“Either this is madness or it is Hell.”
“It is neither,” calmly replied the voice of the Sphere, “it is Knowledge; it is Three Dimensions: open your eye once again and try to look steadily.”
-Edwin A. Abbott, Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions
Anyone who has read this blog knows that I’m not a fan of prognostications. In a collision of complex systems like what we are all living through right now, predicting the future is especially pointless.
That’s why I’m happy when I don’t need to make a prediction when something long promised in science fiction futures arrives in the present.
That just happened today with holograms.
For anyone who watched Minority Report the first time and wondered when they’d be able to make their own holographic home movies; for those of you that work or play in 3D; and even for anyone that bought the iPhone 12 Pro because it has a LiDAR scanner, today you can get your first personal holographic display, Looking Glass Portrait, for the radical price of $199.
This is meeting a moment when millions of phones can already capture depth maps sufficient to generate a holographic image every time they snap a Portrait mode photo. Compute is so cheap that with clever techniques even lightweight computers like a Raspberry Pi can be coaxed to run holographic media. And 3D modeling and 3D design are becoming so standard that it won’t be long before the “3D” distinction fades away (just as we no longer have to say we work on computers with “color graphical user interfaces”).
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, when 2040 rolls around, I know I’m not going to be spending 12 hours a day in 2D videoconferences. And I won’t be viewing 3D information on flat screens. In all of the chaos of 2020, it’s a welcome diversion to know that the holographic future is arriving, and I’m delighted to be an investor in a company like Looking Glass Factory that’s making it happen.
Get your first personal holographic display here today.
I find it fascinating when a large company enters a new arena.
Some of you will remember this happening back in 1981 when IBM announced it was getting into the personal computer market. This was a field that up until that point had been completely dominated by smaller players like Apple. Steve Jobs’s response was the now-infamous full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal welcoming IBM to the game.
Fast forward to today. Sony just announced they are going to start shipping a holographic display. This is the first large company entering this nascent field that I’m aware up. And, as far as I know, the only company actually shipping a product at this point is Looking Glass (I sit on the board, and Foundry is an investor.)
As the quote attributed to Mark Twain says (but ironically unclear whether he actually said it), “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”
In an effort to rhyme, Looking Glass CEO Shawn Frayne’s welcome letter to Sony, inspired in font and spirit by the original Apple 1981 ad, follows.
When I ponder my life in 2040, I am confident that I will not be spending 12 hours a day in videoconferences on a 2D display. I’m also not going to have a headset encapsulating my face. I’m ready for my holographic future, and I’m having fun being an investor in a company that helps create it.
Let the games begin! Looking Glass has some fun stuff up their sleeves that they are releasing on December 2. Sign up here to be the first to know.
Historically, almost everything I do uses a network model. Foundry Group runs as a network. If you take a look at the Foundry Group partner funds or talk to us about our investment strategy, you’ll immediately see the texture of a network. Techstars is a worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed. All of my ideas around Startup Communities incorporate network theory. If you are involved in any organizations I’ve helped create, such as Energize Colorado, you’ll immediately recognize the network model underlying them.
For me, a network is very different than a social network such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Now that my entire life has shifted to a virtual one, I’ve been playing around with a lot of new network concepts and how they apply to work.
My long time friend Matt Blumberg just launched a new company today called Bolster. It’s a new way to scale your executive team and board. Fred Wilson, also a long time friend of Matt’s, has a great detailed post up today about it titled Bolster Your Management Team And Board that goes through Bolster in detail. A key section from Fred’s post is:
The Bolster team believes that scaling a high growth company means that you need to adapt, grow, and supplement your management team continuously along the way. And a big part of doing that is accessing “fractional talent” which means people that don’t work for your company full-time and permanently. All of this is outlined in the Bolster Founding Manifesto which explains why they started this company.
Sign up for Bolster if you:
- are looking to fill executive or board roles
- are looking for a flexible executive role
- are an investor who is looking to connect your CEOs with flexible executive talent
While we are not direct investors in Bolster, we are indirect investors in three of Bolster’s investors: High Alpha, USV, and Costanoa. It’s a great example of our investment strategy around a network model.
I know the near term plans for Bolster and there’s an enormous amount of value coming quickly around executive and board hires, especially on the dimension of networks, inclusion, and diversity. I encourage you to give it a try and get involved at the beginning.
Misty Robotics’ goal is to create a robot platform (hardware and software) that any developer can use to build useful and immediately applicable robot applications.
A number of early customers have started building solutions. When the Covid crisis hit, companies started to realize that to be safe, checking people’s temperature on entry into a building would be a powerful preventative measure. So, Misty decided to build a specific application for temperature screening.
It took about 30 days to go from idea to beta application that is validated in office environments. The application includes:
- Automated, contactless, and touchless temperature screening
- Interactive health question survey with configurable screening questions
- Customizable greetings
- Immediate pass/fail result determination and recording
- SMS or email notifications/alerts
- Web-based administration and reporting
- Choice of 25 languages
- Polite and engaging interaction experience
I think it’s an awesome alternative to the approach of having a human being do the screening. The idea of having a human greeter temperature screen people on entry into an office environment just sounds like an unsafe, tedious, and uncomfortable job to me right now.
Misty is in beta with this and already has several paid beta customers. If you are interested in learning more, sign up for a demo.
We just announced our investment in Meru Health. If you recognize Meru Health, it’s because I wrote about it in January as part of my explanation of Freestyle’s Leadership on Mental Health. I highlighted what Josh Felser and his team at Freestyle were doing, which included underwriting 100% of the cost for two programs – Meru Health and Hoffman Institute, for all of their founders.
We got to know Kristian Ranta and his team at Meru Health through Josh. Freestyle is one of our 32 partner funds (where we are LPs) and most of our new direct investing activity is in conjunction with one of our partner funds.
Forbes wrote a detailed profile of the company and the investment in Foundry Group And Slack Are Backing A Virtual Therapy Startup That Raised $8.1 Million and we are excited to be part of Meru Health.
Over the past two months, I’ve been asked almost daily if “VCs are investing during the Covid crisis.” Generic questions like this are impossible to answer, as “VCs” are not a singular archetype (there are many types of VCs with different strategies, goals, personalities, and constraints.) So, I answer it from the frame of reference of what we are doing at Foundry Group.
In general, I think the best answers are examples.
For me, the Covid crisis started on March 11th. This was the first day I worked from home and haven’t left my house since then. We were planning to have our CEO Summit in Boulder on March 12th and 13th but cancelled it on March 9th. My parents were coming to Boulder on March 12th for a long weekend and to celebrate my dad’s 82nd birthday. My brother Daniel and I decided to cancel their trip and told them the night of March 11th. Bryan Leech at iBotta hosted the first “Denver Business Leaders” call the morning of March 11th. So, when I look back and mark this moment in history, it started for me on March 11th.
Since then, Foundry Group has closed three new investments.
- Fritz.Ai (partner fund: Uncork): March 25th
- Code Climate (partner fund: USV): May 11th
- Meru Health (partner fund: Freestyle): May 13th
We generally make about 10 new investments a year. While it’s not spaced out monthly (we don’t try to manage timing that granularly), if you look back to when we started Foundry Group in 2007 we’ve done a maximum of 14 new investments in a year and a minimum of 8 new investments.
When asked if we are investing, I answer “yes – on the same pace as we always have.” We have a deeply held belief that time diversity in investing matters, and the key is to keep the same pace of new investments no matter what is going on in the macro.
Today, I’m delighted to report that another science fiction dream is becoming real. Take a look at this insane video of the Looking Glass 8K Immersive Display, which is the world’s largest and highest resolution holographic display.
Foundry invested in the Looking Glass team in 2017. Since then they’ve shipped thousands of desktop holographic developer kits. But the Looking Glass 8K is something different.
The Looking Glass 8K is more like the looking glass that Alice stepped through. It’s a holographic window for groups of up to a dozen people, connecting the world of atoms we inhabit with the world of 3D digital space. In tribute to the sci-fi dream, the holograms in this new iteration also aren’t bound by the physical volume of the device itself – they can extend in front of and behind the glass.
And this all works without VR or AR headgear.
The Looking Glass 8K is in production now in limited quantities, with units shipping in volume in Spring 2020. Arrange for a private demo to see one for yourself by going to look.glass/8K.
I think it’s the universe telling me to get ready for Season 4 of The Expanse.
I’m a proud investor (and crowdfunding backer) in Misty Robotics. As of today, Misty Robotics has started shipping Misty II to its crowdfunding backers.
The team at Misty Robotics has been hard at working getting Misty in shape to ship. The backers now have a key role in the next step of Misty’s journey, as they get the first crack at Misty II and her SDK in advance of Misty’s general availability in the market later this year.
There have been numerous approaches to a personal robot in the past few years. Most have failed. The team at Misty has taken a different approach, emulating the one that the Apple ][ took around the launch of the personal computer, which is to build a platform that anyone can extend with hardware and software.
Misty has been purpose-built as a developer’s platform, with the tools and docs developers need to easily build robot applications which we refer to as “skills”. Misty is a bundle of serious tech that includes:
- Facial detection and recognition
- Expansive field of view
- Mobile sound localization
- Image and graphic display
- Audio playback
- Voice integration
- Capacitive touch
- Obstacle avoidance
- Photo capture
- Hardware extensibility including Arduino and Raspberry Pi
- Audio recording
- Wake word (hint: it’s “hey Misty”)
- Robust Locomotion
- Raw sensor access.
- Programmable personality
While all the hardware is done, some of the software is still in an alpha form, including spatial awareness, video capture, and 3D mapping/SLAM integration. The neat thing is that Misty is “software on treads” so all of this will rapidly iterate as well as be extended by the developer community.
Misty is still available at a pre-order discount, so if you are a developer who wants to explore robotics and become part of the Misty community, jump on board!
Xiao – nice job weaving in a Mary Oliver quote at the end.
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?“
I’m honored that I get to work with you.
Over the past few years, you’ve seen me write about Glowforge, the 3D laser printer that made history with their crowdfunding campaign back in 2015.
Glowforge launched that very campaign at a jam-packed World New York Maker Faire, where folks lined up for hours to get a glimpse at the shiny new machine. Over the next 30 days, they sold $28 million worth of pre-orders to an insatiable crowd of makers.
More recently, Glowforge was named Make magazine’s 2019 Editor’s Choice for a laser cutter. Their thousands of makers have already printed more than 3,000,000 amazing creations. And as a company, they have seen sales triple in just the last year.
So it was sobering when, last week, Maker Faire / Make Media closed their doors for good. In interviews, Make founder Dale Dougherty explains that the company wasn’t interesting to investors anymore, and that, frustratingly, it was failing as a business, but thriving as a mission.
As an investor in many businesses whose founders and customers count themselves among this maker movement, this gives me pause. I see the demise of Maker Faire and I know that an astounding 97% of seed or crowdfunded consumer hardware companies meet the same fate.
But I’m compelled now more than ever to invest in the maker movement, and I hope you’ll join me.
And in fact, now is a perfect time. This week is the kick-off to the National Week of Making, June 21-28. In 2014, the White House launched the Nation of Makers to “empower students and adults to create, innovate, tinker and make their ideas and solutions into reality.”
This is exactly why we continue to invest in new technologies that are leading the maker movement and making it accessible to schools, homes, small businesses, and many enterprises that embrace new innovation and experimentation. Companies like Glowforge, Formlabs, Sphero, littleBits, Modular Robotics, and others in our portfolio are the companies who are helping to drive this movement forward.
The team at Glowforge created an offer this week so that you could celebrate the Week of Making with us. This discount code is good for a $500 discount off a Glowforge Pro, $250 off a Glowforge Plus, and $100 off a Glowforge Basic.
In February 2017 I met Shawn Frayne, one of the founders of Looking Glass Factory, a Brooklyn-based company with ambitions to make holographic interfaces a reality. Their team was scrappy and had sold an impressive variety of volumetric display kits to fuel their R&D efforts, and since our human-computer interface investment theme is one of my favorites, we led their Series A round.
Last summer they launched their flagship product, a dev kit called the Looking Glass. It was the first desktop holographic display to come to market for, well, extreme nerds (like yours truly) that have been hoping for holographic displays their/our whole lives.
The Looking Glass dev kits and the adjoining Unity and three.js SDKs sparked a wave of holographic app creation over the past few months, with thousands of hologram hackers creating new and wonderfully weird apps in their Looking Glasses every day. Looking Glass clubs are even springing up, like this one that meets in Tokyo with a few hundred members and growing.
But these systems are strictly dev kits, meaning they require the user to have a powerful computer to connect to and run the holographic display. I have several Looking Glasses of my own and I love them, but most of the time they sit idle because they can’t run standalone. The multitude of holographic apps being created by developers around the world, like holographic CT scan viewers and interactive software robots and volumetric video players for the Looking Glass, haven’t really been deployable outside of a highly technical crowd that already owns powerful computers.
That changes today with the launch of the Looking Glass Pro, an all-in-one holographic workstation. The Looking Glass Pro is a turnkey holographic solution for any enterprise that needs to display genuine 3D content to groups of people without subjecting them to the indignity of donning a fleet of VR headsets.
Some first use cases are showing up in fields like orthodontics, where holographic renderings of dental CT-scans for surgeons (and soon for patients) are fast becoming a reality.
In situations where agencies are generating things like volumetric music videos and holographic ads (like in the case of Intel Studio’s production Runnin’, generated by Reggie Watts and written and directed By Kiira Benzing), being shown at the Augmented World Expo this week in a Looking Glass Pro).
And in scenarios where groups of engineers need to review three-dimensional simulations of phenomenon like the mechanical stresses in to-be-printed parts and complex biological systems in the Looking Glass Pro as if they were viewing the real thing.
The Looking Glass Pro comes with a lot of built-in functionality, including a powerful embedded computer, a direct touchscreen on the holographic display for interacting with the 3D content, and even a flip-out 2D touchscreen for things like text entry and extended UI. Most importantly, the Pro comes with a commercial license to the Holographic Software Suite, a collection of the Looking Glass SDKs for Unity, three.js, and the newly announced Looking Glass Unreal Engine SDK, meaning developers in the enterprise can make apps for the Pro and deploy them fully-standalone for commercial applications for the first time.
This story has been told before, where a new computing platform makes the phase change from a dev kit for a group of technology enthusiasts into something that businesses can use. Think back to the Apple I’s transformation into the Apple ][ series, the evolution (several times over) of 3D printers, or even AR headsets if what Hololens 2 and just-announced Google Glass 2 are doing is any indication.
The launch of the Looking Glass Pro is a sign that that time has come for holographic interfaces.
If you’re an enterprise looking to get into the hologram game, get one of the first batch of Looking Glass Pros today before they sell out.