Virtual Reality Ho! Startups Race To Stake A Claim In New Field

By Benny Evangelista
San Francisco Chronicle

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Dr. Sonya Kim, founder and CEO of startup “One Caring Team” is riding the wave of women in business trying to stake their claim in the unsettled territory of virtual reality. Her firm is creating VR experiences to provide a non-drug treatment for seniors dealing with dementia and loneliness, immersing them in relaxing scenes of virtual beaches or fireflies. 

San Francisco Chronicle

The virtual land rush is on.

The last two weeks brought a flurry of activity from long-established companies and startups alike trying to stake their claims in the vast, unsettled territory of virtual reality.

And the rush doesn’t just include tech firms. Virtual reality is now the next big thing in health care, insurance, education, environmental protection, real estate, art, movies, music, sports and — of course — porn.

“We’re at a tipping point,” said Jason Paul of Nvidia, which is betting on virtual reality to become a pillar of the Santa Clara graphics chip maker’s revenues.

“We see virtual reality as the next major computing platform,” said Paul, Nvidia’s virtual reality general manager. “It’s the ultimate display that people will use to get work done.”

The long-awaited release of two consumer-oriented virtual reality headsets served as the cannon shot that sparked the rush.
Last week, Facebook-owned Oculus VR started shipping its $599 Rift to customers who had placed advance orders. This week, Taiwan phone maker HTC and Bellevue, Wash., game developer Valve begin shipping the consumer version of their $799 HTC Vive.

Meanwhile, Samsung primed the pump by giving away for a limited time its $99 Gear VR to boost sales of its newest Galaxy mobile phones. And Sony’s $399 PlayStation VR is set to enter the fray in October.

With VR devices finally hitting the market, a long list of companies is trying to take advantage of the new medium — and not just for video games.

Last week, the Giants teamed up with Palo Alto’s Jaunt to offer fans VR experiences that include standing in the batting cages and going for a ride with pitcher Sergio Romo. The experiences will be available on headsets stationed at AT&T Park’s social media room, the @Cafe, tucked behind the center field bleachers.

Liberty Mutual Insurance introduced a virtual reality video quiz on Facebook to show customers what to do if their car breaks down.

To be sure, the vast majority of consumers have yet to experience virtual reality, much less buy devices that to most seem like expensive toys.

But that’s not slowing the unbridled enthusiasm of entrepreneurs like Dr. Sonya Kim, founder and CEO of San Carlos startup One Caring Team. Her firm is creating VR experiences to provide a non-drug treatment for seniors dealing with dementia and loneliness, immersing them in relaxing scenes of virtual beaches or fireflies.

“We’re the first mover in the senior care industry, and we want to be the No. 1 global medical VR company,” Kim said Thursday after pitching her startup to a meeting of venture capital investors organized by San Mateo’s Boost VC. “We are going to disrupt dementia care.”

Tyler Andersen, CEO of V, a San Mateo startup that’s building a way to run services like Slack and Spotify in virtual environments, said entrepreneurs are excited about the nascent industry “that has so much potential, but doesn’t really have a direction yet.”

“It’s similar to building a train station,” he said. “You’ve got to build it before the tracks come, because that’s the foundation for, hopefully, the entire ecosystem.”

Although a study from BCC Research this week said the global market for virtual and augmented reality should jump to $105.2 billion in 2020, no one has struck gold yet. The field is still too new.

“The gold rush is going to be over the next 10 years,” said Adam Draper, founder of Boost VC, an accelerator that has invested in 35 virtual reality startups. “This is a long-term gold rush rather than just a quick gold rush.”

But if anyone hits that mother lode early, it might be the pornography industry. Porn has historically led the way in making a profit from emerging visual technologies, from film to video to streaming.

Two weeks ago, adult video streaming site Pornhub, which claims 2.1 million visitors per hour, joined Barcelona’s BaDoinkVR to offer free virtual reality video. Pornhub gave away 10,000 promotional Google Cardboard VR viewers and quickly ran out.

“At Pornhub it is our duty to provide our global audience with the latest in cutting edge technology,” Pornhub vice president Corey Price said in a press release.

Other forms of entertainment, including video games and movies, also figure to lead the charge this year, said Todd Richmond, director of advanced prototype development for the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies.

But Richmond expects a backlash as consumers discover that VR content has not yet caught up to the hype.

“We’re in this shiny-object phase where everybody’s excited to try VR,” Richmond said. “But right now, the best we can do is re-create experiences and create new experiences. We can’t tell stories.”

“People have high expectations,” he said. “We’re used to very good movies, first-person shooter games, HDTV and televised sports. Now you’re going into VR, and it’ll all be a big step backwards, because the resolution is lower and there’s a disconnect between your body, so a lot of of people are going to get sick.” Indeed, some viewers of VR devices have experienced nausea.

However, Richmond does expect the VR industry to figure things out, eventually.

“In health care, education and business, VR and (augmented reality) have unlimited applications,” he said. “Virtual reality is going to impact every single industry.”


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