Bob Berry has been waiting for this moment.
For years, he’s been among the crowd of geeks that’s anticipated a time when the technology and resources finally catch up to the promise of virtual reality — when graphics, processing power, hardware size, affordability and more all combine to create a breakthrough moment for VR and launch the next wave of computing.
Based on the flurry of VR products now on the way from major players like Oculus, Sony, Microsoft and the like – plus the just-announced new investment from GV for Berry’s Bellevue-based virtual reality startup Envelop VR, which has brought in a funding haul of $7.5 million so far – it’s safe to say the moment Berry’s been waiting for has arrived.
Indeed, this year is poised to be a seminal one for his company, which he and a partner launched in 2014 after Berry says he got a demo of some of Valve’s VR technology a couple of years ago. He still recalls that moment and his immediate reaction. The technology was so good, light years beyond the video games with crappy graphics he remembers during the 90s when he was working on his PhD in Japan, that it inspired him to get busy putting together a VR shop of his own.
The company he leads today is creating productivity software that allows enterprises and consumers to “create, work and play” in a VR environment. Envelop is using the money it’s raised to grow the product and business teams, as the company prepares to have its initial software offering – the Envelop Virtual Environment – available later this year when headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive arrive.
The new funding, Berry said, is going to be used to also flesh out the company’s software development kit, to engage on developer relations and to boot up the company’s sales pipeline.
Envelop today is part of what’s become something of a robust VR community in and around Seattle, with Oculus VR having an R&D office there, in addition to companies in the area working on VR like Valve, Microsoft and others.
A lot of activity, and the impetus for Envelop’s participation in the space, can be traced at least partly back to that moment when Berry got a taste of the VR products being worked on at Valve.
“When I first put their headset on,” Berry recalls in an interview with BGR about his Valve experience, “it was rock-solid. A transformative experience. It was the first time I felt a true presence, with a capital P – my brain was tricked into thinking it was somewhere else. I came out and said to my partner, we have to start a VR software company. Tomorrow. Because it’s finally here.”
Why “Envelop”? Because, Berry explains, that’s what “these new, immersive technologies are doing – actually enveloping you with data.”
“We believe this is a fundamentally transformative new technology, much in way PCs or mobile phones were,” Berry said. “It’s the next computing platform. All these immersive technologies are going to enable an age of immersive computing. That’s kind of the next logical step, in terms of platforms. Envelop was created to take a shot at creating that immersive computing platform.”
He thought there was an opportunity, though, to go beyond just the fun and entertainment use cases.
The company describes its initial product – the EVE, for short – as an immersive computing platform for windowed PC content and for VR apps. It allows users to perform all of their computing functions while using a VR headset – without needing to be in VR, in other words, and constantly be setting that equipment aside and picking it back up again as tasks are switched between.
It currently works on the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, but the long-term plan is to get it able to work with every hardware platform.
Limited developer testing is under way now, and Envelop says it plans to have a more public beta available prior to the Vive and Rift headsets coming to market. The company will also be publicly demoing the product at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco in March.
“When you think of the potential use cases outside of entertainment, when you think of what you can do with medical imaging or manufacturing visualization, how this affects e-commerce – it’s hard to think of an industry not affected by these new technologies,” Berry said. “This is a massive blue ocean of new opportunity.
“For our first step, we identified how can we add value in the very near term. We looked at the landscape of how VR developers work today, and we saw an immediate pain point we can address.”
Whereas developers now create VR content in 2D environments and then strap on a VR headset for testing purposes (then take the headset off to go back to 2D for debugging and making changes), Envelop says its solution lets developers stay in a VR environment where their run-time and coding consoles can co-exist.
“Right now we’re still in the DOS days of VR, but we thought we could address that aspect of it first,” Berry said. “We want to allow people to stay in VR while they’re working. We wanted to enable people to use their applications, to recreate their natural work environment while in virtual reality.
“As an entire industry, we’re still kind of in learning mode when it comes to virtual reality. But we all have a vested interest in this industry really taking off this time.”