8i Raises $13.5M To Chase The Human Side Of Virtual Reality

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There I stood, about a foot away from a mother and her newborn baby. The mother was talking to her daughter in a video captured in virtual reality for the child to see one day when she’s older. It was realistic. Almost scarily so. I was able to walk around a “room” and watch the mother speaking from every angle, including behind her.

I’ve never seen that much human detail with a VR getup on my face.

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The really trippy part? The company shot followup footage a few weeks later and seeing the child “grow” with my own eyes was nuts.

That is 8i’s speciality and the New Zealand / Los Angeles / San Francisco based firm has announced a $13.5 million Series A round with participation from an interesting mix of investors to make VR more human: RRE Ventures, Founders Fund Science, Horizons Ventures, Samsung Ventures, Dolby Family Ventures, Bertelsmann Digital Media Investments, Sound Ventures, Signia Venture Partners, Inevitable Ventures, Freelands and Advancit Capital, Kevin Wall, Jeremy Stoppelman, John and Andrew Hendricks, End Cue and Kortschak Investments, Rothenberg Ventures and Boost VC.

8i is building a platform so that content creators can make their own 3D renderings and VR experiences available in anything from a dating app to a feature film. The 360-degree stuff is a nut that 8i cracked and it’s no wonder that there is a lot of interest around them. I mean, Samsung Ventures’ and Dolby’s involvement speaks volumes. The company is also opening a studio in Los Angeles that they plan on letting content creators use for free. The more creativity that flows around the technology, the better it can get.

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“We’re focusing on a really hard problem, to bring humans into augmented realities,” 8i CEO Linc Gasking told me.

To focus on the humanity aspect was important for Gasking and his team of 27 (and growing), who come from companies like Pixar, DreamWorks, YouTube, Industrial Light & Magic, PayPal, Microsoft Research, Sony Computer Entertainment, Digital Domain, NVIDIA, Weta Digital and Valve.

“I didn’t want to do games. I wanted that human connection. I wanted to tell stories and connect with people in a three dimensional way.” Gasking told me of the 8i platform. Going beyond games is music to my ears, as well as the ears of investors.

But when is real too real? I’ve heard stories of people jumping into VR and what they see becomes so real to them that they react physically. Shoot, during one of 8i’s demos I was standing on a “cliff” and Gasking urged me to jump off. I didn’t, even though the entire thing was a mirage.

The key to keeping it safe, though, is one of Gasking’s core rules when developing these scenarios, which he tells me is “respect.” Respecting regular human boundaries is key to building a human-friendly world in VR, he tells me.

At the end of the day, 8i’s goal is to be an agnostic platform across AR, VR and the web. As far as mother in child standing before me? You can go check out the web demo later, but you really have to be in VR to “get it.”