Did you watch Avatar, Pirates of the Caribbean or Dawn of the Planet of the Apes? Were you amazed by the realistic movements of the computer-generated characters? Chinese VR startup Noitom is exploring the kind of motion capture technology that makes those movements possible.
Founded in Beijing in 2012, Noitom, the word “motion” spelled backwards, is a company focused on mapping the human body, its movements and interaction with the environment.
Noitom’s co-founders, CEO, Dr. Haoyang Liu and CTO, Dr. Ruoli Dai, both specialize in mechanics, software, robotics and sensor engineering.
Last November, Noitom secured USD 20 million in Series B financing, bringing its valuation to USD 200 million. This round of fundraising was led by Guangdong Alpha Animation and Culture, one of the Top 30 Cultural Enterprises in China and followed by Haitong Capital Investment company, a direct investment subsidiary of China’s earliest securities company, Haitong Securities.
A commercial VR path
VR products like HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR and Gear VR are dominating the global market right now, but Noitom has chosen a different path.
In January, Noitom launched Project Alice. It is a commercial virtual reality system with a head-mounted display (HMD), inertial motion capture (mocap) suit, optical tracking system, motion glove and backed computer, which provides an extremely immersive virtual reality experience to users.
Liu explained that there are three stages of VR technology development. The first is to let consumers experience VR products by HMD; the second is to lead the body into VR products, Project Alice’s inertial mocap suit and motion glove can do this; the third is to build a virtual environment.
“PC VR products lack a huge market while mobile VR products have unsolvable technology now, so we chose the commercial virtual reality market,” Noitom CEO Dr. Liu told AllChinaTech.
He added that Project Alice could be a general solutions provider in the commercial virtual reality market in the near future. In detail, Project Alice provides three different solutions that could be used in home standard PC VR, home room scale experiences, as well as in virtual reality theme parks.
It will be a terrible experience for customers when a big gap exists between their real sensation and the force feedback technology that provides the sense of touch in VR systems. In addition, customers’ worries over objects that exist in reality, like walls and vases, but not in the virtual world might damage their immersion experience.
Project Alice tracks both HMD and real physical objects, eliminating the worry of striking something in the real world and providing a more immersive experience
Three key products
Motion capture has been used by game studios and filmmakers for years, but it hasn’t been cheap and accessible for the home market.
In 2014, Noitom launched a Kickstarter campaign, in which 1,329 backers donated a total of USD 571,908, for a motion capture system－Perception Neuron. This system focuses on tracking the body and is relatively inexpensive.
The Perception Legacy system is a portable wireless mocap system designed for the film and animation industry. It provides real-time capabilities and can register accurate data. MySwing Golf is a full-body motion capture golf instruction tool. It can be used by independent golf instructors, university golf coaches and golf courses.
These three products provided a technological base for Project Alice. Maybe due to its sophisticated technology in mapping the human body, Noitom has an advantage in the VR scene.
“We want to build experience museums with other operators and content producers based on Project Alice’s three different solutions,” Liu said. He added that they had cooperated with some companies and hoped for more players for exploring the market in the future.
Entertainment will always be hot
While the virtual reality industry focuses on in-home entertainment right now, the outdoor VR sector is promising. This is mainly because few people know the concepts of VR in these early stages of the market and they need access to experience the products.
“We aim to build virtual theme parks to let more consumers know about VR and provide good experiences for them,” Liu said.
He added that it was necessary to introduce consumers to VR through virtual theme parks before the VR market gets mature.
“We want to build a theme park featuring entertainment,” Liu said. “We can also use VR for some traditional industries. For example, we can explain how the earth goes around the sun visually for students and they will be impressed a lot,” he added.
The VR industry will boom first in business and then the consumer market. Currently, consumers are inexperienced when it comes to VR products and few people will buy them. But if customers can get a good experience in a theme park, they will be motivated to buy products.
“A good experience and content are the prerequisites for a boom in the Chinese VR market,” Liu said.
He also said that whether the company can become a leader in the global and domestic market will depend on China’s strong production supply chain and relatively low production costs.
“It may take two years or so before the market gets mature, and we will catch this opportunity by technological innovation,” said Liu.
“AI and VR will change the history of human beings and we will work hard on R&D so as to stand on the tide of this science and technology wave,” Liu added.
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(Top photo from uploadvr.com)