June 17, 2015
AltspaceVR, a virtual reality communications platform backed by Google Ventures, enables multiple users from anywhere in the world to gather and share a virtual space. Unlike the text-based chat rooms of the 1990s, AltspaceVR uses computer cameras and Leap Motion trackers to translate users’ movements, mannerisms and gestures into the virtual world. It has been described as “Second Life for the first person.” AltspaceVR, now open to the public, was founded in 2013 and is led by Eric Romo, a former SpaceX propulsion lead analyst.
According to the startup’s about page, “investors include Dolby Family Ventures, Formation 8, Google Ventures, Lux Capital, Foundation Capital, Rothenberg Ventures, SV Angel, Haystack Fund, Tencent, Raine Ventures, Promus Ventures, Startcaps, Maven Ventures, and Western Technology Investment.”
With $5.2 million in investor funding, TechCrunch reports that AltpaceVR’s 15-person team is attempting “to build a social software bridge between the fragmented VR headset makers.” The platform runs on a MacBook Pro with a souped-up graphic chip, so it does not require a hardcore gaming PC.
“Binaural, directional audio means you can tell if someone behind you is talking, and you’ll hear their voice fade if you wander away,” explains TechCrunch. “And through a new partnership with SensoMotoric Instruments, AltspaceVR will soon be able to track your eye movements so you can squint at someone when you’re skeptical, or look up at someone with puppy-dog eyes inside VR.”
Early limitations of the platform do not deter early adopters. In fact, beta users show impressive engagement as they stay in the virtual space for comparatively long periods of time.
AltspaceVR is hoping to create a new medium where limitations of the physical world do not apply. The platform enables nearly anyone to develop a VR experience that multiple people can enjoy simultaneously.
“Watching eSports and other video content has been popular, but Romo imagines intellectual symposiums and celebrity meet-and-greets,” TechCrunch notes. “AltspaceVR sticks you in a robot avatar for now, but could one day let you walk around in your own skin if you’ve been VR-scanned by a booth like the xxArray.”
When Mark Zuckerberg announced Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus, he spoke of the social implications of VR. AltspaceVR takes a step in that direction.