Silicon Valley computer vision startup Eonite is revealing its low-cost, accurate, and low-power solution for inside-out positional head tracking for virtual reality and augmented reality headsets.
That’s a big deal, because VR and AR headsets will be much better once when they have this kind of tracking, which allows a headset to sense its environment. By contrast, today’s most powerful VR headsets — such as the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift — use outside-in tracking, where external sensors are placed in a room to detect a person wearing a headset.
Eonite promises to make VR and AR much more immersive and fun, and that’s why it has been able to raise $5.25 million in seed funding from leading Silicon Valley venture capitalists and angels, including Lightspeed Venture Partners, Signia Venture Partners, Presence Capital, The VR Fund, Rising Tide, and CLI Ventures.
“They’ve really nailed the inside-out tracking,” said Rick Thompson, partner at Signia Venture Partners, in an interview.
Eonite belives that its Eonite Vantage Head Tracker software will be much better at tracking than current options and will cost a lot less. Youssri Helmy, CEO and founder of Eonite, said in an interview with GamesBeat that external sensors account for as much as 30 percent of the cost of today’s VR headsets. Eonite can eliminate that cost simply by using a 3D depth sensor on a camera on the headset.
I tried the system in a demo. Eonite used a limited camera with a 40-degree field of view. But the sensor worked well. I could turn around and track some flying drones in a demo app, and the system generally followed wherever I moved my eyes and body. I was able to move around, and I wasn’t limited to the areas where there were external sensors.
Palo Alto, Calif.-based Eonite was founded in December 2015, based on the work of founders Anna Petrovskaya and Peter Varvak.
“When I began working on computer perception in 2004 with Peter, we recognized it would impact a wide range of artificial intelligence industries and enable tremendous growth in consumer experiences,” said Petrovskaya, in a statement. “Eonite enables the fourth wave of computing — spatial interfaces like VR/AR — to gain widespread adoption. Computers perceiving the real world like the human eye – that’s what it takes for these experiences to feel ‘real’ enough for common usage, and that’s the impact we’re enabling at Eonite.”
Helmy said that the smarts of the system are in the algorithms and software, which can operate on a depth sensor camera, such as an Intel RealSense camera. It’s a low-cost, low-power system, with sub-millimeter accuracy and a 15-millisecond latency, or response time. It can run on a tablet-class graphics processing unit (GPU), which means it doesn’t consume all the resources of a VR computing system. That leaves the system free to process VR games and other content.
Helmy said the Eonite software is being designed into one product already, and it will become available in 2017.
Eonite democratizes virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR) by delivering inside-out positional head tracking for any tethered and untethered headsets, mobile devices, robots, drones, and other form factors.
“It’s a fundamental technology,” Helmy said. “Our founders come from a robotics background, and our platform is prepared for that. Outside-in was a great way to get the industry started. But now we have to evolve the industry in a more consumer-friendly direction.”
Helmy said that the company’s intellectual property is unique. For one thing, it offers real-time obstacle detection. If you are walking around a room with your headset on, the system can detect obstacles, such as your furniture. And if your cat walks across the floor, the system will detect it. This technology makes it much safer.
The system also supports mapping and tracking through multiple rooms. You don’t have to clear a space for the system, and it works in a variety of indoor lighting conditions. It has support now for PC-based head-mounted displays, with support for mobile and other devices coming soon.
The Eonite Vantage Head Tracker comes in addition to the Eonite Reality Insight Software Development Kit (SDK) and Unity plugin, which the company currently offers to select strategic partners. The SDK includes home-scale, real-time 3D scanning and reconstruction that supports persistent virtual content, occlusions, and shadows.
Eonite Reality Insight enables developers to create life-like mixed reality applications and to use 3D simultaneous localization and mapping (3D SLAM) and high-precision navigation for a variety of markets, including automotive, robotics, and manufacturing.