Welcome back to Spatial Beats. where we round up all the top news and happenings from around the spatial computing spectrum, including its escalating infusions with AI and other letters. Let’s dive in…
Disney invests $1.5B in Epic Games to build the Disney gaming and entertainment universe. Epic, the company behind the Unreal Engine and Fortnite, will build the open game and entertainment universe for Disney, as they are doing for Lego. CEO Bob Iger announced the deal in an interview with CNBC on Wednesday. Last April, Disney killed its nascent Metaverse division, but apparently not its ambitions in games. “In our new relationship with Epic Games,” said Iger, “we’re creating a transformational games and entertainment universe that integrates Disney’s world-class storytelling into Epic’s cultural phenomenon Fortnite, enabling consumers to play, watch, create, and shop for both digital and physical goods. This marks Disney’s biggest entry ever into the world of video games, and offers significant opportunities for growth and expansion.” Fortnite and Roblox are the two big game universes. Nothing else compares. It’s said Disney is like a glacier, moving extremely slowly, and crushing everything in its path. Investors like the deal. Disney stock went up 5%.
Hardware is Hard
After a week of hype from Apple, and a week of rapturous reviews of the Vision Pro, the critics and trolls have arrived. Apple is so good at this, I don’t think there’s anyone in the country who hasn’t heard of the magic headset and its ridiculous price. Tesla owners have been warned about wearing them while driving. The very fact the Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg, had to say anything at all about this is remarkable. Makes me wonder if it’s a set-up by Apple just to keep the shuttlecock of fame in the air.
This man was arrested for using Apple Vision Pro while driving a Tesla. pic.twitter.com/vHt8VQmQc8
— NO CONTEXT HUMANS (@HumansNoContext) February 3, 2024
Vision Pro isn't just great, it's the single greatest piece of tech ive ever used pic.twitter.com/ArBgbkH0UR
— Casey Neistat (@Casey) February 3, 2024
Last week, Vanity Fair quoted James Cameron as saying the Vision Pro was “a religious experience.” Even the most positive reviewers don’t go that far. This week, we’re starting to hear about critical flaws. The 600 g headset is too heavy. The industry standard is 90 grams. My podcast co-host, Magic Leap founder Rony Abovitz, posted this on X: “The XR/Spatial community needs to come together on OSHA and related standards for safe head/neck loading as well as eye/brain health and safety.”
Police pulled over the person driving the Cybertruck with Apple Vision Pro pic.twitter.com/T8cZxlDZSs
— Tesla Owners Silicon Valley (@teslaownersSV) February 7, 2024
Brilliant Labs Introduces AI-enabled Multi Modal glasses. When we met former Apple engineer Bobak Tavangar at AWE last summer, he was introducing writers and influencers to his Brilliant Labs’ new open-source AR glass, a monocular developer kit that combined a monocle with a small AR display, a camera, and two touch sensors. It clips on to your glasses. The first thing developers did was connect it to ChatGPT. Now Bobak is back. With the backing of Niantic’s John Hanke, his Brillaint Lab is introducing a version of Monocle built into a pair of bulked up granny glasses, like a cartoon John Lennon might wear. The new $349 “Frames” from Brilliant Labs are available for pre-order on the company web site for April delivery. It will use computer vision with AI to give you a deeper understanding of the world.
Follow the Money
StatusPro Raises $20M in Series A. The company, co-founded by co-chief executives Troy Jones, and Andrew “Hawk” Hawkins, a former NFL wide receiver, makes NFL Pro Era, one of the most popular VR sports simulations. Google Ventures led the round, which the CEOs said will be used to develop more sports simulations. The list of celebrities, pro athletes, team owners and moguls who have also invested is actually too long for this column.
3D Scanner App Polycam closes $18M million Series A. Founded in 2021 by two former Ubiquity 6 engineers, Chris Heinrich and Elliott Spelman, the Polycam app uses LiDar and photogrammetry to capture both 3D objects and the space aroud them, using only a smartphone. You can mouse around an object, or be inside a room. This round of financing was led by Left Lane Capital with participation from Adobe Ventures, YouTube founder Chad Hurley and others. Chris Heinrich, Polycam’s co-founder and CEO, says that the capital will support new 3D editing and collaboration features, training AI models for rendering 3D objects and new market expansion.
CAMB.AI Raises $4M seed round led by Courtside Ventures. The company specializes in instantaneously dubbing any performance in over 100 languages, dialects, and accents using the original voices and their nuances. Camb.ai differentiates itself from competitors by conveying the speaker’s original tone and nuance. This way the translated content is as authentic as the original. Other investors include TRTL Ventures, Blue Star Innovation Partners, Ikemori Ventures, and Eisaburo Maeda.
3D GenAI platform Atlas was awarded a $4.5M grant by The Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG). Developers use Atlas to create 3D assets for games and other spatial applications from text – and 3D worlds. That’s right. You can talk them into existence. The competitive grant is given to companies with the potential to create new markets or disrupt existing ones. The funds will be released across three years: $608K in 2024, followed by up to $2.3M in 2025, and $1.6M in 2026 based on milestones achieved. The Vienna based company raised $6M in November from AAA studios Square Enix, and Consortium 9.
The AI Desk
Scammers Use Deep Fakes to Steal $25M. In a horrifying portent of the world to come AI-generated deep fakes conned an employee of a finance firm to send $25.6 to a number of local bank accounts. He balked at the unusual request until his “boss,” arranged a Zoom call with the CFO and other company executives the worker recognized. Also fakes. It was weeks before anyone realized the company had been swindled.
Google’s New Gemini AI Chatbot is Here, It is now available to all for free, replacing Bard. A dedicated Android app is also available. Gmail, Docs, Sheets, etc. will now come with Gemini integrated instead of Bard. A premium version will be bundled with Google One for twenty bucks a month. I got early access and have been using Gemini for a week. It is, in most ways, a big improvement on Bard. But. Gemini has been neutered by the copyright police. It has extremely strict guardrails. It won’t touch certain content, like the NY Times. Image generation isn’t as good as Dall-E, either, for similar reasons. I understand Google doesn’t want to be sued but with such strict guardrails, they are fighting with one hand tied behind their back.
This epic example of AI cinema was created by German commercial director Hauke Hilberg. He makes commercials for companies like Nike, Mercedes, Masterclass, and Expedia. “My day job is directing for the biggest brands working with stars like Dirk Nowitzki, Novak Djokovic or Mariah Carey,” he told me in a brief online interview. “Martin Haerlin and I began our collaboration in November. After we put up a film for North Face, we were contacted by the team of StabilityAI, who offered us early access to their Beta of StableVideo. Normally you run the final output videos through a longer process of upscaling and enhancing the quality with programs like Topaz AI. We wanted to test how far we can push Stable Video by creating the whole footage inside this tool without the use of Midjourney or other tools. I worked a while on finding the right prompts to get control over the final clips and it works pretty well. stable video beta is online now and I hope StabilityAI will open this to everyone as soon as possible.”
Hits & Misses
Less Social Media, More Snapchat Ad on Super Bowl. A twenty million-dollar ad is not a good look the week after you lay off hundreds of employees. Snapchat has 414 M daily users, but they just can’t figure out how to monetize them. In a rather terse earnings call on Wednesday, co-founder and CEO-for-life Evan Spiegel doubled down on Snap Specs and AR generally. To be fair, I tried the new Specs last year and really liked them. I wonder how they would seem now that AVP and Quest 3 are here. Once upon a time, Specs sounded like a grand plan for an upstart company, but in tech, timing is everything. The planned 2025 release looks like it will be launching at the same time new headsets are due from Apple, Meta and Samsung. An upstart might play it more like Brilliant Labs (see above).
Where will Virtual Reality Take Us? (Jaron Lanier/New Yorker)
On Spatial Computing, Metaverse, the Terms Left Behind and Ideas Renewed (Matthew Ball/MatthewBall.vc)
Listen & Learn
For more spatial commentary & insights, check out This Week in XR, hosted by the author of this column, along with Paramount’s Futurist Ted Schilowitz, and Magic Leap founder Rony Abovitz. This week’s guests are Caleb and Shelby Ward of Curious Refuge, a rapidly growing platform for AI education and community. You can find it on podcasting platforms Spotify, iTunes, and YouTube.
Charlie Fink is an author and futurist focused on spatial computing. See his books here. Spatial Beats contains insights and inputs from Fink’s collaborators including Paramount Pictures futurist Ted Shilowitz.