Character AI Is In The Money. Here’s another horse in the race to be your personal AI. Popular with young adults (18-24), Character AI enables users to chat with virtual versions of popular celebrities, or they can create their own. It’s a freemium product which charges ten bucks a month for preferred access. In March, former Googlers Noam Shazeer and Daniel De Freitas raised $150 from Andressen Horowitz. Now they need even more cash for more computing, and they’re turning to dad for a billion dollars. Venture capitalists may give them even more.
Meta Quest To Enter China Via Tencent. After being booted out of China 14 years ago for disparaging government controls (go Zuck!) Meta is returning (money talks) with a lower-cost Quest that will be released in China by Tencent. This new, low-cost Quest 3, Quest Lite, or Quest Junior, or whatever they call it, would replace the Quest 2 as the low-price option in Western markets as well. All of this is based on reporting from the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman, and the Verge, which reported on the story earlier.
Meta Lowers Price of Quest 2 To $250. Now that the Quest 3 has launched, everyone is ditching their new and used Quest 2s. They’re $199 at Wal-Mart and as low as $60 used on eBay. If money was keeping you out of a VR headset, here’s a chance to grab the best, and lowest-priced, headset on the market, which CNET called the best for VR gaming in 2023, for 20% of its retail cost. The VR experience is substantially the same as that in the Quest 3. The only drawback is the cheap outward facing cameras in the Quest 2 won’t great for new pass-through MR experiences, of which there are still remarkably few.
Atlas Raises $6M To Launch 3D Generative AI Platform. The Vienna, Austria – based Atlas’ suite of AI products helps enterprise and next-gen creators generate custom, IP-specific assets for video games, virtual ecosystems and XR experiences. While in stealth, the company closed two funding rounds: a $4.5M round led by 6th Man Ventures (6MV) and a $1.5M round led by Collab+Currency. Other investors include the a16z Scouting Fund via Shrapnel, Contango, Gaingels, GFR Fund, New Renaissance Ventures, Square Enix and Wagmi Ventures.
Image Gen Archive Civit AI Raises $5.1M From Andressen. I’ve been accused of being inside baseball before, but this is significant for a couple of reasons. CEO and co-founder Justin Mier says the idea for the startup was to create a place for people to share Gen-AI models they trained to use on Stable Diffusion, one of the best text-to-image generators, but also the most technically demanding. Trained models from Civit come with their metadata (prompt, settings). If you find a model you like, you cut and paste into Stable D (in a way far too complicated to explain) and viola! Image and world consistency. There are millions of versions of open-source Stable Diffusion running on local boxes like my gaming PC, so anything goes. NSFW. Deep Fakes. Neither Stable nor Civit can do anything about that.
CreateSafe, The Company Behind Grimes AI, Announces $4.6M Funding. In May 2023, Grimes made headlines for cloning her voice and enabling musicians and artists to use her voice in new original songs. She used a platform called TRINITI, on which over 1,000 songs have already been created. TRINITY offers five tools: voice transformation and cloning, clone and license voice recordings, text-to-audio samples, industry chat, plus distribution and management tools. Polychain led the raise with participation from Paris Hilton’s 11:11 Media and others. Grimes also joined CreateSafe’s advisory board. Her manager, Daouda Leonard is CEO and co-founder.
AltSpaceVR Lives On In Microsoft Office which is finally integrating Mesh VR into Microsoft. Now co-workers can meet in a Teams Mesh, ,which looks like AltspaceVR, still legless, but in business attire. AltSpace was a popular social VR (aka Metaverse) platform Microsoft rescued in late 2018, only to shut down, despite community outcry, in 2022, because it had no business plan. In Teams Mesh (or Mesh Teams?), VR is encouraged but not required. Microsoft is betting that among its 320 Million Teams users, there are many who want a different, more immersive, way to be together when teammates are remote.
Humane’s New AI Pin Could Have Baked Longer. I was on the list to buy one of the first ones. It is so tempting. The AI Pin can do life logging on steroids and teach itself to serve you. But, for $699, and a monthly subscription of $25, you will get none of that. No email. No messenger. No voice memos. So what is it going to know or learn without that? I am my emails.
Ocutrx Announces New AR Headset For Vision Impaired. There are over twenty companies aiming for the enormous market for the partially sighted and blind population, which accounts for 250 million people worldwide. Ocutrx’ OcuLenz is a head mounted display created specifically for those suffering from Advanced Macular Degeneration (AMD) by utilizing pixel manipulation software, with a patented near-eye optical engine, powered by a Qualcomm XR-2 chipset. They are taking orders on their website for a Q1 delivery.
Victory XR Is Named Yass Prize Semi-finalist. The Yass Prize is a million dollar award for Sustainable, Transformational, Outstanding and Permissionless Education. The company also just announced the launch of its 100th Metaversity, which includes the top Universities in the country including Hardvard and Stanford.
Film Director Dave Clark Created This Cinematic AI Trailer In Two Hours. “This was an exercise to help imagine a feature screenplay that I wrote years ago. Never before could I ever create something so close to what’s in my head to pitch my film. No more barriers. Nothing holding you back from telling your story,” he told me in an email. Midjourney was used to generate the images and Runway to add motion. Edited in Adobe premiere.
Animator Launches Comprehensive Cinematic AI Website. Jon Draper took a moment from his day job running his animation studio, UK-based Stormy Studios, to create a showcase, resource and community site for those exploring the naescent art of Cinematic AI. Draper characterized the site as a “random AI exploration and professional ‘pottering.’” I think it’s pretty neat, joining Curious Refuge and robust communities coalescing around RunwayML, Pica, and Gen-AI companies.
XR Tech Blogger Tom Friske Trained a Tech News GPT. Fisk’s day job is metaverse strategist at Accenture in the UK. The Immersive Wire Chat Companion (IWCC) a GPT based on the latest information on the metaverse and spatial computing, trained on Tom’s excellent weekly newsletter. I asked IWCC what was going on this week and it hit most of the stories in this column. It still can’t write anything close to this column and for that I suppose we should both be grateful.
This Week in XR is also a podcast hosted by the author of this column, Ted Schilowitz, Futurist, Paramount Global, and Rony Abovitz, founder of Magic Leap. This week our guest is Dr. Linda Jacobson, Ph.D., VR pioneer, founding staff member of Wired, who is today Director of Marketing for HaptX which makes VR Gloves for industrial and defense applications. We can be found on Spotify, iTunes, and YouTube.
What We’re Reading
AI is about to completely change how you use computers. (Bill Gates/Gatesnotes)
What Is Spatial Computing? (Avi Bar-Zeev, Medium)
How Virtual Reality Is Becoming A Game Changer In The Business Landscape (Pierre Raymond/Due)