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You Don't Need to Wear VR Goggles to Do VR, Says Ad Tech Startup

"I believe in a couple of minutes, not an hour in VR."


The “point” of virtual reality, as we know it today, is “immersion” — that is, surrounding the user in something: A game, a movie, or maybe one day a Facebook post by Beyoncé.

Call this VR-lite, then: San Diego-based advertising startup Adtile is working on a way to offer some of the benefits of immersion without having to wear an actual VR headset like the Oculus Rift. The company recently showed Re/code a prototype of Adtile VR, which taps a phone’s internal sensors to depict a fully virtual 3-D world that moves with you.

In other words: Hold out your phone as though you were taking a (non-selfie) picture or video. But instead of seeing what’s actually in front of you, you see a phone-sized window into another place.

The demo I saw was of a nondescript museum-like floor, with a bunch of connected open spaces. Walking with the phone, as well as pointing it in any direction, changed the view of this floor accordingly, with a small amount of latency. Tapping and holding on the screen simulated walking forward in whatever direction I was looking, making it possible to explore without having to suffer a modicum of exercise.

 Adtile CEO Nils Forsblom
Adtile CEO Nils Forsblom

Adtile CEO Nils Forsblom said the convenience of dropping into a virtual place outweighs the diminished immersion, which matters less for quick and casual use.

“I believe in a couple of minutes, not an hour in VR,” he said. “I understand the point of headsets for education, gaming, communication and entertainment. Scaling for everyday people, that’s where it kind of lags.”

The company first started working with phone sensors to display 2-D advertisements that, for example, turned pages as you tilted the device. It plans to initially license out and later release an SDK for its VR software to a broad range of app developers. Forsblom said the HTML5-based technology comes in at under 100 kilobytes in file size, which is important for quickly delivering something that will grab the user’s attention.

The 20-person company has raised $8 million from an undisclosed group of private investors.

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