Virtuix, the company behind the upcoming Omni multi-directional motion control device for virtual reality (VR) experiences, has just secured a rather sizeable amount of funding. The company has received an investment for some $3 million USD from a range of over 5 investors to help expand personnel and assist mass production. Needless to say, this is a fairly significant step for the company, which had already raised $1.1 million via Kickstarter.
VRFocus got the chance to speaker with Virtuix CEO Jan Goetgeluk about the investment, and what it means for the company. In the interview below Goetgeluk talks about how it will use the money to deliver on its vision, as well as offering reassurance to concerns about the device’s size and price. The Omni will start to ship in July 2014 for Kickstarter backers, with later pre-orders heading out in September.
VRFocus: Why do you think Virtuix was able to secure such a large amount of funding?
Jan Goetgeluk: The virtual reality market is front and center and experiencing rapid growth. Virtuix provides an immersive and active virtual reality experience that has not been offered before. This immersive experience appealed to investors, which is a large step toward full virtual reality with applications that stretch far beyond gaming.
VRFocus: What specifically will this money enable you to do that you couldn’t have done before?
Jan Goetgeluk: As we are preparing for the commercial and mass market launch of the Omni, we will be using the funds to increase our personnel to support and expand our distribution model, as well as anticipate both increased demand and availability to more international regions. Our Kickstarter funds were aimed at developing the Omni and bringing it to market. This latest round is designed to broaden that market and meet its demands as virtual reality platforms and their applications expand.
VRFocus: What do you think the knock-on effect of this deal will be? Could it lead to a bump in supported software?
Jan Goetgeluk: The virtual reality market has already experienced a huge bump in awareness since the beginning of the year, the announcements from big players at GDC and, of course, the Facebook acquisition of Oculus. I think this announcement will only further interest in the space from consumers, developers and new hardware manufacturers.
VRFocus: Some have said the devices as large and expensive as the Omni should be relegated to arcades instead of homes. What do you say to those claims?
Jan Goetgeluk: The Omni we have been showing at trade shows is only just a prototype, so the final production unit will be sleeker and a tad smaller than the current one that people have tried. Additionally, the Omni is smaller than a conventional treadmill, which many people fit easily in their homes. It will also be collapsible in order for people to easily store it.
VRFocus: Do you see the Omni becoming a must-have for all VR headset owners or is it limited to a much more dedicated audience?
Jan Goetgeluk: Originally we saw the main audience for the Omni to be gamers, but the applications for VR reach far beyond that to other industries such as virtual fitness and tourism, which will appeal to a much broader audience. For anyone who is interested in a full virtual reality experience, the Omni will be a must-have.
VRFocus: $499 makes the Omni more expensive than the Rift or a next-generation console. Do you think consumers are really prepared to pay this much for a peripheral?
Jan Goetgeluk: The Omni is created to be compatible with PC games from the start, and the cost of the Omni is actually in line with the typical hardware investment many PC gamers make. So yes, I think the initial audience is prepared to pay that much, and to date we have already sold more than 3,000 Omnis. Also, when we have shown it in public, people love it and actually expect it to cost more than it does.
VRFocus: The Omni comes with the TRAVR sample to help users get to grips – could Virtuix develop any more of its own software to support the device?
Jan Goetgeluk: Right now we are focused on the production of the Omni itself, but there is always the possibility of that in the future. The Omni is compatible with PC games out of the box, so players can utilize many games when the Omni launches.
VRFocus: Just how compatible will the Omni be in the VR space? Could it be used with other peripherals and perhaps, in time, on consoles?
Jan Goetgeluk: We have created the Omni so that it will be compatible with any VR headset on the market, as well as being compatible with mobile devices. In terms of consoles, we again are focused on getting the Omni to market, but would be interested in exploring support for consoles in the future.
VRFocus: Earlier this week we saw a glimpse of a modified Omni that allowed for crouching. Do you have plans to iterate on the device with new features such as this?
Jan Goetgeluk: That image was from R&D work together with Rice University. We built a support structure that allows the support ring to move up and down with the user, enabling crouching with the Omni. While the price point of the standard Omni does not allow us to include a moving support structure (which is expensive), we might offer a variation of this support structure to consumers in the future as an upgrade to the standard Omni.
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