How a tiny team in Tokyo is taking on Oculus and Sony – Business Insider


Fove Team Portrait
Founders Yuka Kojima and
Lochlainn Wilson.

Fove

Most of the virtual reality headsets on the market are
backed by huge companies: Facebook has its Oculus Rift and Sony
makes the PlayStation VR, for example.

But a tiny Tokyo-based company, founded by former Sony game
designer Yuka Kojima and Lochlainn Wilson, is taking them
all on with its own high-end VR headset, and it even includes a
new technology that the rest of the industry doesn’t have
yet.

In the next few months, Fove will start shipping its $599 headset
(Fove 0) to people who preordered it. It requires a powerful
Windows computer.

If you want one, you can preorder one for $599 on Fove (this
version of the headset is aimed at game creators and enthusiasts
though). You should get it in the next few months, depending on
when Foxconn finishes production. 

The most important feature of Fove, and what makes it a
worthy competitor to Oculus and HTC Vive, is that it tracks your
eyes. No other commercially sold VR headset does that at this
point, although the competitors are trying to catch up quickly.
(Google bought an eye tracking startup for $20 million last
month.)

“When I was working at Sony Entertainment, one of my main
passions was bringing more human and emotional reactions to video
games,” Kojima said in an email to Business Insider. “I
can’t wait to see what interactive narrative designers do with
eye-tracking, or how VR worlds will seem more connected and real
with characters that intelligently make eye contact and know
where you are looking.”

Eye tracking means that Fove can tell where you’re looking
while you’re in virtual reality, which it turns out unlocks
several important new possibilities.

I got to try one of Fove’s most advanced prototypes out last
month. It was extremely cool. I played a “Space Invaders” style
game, and I didn’t have a gamepad. I simply glanced at the
spaceships I wanted to shoot — these looks really could kill
(digital space ships and aliens.) 

There’s one other big way that Fove differs from other virtual
reality companies — the Tokyo-based company was cofounded by a
Japanese woman in the mostly-male, largely-American world of
virtual reality. 

“To be honest, there are not a great deal of advantages to being
a woman in the VR industry. What matters most is that you have
the right tech and you have the right timing. We think we have
both,” Kojima said. “I don’t think too much about being a female
founder in tech, though, I prefer to focus my energy on the next
task at hand.”

Why does eye tracking matter? 


honpen_cut_02Fove


Fove launched as a Kickstarter
 in 2014. At the
time, it blew past its goal, becoming the 2nd most successful VR
Kickstarter of all time, only behind a small project called
Oculus Rift, which was eventually bought by Facebook for $2
billion. 

The reason why Fove caught the interest of the virtual reality
community is that it promised “foveated rendering,” or a next-gen
VR concept that is poised to become a very big deal. 

If you look inside the Fove headset, you’ll see a few little
specs of technology near where your eyes rest inside the headset.


Eye Aiming
I shot this space marine
with my eyes.

Fove

These are infrared sensors, and they track where the pupil of
your eye is looking. It’s not as easy as it sounds — your eye
darts from place to place, your gaze wanders and doesn’t go in a
straight line, and to really make eye tracking useful, it needs
to be extremely fast and extremely accurate.

But if you can track where the user is looking, what you can do
is make sure the spot on the screen where they’re looking is
extremely detailed, and spend less time and power drawing
super detailed parts of the scene in the users’ peripheral
vision. 

That’s foveated rendering, and it’s an important technology
because it’s believed to reduce the power requirements for VR so
that you won’t need a powerful computer hooked up to the headset.
$4.5 billion headset startup Magic Leap uses foveated rendering
as one of its core technologies, for example. 

“We’re planning to combine our eye tracking with facial tracking
to fully immerse people into VR,” Kojima said.

Previously, high-end eye tracking was only available in research
contexts, and required expensive machines. Now Fove is selling a
capable eye-tracking headset for $599. 

What’s next? 


FOVE_side_whiteFove

Fove is very clear that its headset is not for everyday
consumers. On its pre-order page, the company makes clear
that the first Fove is “for developers, researchers, and
creators.” 

Add one more target market: the company is actively looking to
outfit video arcades and internet cafes with Fove headsets, Fove
director of strategy Jim Preston told Business Insider.

VR arcades are a booming business
, especially in Asia,
Preston said. 

For explorers who do end up buying a Fove, there also isn’t a lot
of software available for gamers yet. The Fove headset ships with
a few demos, and it also supports a few open-source gaming
engines, but the company is small and doesn’t have the big
developer budget of a company like Facebook. 

The company does expect to get an influx of money in the spring
when it raises a Series B. The company already raised $11 million
in a Series A earlier this year, primarily from Asian investors,
including Foxconn, which is manufacturing the Fove. 

Preston said in the upcoming round it’s soliciting
investment from Western, Silicon Valley-oriented venture
capitalists as well, although it’s too early to announce
anything. 

Fove expects to continue refining the Fove headset, but it
also knows it has technology that other companies might like to
use in its virtual reality and augmented reality projects.
Licensing its eye-tracking tech is possible in the company’s
future, Preston said. 

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