Six months ago I wrote When The Big Companies Show Up about Sony releasing their first holographic display and what I thought about that development, given my role as an investor via Foundry and board member in the 40-person purveyor of fine holographic interfaces in Brooklyn called Looking Glass. In that post, I wrote:
“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.”
That future is coming fast, and last week I was involved in several discussions about holograms.
The first was with Shawn Frayne, the CEO of Looking Glass, reporting that by the summer they will have shipped a personal holographic display to 10,000 people around the world.
The second was a chat about Google announcing a holographic system of their own at Google I/O. Following is a brief excerpt from one of the articles floating around about that announcement:
“Pichai said “We have developed a breakthrough light field display,” probably with the help of the people and IP it scooped up from Lytro, the light field camera company that didn’t manage to get its own tech off the ground and dissolved in 2018.
Light field cameras and displays create and show 3D imagery using a variety of techniques that are very difficult to explain or show in 2D. The startup Looking Glass has made several that are extremely arresting to view in person, showing 3D models and photographic scenes that truly look like tiny holograms.
Whether Google’s approach is similar or different, the effect appears to be equally impressive, as the participants indicate.”
Needless to say, the Looking Glass community has some strong opinions about this new development.
Knowing Google, there is little chance that #ProjectStarline will ever turn into a real product that people can buy.— Jan Kaiser 🛡️ (@jankais3r) May 18, 2021
On the other hand, @LKGGlass has been selling volumetric displays since at least 2018.
Go check them out. https://t.co/LvxnPNZwyM
Will Google or Sony or Looking Glass or some other contender deliver on the full potential of the holographic future we’ve all been waiting for? While my bet is on Looking Glass, this future now feels more inevitable than ever.
If you’re interested in building out this future with the band of misfits at Looking Glass, drop me an email and I’ll connect you.
“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.
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.
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.
In the super cool thing category, it’s always fun to see two companies we are investors in easily put together a demonstration of the integration of their products.
Oblong is a master of spatially interacting with 3D data on a 2D display. Looking Glass lets you interact with 3D data in a 3D display with their product (the Looking Glass.)
Together, you can move and interact with 3D images on either a 3D display or a 2D display.
Now, if we could only print this out on a 3D printer. Hmmm.
A central theme of science fiction over the past 20 years has been the dystopian future of humans, laying on couches, connected to machines that feed them and process their waste, while they interact with a virtual world. Advanced versions of this technology let you move around or relax in a comfortable creche.
Today we call it VR. I wish the abbreviation, which seems so harmless, had never taken hold as the phrase “virtual reality” helps remind us, just a tiny bit, of what we are talking about.
Ever since Jaron Lanier popularized the phrase virtual reality when I was in college, I’ve struggled with it. When my friend Warren Katz introduced me to the idea of a head mounted display in the late 1980s, I was simultaneously thrilled and disturbed. When Lenny Nero figured out what happened to Iris, I simply was disturbed. Yet, when John Underkoffler created the Minority Report user interface to the precogs in the early 2000s, I was enthralled. When Amazon decided to pull out of NYC in 2019, I wasn’t surprised.
Wait, that last sentence was for a different blog post. Just checking to make sure you are still here and paying attention.
I don’t believe humans want to strap a headset on, block out all the stimuli they are getting, lay down in a creche, attach themselves to biosensors that handle their meat puppet, and immerse themselves in a virtual reality, without being able to simultaneously interact with the world around them
There’s no question that VR has an enormous potential market in online gaming. This isn’t anything new – the online gaming industry and the porn industry are two of the most aggressive adopters of new technologies. It’s not difficult to imagine going from your couch to your creche. It would be easier to play esports if you didn’t have to eat or go to the bathroom.
But, beyond that, I don’t buy it. Outside of video games and esports, my bet is on holograms and augmented reality. See you in the future.
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.