Aerospace Giant Canceled 40,000-Unit Oculus Quest Order When They Saw This Tech

The company calls it transparent computing. President and chief creative officer Richie Etwaru calls it the “Z-axis of computing,” bringing depth and dimension to the height and width of our flat-screen computers. The technology from Mobeus, a New Jersey-based startup with $24 million in funding from Accenture Ventures, was intriguing enough and mature enough to cause a major aerospace company to cancel a massive 40,000-unit order of Meta’s Oculus Quest VR headsets.

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Why?

Mobeus’ new Airglass2 offers many of the interactive, engaging, social and tactile experiences of a mixed reality or virtual reality headset in a hardware-free environment. Basically, it makes every standard, normal computer, laptop or camera-equipped monitor a possible common 3D space, using no more hardware than when originally sent by the manufacturer.

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I recently watched a live demo of Airglass2 at TechBeach Retreat, a conference in Jamaica, and had a chance to interview Etwaru, who is also a co-founder of the company, live on stage right after.

“This works on any operating system, any computer, any type of media you have: movies, PowerPoint documents, PDF files,” Etwaru says. “All technology was X and Y … it was always X and Y. If you understand technology, this is the Z-index of technology. So now you can program for the Z-index.”

X and Y are the horizontal and vertical of our computer screens. Z is the space in front and behind our laptops that Etwaru says its technical maps and makes programmable.

That means when you’re working with a colleague, you can zoom into a detail on your screen just as you would in the real world: by zooming in with your head. That means you can look to the side of your colleague by moving your head, as if your screen were a real-world window. It also means you can create and manipulate 3D objects – molecules, building plans, engine components, a new conference booth – in a single or shared space. One app Mobeus built took a dancer’s movements and mapped a sitar to her shoulders, bongos to her hips, and other instruments to different parts of her body, enabling her to make music simply by moving.

Basically, it’s what we saw in the Meta and Microsoft HoloLens and Magic Leap demos with one key difference: no headset.

And that might be a game changer, for a number of reasons.

First, there is cost.

At $500 for the commercial version, 40,000 Oculus Quests cost $20 million. Pick up a HoloLens, or the new Meta Quest Pro, or another advanced virtual or mixed reality headset, and you can multiply that $20 million by a factor of three to five.

More important in my mind, is convenience.

I have the Oculus Quest 2, and the biggest challenge I have with it is making time to use it. As I told Etwaru, every time I feel like using it, I have to charge it first because I’ve been using it for so long. Assuming it’s charged, you need to make sure you’re in a safe space with enough room, put it on, accept that you’re now blocking out the world, make sure your controllers register, launch whatever app you’re using, and then get started . actually doing something.

It’s a far cry from pulling out your phone with its instant switch. And it’s far from simply engaging, in a work setting, with 3D objects in 3D space right on the existing screen on your desk.

Which brings up the canceled Oculus Quest mega-order.

“I can’t tell you the name of the person or the company, but it’s in the aerospace industry,” Etwaru says. “In the aerospace industry, a lot of machining … and a lot of data that you have to visualize before you get to go on a rocket or a plane, it’s very complex.”

The company used computer-aided design to visualize components and how they fit together, but wanted to become more immersive and interactive.

“We did a demo of the technology and they were like, okay, cancel the headset order,” Etwaru told me. “We are going in this direction. If it takes these guys two or three years to get there, we’re still better than what we’re going to get from the headset.”

One other huge benefit?

Users do not get sick.

VR sickness is literally a thing now and those who suffer from it can experience nausea and vomiting, weakness, cold sweats, dizziness or headaches. Not everyone gets it, but some do. And while I’m not personally very susceptible to VR sickness, I did occasionally feel a little uneasy after a few VR fitness sessions.

This is not a problem with the technology of Mobeus Etwaru says, because it is in essentially real space.

“When we did some of the psychological studies on this technology, we tried to understand: why do people throw up in a headset?” Etwaru says. “Why does it make you sick? And it turns out that the body has a built-in accelerometer.”

When what you see is out of sync with your body’s accelerometer, you risk feeling VR sickness. But with Mobeus technology, when you tilt to zoom or tilt to expand your field of view, you’re literally doing it with your body, and the changes you see onscreen match the physical changes in your body’s movement and posture . .

Result: no VR sickness.

So how does Mobeus achieve this without additional hardware? Essentially inserting software right between the camera shipped on your laptop and your graphics processing card.

“This was built on bare metal,” Etwaru told me. “It does not need permissions on the computer. It does not need specific privileges. We sit between the camera and the video. And we’re dealing with the camera’s framebuffer and then reflashing the framebuffer right before it hits the video card to create that.”

The result, as you can see in the video at the beginning of this story, is impressive. And it might be good enough for companies that want 3D interaction for their employees to log on.

Mobeus just came out of hiding in November of this year and thinks it has a good chance of delivering the right amount of 3D immersion while keeping people rooted in the real world, which is probably a good bet for productivity.

“I’m not ready to turn on and I think there are a lot of people who are not ready to turn on,” Etwaru says, referring The Matrix films and the constant theme of connecting full-time to augmented or mixed realities.

But he does want tactile manipulation of virtual objects and spaces.

“I think the next generation is saying, I want to be involved in technology with my hands.”

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