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.
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.