Interested in learning what's next for the gaming industry? Join gaming executives to discuss emerging parts of the industry this October at GamesBeat Summit Next. Register today.

Just as the first-person video craze is reaching mainstream consumers, investors already have their eyes set on the next hot thing: interactive 360-degree videos.

360fly, a company that has developed its own 360-degree camera, announced today that it has received $17.8 million, its first institutional funding round, led by Catterton, Qualcomm Ventures, and others.

Interactive 360-degree videos are more like recorded experiences that you have the freedom to explore, rather than footage where you’re stuck looking at whatever the camera is pointing at.

360fly’s flagship camera is rugged and portable, similar to the first-person video cameras we’re seeing from companies like GoPro. In addition to shooting a full 360 degrees horizontally, it also shoots 240 degrees worth of video vertically.

360fly's 360-degree video Camera

Above: 360fly’s 360-degree video Camera

Image Credit: 360fly

The company says it plans to use the funding to prepare for the consumer launch of its $499 camera this fall, which includes building an online platform for its videos, as well as iPhone and Android apps. 360fly is also developing a smartphone attachment that will let you record 360-degree videos right from your phone (the big limitation is that it only shoots 90-degrees of vertical video).

The technology behind 360fly’s camera comes from years of research from engineers at Carnegie Mellon University, CEO and president Tim O’Neil told VentureBeat in an email. Even more intriguing: O’Neil says the original patents for 360fly’s tech were spun out of CMU’s Robotics Institute after they were used by NASA in one of the Apollo missions.

So who would use one of these things? O’Neil says the camera will be able to capture video that’s ideal for virtual reality headsets like the Oculus Rift. He also expects the company’s smartphone attachment to shoot video that looks almost as good as the company’s pro-grade lenses, which have been used by CBS Sports, Discovery Live, and Matchbox 20 for live event streaming.

Given the rapid success of GoPro and its ilk, as well as promising virtual reality solutions on the horizon from Oculus and Sony, there’s a good chance consumers will warm up to 360-degree videos over the next few years. We’ll need plenty of content to drive VR platforms, after all. And the athletes who helped popularize action video cameras likely won’t be content with shooting in one direction for much longer.

360fly isn’t alone in the 360-degree video market, but its camera differs from the competition because it uses only a single lens to capture its video. Other 360-degree cameras, like the Centr and Bubl, rely on multiple cameras, which can add additional expense and complexity. The single camera lens also lets 360fly record 360-degree video instantly — competing cameras have to stitch their video together from separate lenses.

With this round of funding, which brings the company’s total funding to nearly $21 million, O’Neil says 360fly likely won’t need another round. But, he noted, “if we decide to move more aggressively into other vertical markets or geographic regions, or a potential strategic partner offers us a unique opportunity, our plans could change.”

[vimeo 84438881 w=620 h=348]

VentureBeat's mission is to be a digital town square for technical decision-makers to gain knowledge about transformative enterprise technology and transact. Discover our Briefings.