Hazel Moore: Top 5 British VR/AR Companies
Hazel Moore offers her take on five of the most interesting companies in the UK in both virtual and augmented reality.
The UK, historically strong in the gaming and creative industries, has a leading role to play in the VR landscape in Europe, and has the largest number of up and coming VR companies of any European country, as featured in the recently launched European VR Landscape (available on www.thevrfund.com) published by the VR Fund and LucidWeb.
Here is my take on 5 of the most interesting companies in the UK in VR/AR:
In 2015 Andreessen Horowitz, an A-lister in Silicon Valley venture capital terms, invested $20mn in a little known UK firm called Improbable, only the second deal the firm had ever done in the UK. Improbable was developed by two computer scientists from Cambridge University, and has developed SpatialOS, which is a platform for third parties to build massive virtual and simulated worlds. The alpha version of the platform was launched in late 2016, and we expect a beta version in 2017.
Ultrahaptics is a Bristol based company that is making waves, literally. It uses ultrasound technology to project sensations through the air, enabling the user to “feel” virtual objects without needing to wear or touch anything. The company is a spin out from Bristol University, and raised £10mn from Woodfood funds in 2015. Applications include things like changing the in car infotainment system with just a press of a virtual button in the air.
Touch Surgery, backed by Balderton Capital, was founded by surgeons to help provide surgical training via powerful software applications. With more than 200 apps and more than one million users worldwide, it provides medical students with a cost effective and safe practice environment BEFORE they start practising on people and wielding a sharp knife. In 2017 at CES Touch Surgery announced that it has made this content available for augmented reality platforms such as Hololens and Daqri.
Blippar is certainly the most high profile of the UK’s VR/AR start-ups. In 2016 it raised $54mn, reportedly at a valuation of $1.5bn, taking the total raised to almost $100mn. Founder Ambarish Mitra is on a high, having won the EY UK Entrepreneur of the Year in 2016. Recent signs are less positive, with the company cutting staff as losses widen, but the roster of clients who advertise through the platform includes some stellar global names.
Curiscope has raised just $120k through crowdfunding, yet its VR film Great White Shark on YouTube has racked up an astonishing 16mn views. It has also developed the Virtuali-Tee, a £24 t-shirt available from the company’s website (currently out of stock), which, in combination with a smartphone, allows you to see “through” the t-shirt and view the wearer’s guts, heart, lungs and kidneys in graphic pulsating 3D. Biology lessons will never be the same again! Founder Ed Barton was named one of Forbes’s 30 under 30 in Europe for 2017.
There are undoubtedly many more great VR/AR companies in the UK, and the outlook is bright. The UK is fertile ground for large corporates looking to acquire talent in the VR/AR space. Facebook has made a number of acquisitions of UK companies, including Surreal Vision and Two Big Ears, while Snapchat snapped up Seene/Obvious Engineering, and Two Trees Photonics was sold to Daqri. Success breeds success, and Facebook has been expanding its UK team with further investment. In addition the pipeline of future talent is being nurtured more formally through two new accelerator programmes which have been launched in recent weeks to work with AR and VR start-ups:
* In February 2017 the Digital Catapult, which is funded by Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency launched an accelerator programme called Augmentor for VR, AR and mixed reality start-ups in the UK, in partnership with Seedcamp (augmentor.co.uk). Successful companies will have access to an enviable list of mentors to provide advice and experience to help companies become successful.
* Meanwhile Barclays has teamed up with Creative England to create Barclays Eagle Flight Lab (https://labs.uk.barclays/flight), a 12 week accelerator programme in Brighton to work with start-ups in the creative industries, including VR and AR, which will run from March –May 2017.