Startup nations | Israeli companies see into the future with virtual reality

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Imagine visiting the beautiful beaches of Tel Aviv, or hanging out with your relatives overseas, all without leaving the comfort of your own home. This is the beauty and promise of virtual reality. And with Sony unveiling PlayStation VR, Facebook rolling out Oculus and HTC launching Vive, 2016 is proving to be the year that virtual reality is becoming mainstream technology.

These products represent just a small sampling of the vast applications of VR technology, which will likely impact every major industry — entertainment, gaming, health care, fitness, e-commerce, social, mobile, education, travel and more. Virtual reality and its close relative, augmented reality, have the potential to grow into a $150 billion market by 2020.

The startup nation is proving to be on the technology forefront of the AR/VR industry worldwide, with an estimated 60 companies in Israel addressing the global market.

Since 2014, an estimated $170 million has been invested in Israel in AR/VR. In fact, several of the world’s largest tech players, such as Facebook, Apple, Intel, Microsoft and Baidu, have been highly active acquiring Israeli AR/VR technology companies.

In March, Intel acquired Israeli startup Replay Technologies for $175 million. The company’s FreeD video platform offers “free dimensional” technology with immersive camera views from multiple angles. Showcased at the 2016 NBA All-Star Weekend during the popular Slam Dunk contest, the technology gave fans a 360-degree look at the amazing acrobatics of their favorite hoops stars.

In 2015, Apple acquired Israeli camera technology company LinX Computational Imaging for a reported $20 million to add to its 3D imaging capability. And Facebook’s Oculus VR, in a reported $60 million deal, acquired Israeli startup Pebbles, whose gesture-control technology can detect the hands of a user wearing a virtual reality headset, enabling them to interact with their hands and arms within the virtual realm.

Israeli companies are also applying augmented reality to surgical procedures, education and field training. They are creating 360-degree 3D cameras, manufacturing chip sets for HMDs (head-mounted displays) and smart glasses, and developing interactive games for VR interfaces.

To help facilitate business opportunities for companies in this space, the Israel Economic Mission to the West Coast recently hosted a roadshow in the Bay Area and Los Angeles featuring eight of Israel’s most innovative AR/VR companies. The technology that was showcased represented a rich spectrum of the Israeli virtual and augmented reality technological ecosystem, from hardware and software solutions to games and educational content.

The main focus of the Israeli delegation was facilitating one-on-one meetings to give participating startups the opportunity to meet with key American companies, investors and other strategic partners on both the East Coast and West Coast.

Cimagine, one of the roadshow’s participating companies, provides retailers with an AR platform that enables consumers to use their mobile devices to visualize products in life-like 3D anywhere in their home. Imagine that at the click of a button you can put any potential purchase (like a sofa or chair) in your house and see exactly how it will look… even before buying it.

Another company featured was WakingApp, which offers an AR/VR cloud platform that allows the creation of a personal VR experience using advanced, interactive augmented reality content, including live data feeds, personalization, social activities, high-quality 3D, games and more.


Startup of the month

Staying in the VR realm, eyeSight Mobile Technologies, based in Israel and the Bay Area, brings camera-based gesture controls to TV sets, smart glasses and computers. The company recently raised $20 million from Shenzhen-based technology conglomerate Kuang-Chi. EyeSight Mobile also plans to provide advanced motion-tracking controls to high-end headsets like the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive. CEO Gideon Shmuel says his goal is to bring computer vision technology to all applications requiring human interaction.