The holographic display of the future is here and you can have one on your desk for under $600.
Ever since I saw Princess Leia appealing to Obi Wan that he was her only hope when I was 11, I’ve wanted a holographic display. Movies like Minority Report and Back to the Future II (do you remember the shark hologram that ate Marty?) have consumed thousands of people’s lives over the past few decades. But until now, no one has been able to make a scalable device that would let groups of people, unaided by a VR or AR headset, see and touch a living and moving 3D world.
That’s changing today with the launch of the Looking Glass, a new type of interface that achieves that dream of the hologram we’ve been promised for so long. The Looking Glass is technically a lightfield and volumetric display hybrid, but that’s pretty nerdy-sounding. I like to just call it a holographic display.
It’s a technology at the Apple II stage, designed for the creators and hackers of the world — specifically 3D creators in this case. If you’ve ever played with a MakerBot or Form 2, have a Structure sensor in your backpack, know what volumetric video is, or have 3D creation programs like Maya, Unity, or Blender on your computer, then you should get a Looking Glass. You can holographically preview 3D prints before you print them, experiment with volumetric video recording and playback, or create entirely new and weird applications in Unity that can live inside of the Looking Glass. And when I say weird I mean it — the founders Shawn and Alex put a 3D scan of me inside and gave me some new dance moves.
Check out this video on their Kickstarter page. I’ve seen this in person and what is shown in the video is real. There aren’t any camera tricks going on – it really looks that good (actually a little better) in real life. The Looking Glass is indistinguishable from magic the way the best of technology strives to be.
I don’t know of many people who genuinely want the dystopian future of everyone in VR all day long. Ok, I do know a few. But while VR may play a role, I think most people don’t want this 1984 vision of the future, where everyone is geared up 16 hours a day.
The team behind the Looking Glass is fighting against that all-headset future with this new class of technology. Join us!
Looking Glass, a Brooklyn-based company we recently led the Series A investment in, just released HoloPlayer One, the world’s first interactive lightfield development kit. This is a new interface that lets groups of people see and interact with floating 3D scenes without VR or AR headgear. While it’s an early release dev kit, it’s still as close to achieving the dream of the hologram shown in Blade Runner 2049 as I’ve seen.
This is relevant in my world because an investment theme we think a lot about is Human Computer Interaction. While it’s dangerous to try to predict the future, I think it’s a safe bet that in 20 years humans won’t be interacting with computers in the same way they are now. Amazon Echo is an example of one massive HCI shift that will impact our lives for years to come. Looking Glass is betting that another HCI shift will be related to how people interact with 3D content, like how a doctor will show a patient a CAT scan or how a 3D modeller will rig a Pixar character or design a rocket engine.
There are a lot of people who see this interface shift on the horizon with billions of dollars flowing into AR and VR companies evidence of this general interest. But what if there was a way to do it without the cost and constraints of a VR or AR headset.
The Looking Glass founders Shawn and Alex have been obsessed with chasing this dream since they were kids. Now they’re betting deeply against the headgear-based VR/AR trend by saying that holograms will be the next shift in human computer interaction. And they want fellow hologram hackers along for the ride.
I just got one (well, another one – we already have two HoloPlayer prototypes in the office with Structure Sensor scans of all the Foundry partners).
You can pre-order your Holoplayer dev kit here. Save $50 with code TOTHEFUTURE.
He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought —
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.
– from Lewis Carroll, Jabberwocky
One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.
I can almost see Obi-Wan swinging his lightsaber.
It delights me that we’ve invested in a company called Looking Glass who is making their own version of a vorpal sword.
Well, ok, it’s a volumetric display. But we’ll get there …
We’ve been investing in stuff around 3D since we started Foundry Group in 2007. Our first 3D-related investment was Oblong, which has reinvented the way we engage with computers (which we call infopresence) through the use of their 3D spatial operating system called g-speak and their collaboration product Mezzanine.
Well before the current generation of VR/AR/MR/XR/whateverR came about, we focused our attention and investing in the notion of a radical change in human computer interaction (HCI). We believed that in 2007 we were at the beginning of a 30+ year shift that would make the WIMP interface, which emerged in the early 1980s and was dominant in 2007, look and feel punch-card archaic in the future.
While we dig the moniker XR (for extended reality), we are much more interested in, well, reality. Our investments in 3D printing, first with MakerBot (the first successful consumer 3D printer) and now with Formlabs and Glowforge, cross the boundary between designing in 3D and making physical things. Our investment in Occipital has changed how we, and many others, think about 3D inputs and what to do with them. And life wouldn’t be much fun if you couldn’t play Rock Band in 3D, so Harmonix has you covered there.
So, why Looking Glass? After Stratasys acquired MakerBot for over $400m in 2013, we didn’t pay much attention to 3D printing for a few years. But, in 2015, when we invested in Glowforge, we realized that we had only begun to play out physical interaction with 3D. The industrial laser cutter market presented the same opportunity as the industrial 3D printer market, and hence our investment in the first 3D Laser Printer.
In 2016, when we invested in Formlabs, we had another insight that was reinforced by one of the ubiquitous Gartner Hype Cycle graphs. I think it speaks for itself.
We are now enjoying market leadership during the plateau of productivity.
One day, I was in Jeff Clavier’s office at SoftTech VC in San Francisco. He made me sit down with Shawn Frayne, the CEO of Looking Glass. Thirty minutes later, I called John Underkoffler, the CEO of Oblong, and said “John, I finally saw what you were trying to create with your holographic camera.”
And, as a bonus, the physical camera, which for over 20 years lived in the basement of my close friend Warren Katz’s house, now lives in my Carriage House in Longmont. It’s in several pieces, but that’s a detail that some day John will remedy.
It was an easy decision to invest in Looking Glass.
`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
I love being involved in magical stuff. One of our portfolio companies, Occipital, just announced their newest product, the Structure Sensor. It’s available for purchase right now on Kickstarter – they blew through their $100k goal in the first four hours of being up. But this is a “show don’t tell” classic, so take a look at the video below and prepare to have your mind blown.
So awesome. Jeff, Vikas, and team – you guys are amazing.