Startups

Samsung quietly acquired VR app studio VRB

Comment

Image Credits:

Samsung has been bullish on virtual reality hardware, hoping that its early moves in headsets and devices to shoot content will give it a stronger position in the space as (and if!) it continues to expand to more applications and users. Now TechCrunch has learned that as part of that effort, it’s also made an acquisition. Samsung quietly bought a New York-based startup called VRB, which has developed several apps to capture and view 360-degree content.

One source claimed the deal was valued at $5.5 million; another said it was significantly less than that, $1.5 million.

We have reached out both to VRB and Samsung for comment, but in the meantime one of the co-founders, Chrisopher Paretti, has responded to a message we’ve sent him to confirm the sale. “VRB was acquired by Samsung, but the deal amount will remain undisclosed,” he wrote.

There have also been several proof points of the deal hiding in plain sight.

The terms of service for one of VRB’s apps describes VRB as “a division of Samsung Research America, Inc.”, while the company’s two iPhone apps (here and here) list Samsung Information Systems America as their developer. Meanwhile, VRB’s AngelList page tells us that VRB was acquired by Samsung Electronics on April 17 this year. And its Twitter, Instagram and Facebook feeds stopped getting updated some time ago.

The AngelList profile also notes that Samsung Next, Samsung’s accelerator program where VRB was incubated, was an investor.

VRB had a somewhat low profile in the startup world prior to its acquisition — no CrunchBase profile, no Product Hunts, very few name checks in the media (hat tip to PC Magazine for covering it here) — but it has an interesting pedigree.

Co-founder and CEO Christopher Paretti is a veteran of Nokia, Samsung, Gree and Yahoo, where he held senior positions in design, and he was also a design and product advisor at Peer, which was acquired by Twitter last year. His co-founder Christopher D. Kairalla is an assistant adjunct professor at NYU who has held several technical roles at startups in the past whose specialisations include video and interaction.

VRB itself appears to have worked on a mixture of services in the general area of VR. It described itself as a “social VR platform centered around user expression and novel methods of communication”, and it filled that out with both B2C and B2B products — a double-purpose route we’ve seen other startups take, since it helps them both build a platform and provide a proof of concept for that tech.

On the consumer side, VRB had developed two apps, one a “social city” called VRB Home and the other a 360-degree photo-sharing app called VRBFoto. The latter you can see in live VR apps for Oculus and VR Gear.

Here’s one example of an image shared on VRBFoto, from one of the co-founders:

On the developer side, VRB had created a multi-purpose toolkit for VR content creators that included an extensible avatar creator, a headset-to-mobile broadcasting tool, and persistent backend system “to help users create virtual worlds that are shareable, friendly, and meaningful.”

It’s not clear what Samsung has planned longer term for the product, technology and team it’s picked up, but the fact that it’s continued to keep the apps live could be a sign of how it plans to continue their development as applications for its hardware.

According to recent figures, Samsung’s Gear VR headset is the market leader in terms of shipments. In 2016 it dominated the market with some 5 million units sold, compared to 3.6 million for the next-most popular model, the Oculus Rift, with 2.1 million units for HTC’s Vive. It has also recently started selling a new Gear 360 camera in the US after an initial launch in Europe.

But one of the issues in the VR industry has been that some feel that there hasn’t been enough killer content, to attract buyers to the products. Indeed, that was one of several problems with early smartphones gaining critical mass, too, until Apple and Google cracked the nut with their app stores.

Although third parties have been slowly developing their own content, by buying VRB, Samsung appears to be putting an investment into building its own content and tools to develop it, too.

Interestingly, after Samsung acquired the AI assistant Viv (which we later saw would be used for its own voice-powered assistant Bixby), it was reported that it was looking for more AI startups to snap up.

But in a left-turn, VRB appears to be the first VR startup that Samsung has acquired (or at least the first that’s been uncovered), although there are rumors of more purchases related to VR in the pipeline, and there are yet other acquisitions Samsung has made that fit into the wider VR ecosystem, such as its acquisition of cloud computing firm Joyent and automotive electronics firm Harman for its connected car efforts.

Update: Samsung Next provided the following statement to TechCrunch:

“We built the ‘Start In-Residence’ program to attract talented entrepreneurs who could leverage the best of Samsung’s resources and build a startup with the potential to strengthen Samsung’s capabilities. VRB’s success is an example of how we empower talented founders with a strong vision, great ideas and the boldness to see it through to scale. We’re very proud of the VRB team and what we’ve accomplished together.”

More TechCrunch

The spam reached Bluesky by first crossing over two other decentralized networks: Mastodon and Nostr.

The ‘vote Trump’ spam that hit Bluesky in May came from decentralized rival Nostr

Welcome to TechCrunch Fintech! This week, we’re looking at the continued fallout from Synapse’s bankruptcy, how Layer wants to disrupt SMB accounting, and much more! To get a roundup of…

There’s a real appetite for a fintech alternative to QuickBooks

The company is hoping to produce electricity at $13 per megawatt hour, which would be more than 50% cheaper than traditional onshore wind.

Bill Gates-backed wind startup AirLoom is raising $12M, filings reveal

Generative AI makes stuff up. It can be biased. Sometimes it spits out toxic text. So can it be “safe”? Rick Caccia, the CEO of WitnessAI, believes it can. “Securing…

WitnessAI is building guardrails for generative AI models

It’s not often that you hear about a seed round above $10 million. H, a startup based in Paris and previously known as Holistic AI, has announced a $220 million…

French AI startup H raises $220M seed round

Hey there, Series A to B startups with $35 million or less in funding — we’ve got an exciting opportunity that’s tailor-made for your growth journey! If you’re looking to…

Boost your startup’s growth with a ScaleUp package at TC Disrupt 2024

TikTok is pulling out all the stops to prevent its impending ban in the United States. Aside from initiating legal challenges against the government, that means shaping up its public…

As a U.S. ban looms, TikTok announces a $1M program for socially driven creators

Microsoft wants to put its Copilot everywhere. It’s only a matter of time before Microsoft renames its annual Build developer conference to Microsoft Copilot. Hopefully, some of those upcoming events…

Microsoft’s Power Automate no-code platform adds AI flows

Build is Microsoft’s largest developer conference and of course, it’s all about AI this year. So it’s no surprise that GitHub’s Copilot, GitHub’s “AI pair programming tool,” is taking center…

GitHub Copilot gets extensions

Microsoft wants to make its brand of generative AI more useful for teams — specifically teams across corporations and large enterprise organizations. This morning at its annual Build dev conference,…

Microsoft intros a Copilot for teams

Microsoft’s big focus at this year’s Build conference is generative AI. And to that end, the tech giant announced a series of updates to its platforms for building generative AI-powered…

Microsoft upgrades its AI app-building platforms

The U.K.’s data protection watchdog has closed an almost year-long investigation of Snap’s AI chatbot, My AI — saying it’s satisfied the social media firm has addressed concerns about risks…

UK data protection watchdog ends privacy probe of Snap’s GenAI chatbot, but warns industry

U.S. cell carrier Patriot Mobile experienced a data breach that included subscribers’ personal information, including full names, email addresses, home ZIP codes and account PINs, TechCrunch has learned. Patriot Mobile,…

Conservative cell carrier Patriot Mobile hit by data breach

It’s been three years since Spotify acquired live audio startup Betty Labs, and yet the music streaming service isn’t leveraging the technology to its fullest potential — at least not…

Spotify’s ‘Listening Party’ feature falls short of expectations

Alchemist Accelerator has a new pile of AI-forward companies demoing their wares today, if you care to watch, and the program itself is making some international moves into Tokyo and…

Alchemist’s latest batch puts AI to work as accelerator expands to Tokyo, Doha

“Late Pledge” allows campaign creators to continue collecting money even after the campaign has closed.

Kickstarter now lets you pledge after a campaign closes

Stack AI’s co-founders, Antoni Rosinol and Bernardo Aceituno, were PhD students at MIT wrapping up their degrees in 2022 just as large language models were becoming more mainstream. ChatGPT would…

Stack AI wants to make it easier to build AI-fueled workflows

Pinecone, the vector database startup founded by Edo Liberty, the former head of Amazon’s AI Labs, has long been at the forefront of helping businesses augment large language models (LLMs)…

Pinecone launches its serverless vector database out of preview

Young geothermal energy wells can be like budding prodigies, each brimming with potential to outshine their peers. But like people, most decline with age. In California, for example, the amount…

Special mud helps XGS Energy get more power out of geothermal wells

Featured Article

Sonos finally made some headphones

The market play is clear from the outset: The $449 headphones are firmly targeted at an audience that would otherwise be purchasing the Bose QC Ultra or Apple AirPods Max.

5 hours ago
Sonos finally made some headphones

Adobe says the feature is up to the task, regardless of how complex of a background the object is set against.

Adobe brings Firefly AI-powered Generative Remove to Lightroom

All cars suffer when the mercury drops, but electric vehicles suffer more than most as heaters draw more power and batteries charge more slowly as the liquid electrolyte inside thickens.…

Porsche Ventures invests in battery startup South 8 to boost cold-weather EV performance

Scale AI has raised a $1 billion Series F round from a slew of big-name institutional and corporate investors including Amazon and Meta.

Data-labeling startup Scale AI raises $1B as valuation doubles to $13.8B

The new coalition, Tech Against Scams, will work together to find ways to fight back against the tools used by scammers and to better educate the public against financial scams.

Meta, Match, Coinbase and others team up to fight online fraud and crypto scams

It’s a wrap: European Union lawmakers have given the final approval to set up the bloc’s flagship, risk-based regulations for artificial intelligence.

EU Council gives final nod to set up risk-based regulations for AI

London-based fintech Vitesse has closed a $93 million Series C round of funding led by investment giant KKR.

Vitesse, a payments and treasury management platform for insurers, raises $93M to fuel US expansion

Zen Educate, an online marketplace that connects schools with teachers, has raised $37 million in a Series B round of funding. The raise comes amid a growing teacher shortage crisis…

Zen Educate raises $37M and acquires Aquinas Education as it tries to address the teacher shortage

“When I heard the released demo, I was shocked, angered and in disbelief that Mr. Altman would pursue a voice that sounded so eerily similar to mine.”

Scarlett Johansson says that OpenAI approached her to use her voice

A new self-driving truck — manufactured by Volvo and loaded with autonomous vehicle tech developed by Aurora Innovation — could be on public highways as early as this summer.  The…

Aurora and Volvo unveil self-driving truck designed for a driverless future

The European venture capital firm raised its fourth fund as fund as climate tech “comes of age.”

ETF Partners raises €285M for climate startups that will be effective quickly — not 20 years down the road