Bubl’s Spherical Video Camera Gets Samsung Backing

Canadian startup Bubl, maker of a 360-degree camera for capturing spherical panoramas, has closed a $3.5 million (CDN$4.6 million) seed round, led by Samsung Ventures and J-Tech Capital, with other unnamed investors also participating in the round.

The company has been beavering away at spherical video camera gizmo for several years now, kicking off a crowdfunding pitch back in 2013, and going on to raise almost CDN$350,000 via Kickstarter to deliver on founder (and former CEO) Sean Ramsay’s original vision of a device that could immerse the user in an all-angles view.

The tetrahedral design of Bubl allows for zero blindspots, with camera lenses  overlapping to ensure the resulting multiplex image can be stitched into a perfect sphere — for viewing on a mobile device, or indeed in some form of compatible VR headset.

The startup was originally aiming to ship cameras to Kickstarter backers by May 2014. In the event it took rather longer than that; it only fulfilled shipments to backers last month. Bubl’s Dan Mills confirmed it’s been a longer dev journey than originally thought. “You do underestimate the piece that’s required to bring it beyond a prototype,” he tells TechCrunch. “That last piece takes a while.”

Founder and former CEO Ramsay has now moved across to a purely product development focused role, and Bubl is looking to appoint a new CEO — with Mills as interim in the meanwhile. He says the seed funding will be used for “moving operations forward” — both on the software and hardware side, providing capital for manufacturing, post-crowdfunding. (It’s currently offering a waitlist for its next batch of Bublcams.)

Last year, talking to TC, Ramsay raised to prospect of a building a more mainstream consumer targeted version of its camera — with a cheaper price-tag than its current $799 offering — but Mills now says its focus remains entirely on that current pro-price product “for the foreseeable future”.

So who’s been buying Bublcams thus far? Immersive 360-degree video remains an interesting if gimmicky technology application in search of a killer mainstream app — unless you imagine VR headsets are going to replace flatscreen TVs as the average consumer’s viewing medium of choice. Which seems rather unlikely.

Mills says the first wave of Bublcam buyers has “been a mix” — including from people wanting it for “personal photography” (to “enhance how they photograph and share moments), to those also interested in virtual reality.

He notes Bubl is not working on any specific integrations with particular VR headset makers at this point (Samsung has been dabbling here of course, with the Gear VR headset) — rather the aim is for their hardware and software to be flexible enough to support lots of potential uses and other devices.

“We’re not going on a specific VR trajectory. Our player supports output into split screen VR. We’re not partnering with any specific hardware VR products,” he notes.

“I don’t think I’d like to predefine a market. The camera really is the enabler. And we need to make our software versatile so people can use it as they wish… It could fit well into [the VR] realm.. but we’re not trying to shoehorn ourselves in”

Of gaining Samsung Ventures as an investor, Mills adds: “We hope that opens things up to a lot of technology and resources that they have. We’ll see how that develops.”