HTC Invests in French Mixed Reality Studio Emissive
HTC has backed the Parisian Mixed Reality studio Emissive via its Vive X accelerator program with funding to the tune of millions. Emissive builds virtual expeditions for museums.
The move to back the French mixed reality studio comes on the back of a spike in demand for virtual reality and augmented reality apps for museums.
Emissive has recently released a new virtual reality format known as immersive expeditions which virtually take users to culturally significant sites across the world.
Vive X Accelerator Program
HTC is pumping $3.3 million into Emissive as part of its long-standing XR funding program known as Vive X. Other investors involved in the funding round include Tech & Touch fund by the French investment bank Bpifrance.
Founded in 2005, Emissive has specialized in the development of mixed reality (XR) apps for museums and companies in the recent years.
HTC has undergone an evolution over the years, too, and now supports technologies and devices as they launch in the market. It supported the first wave of the VR headsets to hit the market.
The Parisian startup works with both museums and businesses including telecommunications companies and fashion brands to animate their brands using virtual reality and augmented reality applications.
The pandemic has created a golden opportunity for these kinds of XR applications as numerous industries adapt to the new normal of remote working or remote experiences. This is likely to have a long-term effect on institutions such as museums and cultural centers, social places that now have to operate within the constraints of social distancing rules.
HTC’s foray into the smartphone market did not go well but the Taiwanese tech giant has since pivoted into the VR market and positioned itself as one of the top three players in consumer VR thanks to its Vive line of VR headsets.
HTC’s Vive X fund and accelerator was launched way back in 2016 and is aimed at supporting fledgling startups in the Virtual Reality space. It already supports several companies in both the consumer and enterprise spheres.
One of the main obstacles to mainstream VR adoption has been the dearth of ‘everyday’ consumer use-cases and HTC, as a hardware developer, is keen to support companies to develop an ecosystem for its hardware that will include VR-friendly content and experiences.
HTC and Emissive have already collaborated on a number of projects in the past including the first VR public exhibition of the Louvre Museum’s Mona Lisa held last year to mark the 500th anniversary of Leonardo Da Vinci’s death. The exhibition was titled Mona Lisa: Beyond the Glass. This successful virtual reality experience later appeared on Steam and Viveport and there were also a 2D format for mobile platforms.
Although Mona Lisa: Beyond the Glass was designed for up to 11 users to immerse themselves into the iconic painting with their VR headsets, it was a single-user experience. Emissive and the Louvre also separately developed a version of the exhibit that can be experienced anywhere via a VR headset or a mobile app although the level of immersion for these separate versions might not be the same.
With the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic ravaging Europe, there are now concerns regarding the long-term viability of the traditional model of the museums, cultural institutions and a host of other public spaces given that the coronavirus is going to be endemic in the foreseeable future and the lockdowns are likely to persist.
According to Emissive CEO Fabien Barati, the startup had to cancel some projects during the pandemic but it has since signed up new clients in the retail and luxury sectors. Barati says museums and cultural institutions are also looking for a new business model and format to take their offerings to the end users. There is growing pressure to reinvent and create new revenue streams before it’s too late and the immersive expeditions offer a viable alternative and fit in well “with their perspective”.
The French startup’s inaugural “immersive expedition” is known as Khufu: A Journey in Ancient Egypt which builds on the previous expedition which the startup showcased at the Cité de l’Architecture based in Paris.
Every virtual expedition will occur in a group and lasts about 45 minutes. Emissive plans to launch additional such virtual expeditions soon. There is also a separate “on-demand” offering that is tailored for clients looking for custom-built immersive expeditions.
According to Barati, the originality of Emissive’s format is in its use of VR in large spaces as well as in its collaboration with other visitors. The platform is capable of accommodating large flows of visitors while giving them the illusion of travelling through the space and time via hyper-realistic historical reconstructions. As a result, the virtual visitors in the expedition will get the sense of making a real visit to the site and they are also able to do and discover a lot more than they would in real life.
To implement these virtual expeditions, museums will need spaces capable of accommodating groups of people that wander from one point to another. A virtual technology like this is still risky at a point in time when many museums are also being locked down but the startup says its ‘virtual expeditions’ can be deployed in a flexible fashion.
The technology can, for example, accommodate a space of up to 1,000 square meters. As a result, when museums are finally allowed to open while still observing the COVID-19 restrictions, the museum visitors can be spread about or the experiences can be limited to people coming from the same household “bubble.” These exhibitions can also be held in an outdoor setting like a garden area or a courtyard. Barati also says that plans are underway for online incarnations of these immersive expeditions though it isn’t clear yet what form these might take. The current format of the virtual expeditions is fully designed for the visitors to gather together in a dedicated space.
The virtual expeditions have also come a time when the world is grappling with a lot of apprehensions and restrictions on global travel. Instead of having to travel to a destination to experience an attraction, you can simply do that in a museum or an experiential location if there is sufficient demand for virtual vacations.
With virtual reality slowly seeping into the mainstream, VR vacations are already a thing. However, with much of the world now going into extended lockdowns, an opportunity to reimagine the “virtual holiday” has emerged. While Emissive’s virtual expeditions aren’t necessarily designed for this, it is possible that its technology could evolve over time to meet the present challenge.