital medicine startup that has used VR to help over 60,000 patients treat their chronic pain.

Gather Town have raised $26m from Sequoia Capital, Index Ventures and YC continuity for its virtual spaces platform primarily built to support remote work and virtual HQs, but lots more besides.

Virtuix have raised $14m in equity crowdfunding from over 6000 investors for its Ready Player One inspired Omni One VR treadmill.

Blippar have raised $5m from Chroma Ventures and West Coast Capital to accelerate growth of Blippbuilder, Chroma Ventures and West Coast Capital.

KSM Vision have raised €2m from Polish investors for its machine vision systems that reduce dependence on human visual inspection during production.

GBuilder have raised €2m from Finnish investors for its BIM compatible collaboration platform that enables 3D and VR visualisations.

Exits and M&A

Epic Games has acquired Capturing Reality, makers of leading photogrammetry software. Epic is a very active force in infrastructure M&A right now, after a string of recent purchases made to bulk up their Unreal Engine offering.

Unity has acquired VisualLive, who enable the AEC industry to reduce costs and increase efficiency by visualizing and collaborating in AR.

Bentley Systems has acquired Seequent for $1.05bn. The company sells 3D modelling, digital twin and collaboration software for geosciences.

TeamViewer has acquired Upskill to strengthen its Enterprise AR offering for frontline workers. Last year the company also acquired Ubimax.

Snap has acquired Fit Analytics, a fitting technology startup to double down on fashion and e-commerce.

Cloudeo has acquired TerraLoupe, a geo-platform and HD mapping company that use machine learning to detect objects from aerial imagery to automatically create a 3D digital twin of the world.

Quick Links

Before we sign off for this month, here’s a few extra data points and opinion pieces we thought were worth a quick read.

  • Microsoft signed $22bn Hololens contract with US army.

  • Booz Allen Hamilton sign $600m contract with US DoD for 5G-enabled AR/VR training

  • Bank Of America is bringing VR instruction to its 4000 banks

  • Aglet unveils NFT collections for sneakerheads

That’s all for now. Have a great April and please do send us your feedback, comments or interesting new startups in this space!