This $30 million startup is building a new kind of holographic display to save the world from the 'dystopian future' of virtual reality

  • Looking Glass is a Brooklyn-based startup building 3D holographic displays.
  • They are targeted at 3D designers who might want to create experiences and graphics without wearing a VR headset for long periods of time.
  • The displays are now available on Kickstarter, starting at $US399 and ranging up to $US1999, and the company met its goal in 2 hours.

There’s a tech startup based in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, inside an old glass factory. After snaking your way through a 19th century industrial world to their very modern space, you see a message written on their door in red paint: “No Dystopian Futures Allowed.”

The dystopian futures that Looking Glass, the startup, is trying to avoid are those where everyone’s plugged into headsets, according to founder Shawn Frayne – whether they’re the virtual reality products from companies like Facebook’s Oculus, or augmented reality systems from companies like Magic Leap which have been hailed by tech leaders as the future and the next logical step after the smartphone.

Looking Glass’s new eponymous product is basically a very advanced 3D display, or a “holographic display.” You plug it into a desktop or laptop computer with one USB cable and one HDMI cable, and it can display a 3D model or world in full motion from common 3D software programs like Maya and Unity.

Looking Glass is “philosophically different” from other companies developing 3D displays, Frayne said. Instead of sending “one guy into a virtual world,” like in virtual reality, the Looking Glass allows people to bring little bits of a 3D virtual world into the real world.

In person, a Looking Glass is a moving, living 3D image that you can’t take your eyes off of.

The displays enable 3D developers to create new characters or models and show them to clients, coworkers, or audiences without requiring anyone to don a VR headset, which can lead to eye fatigue. Looking Glass said that game designers, major movie picture studios, and CAD companies have tried the displays and are enthusiastic.

No dystopian futures allowedKif LeswingThe door to Looking Glass’s Brooklyn office.

There’s a lot of tech and insights from over 100 prototypes that went into these displays, which are now available for preorder on Kickstarter starting at $US399. Eventually, they will cost $US600 for the 8.9-inch model, or $US3,000 for a larger, 15-inch model. Both displays are about 7-inches deep.

When I visited the Looking Glass offices last week, most people had one of the smaller models on their desk.

The smaller Looking Glass has about 4 million points of light, Frayne said. The technology consists of two main components: a light field display and a volumetric display. The display creates 45 views of the world inside the display, which means you can see the 3D models from even a sharp angle off to the side.

Looking GlassLooking Glass

Although the product is first available on Kickstarter, meeting its $US50,000 goal in two hours, the listing is mainly to make it easier to pre-order, Frayne said. Looking Glass has raised $US13 million in seed funding from Brad Feld’s Foundry Group, Lux Capital, SOSV, and Uncork Capital valuing the company at $US30 million, according to PitchBook Data.

Here’s what it’s like to look through a Looking Glass.


The Looking Glass is small enough to fit on a desk.

Looking Glass

Here’s one of the demos I saw. The video is surprisingly sharp and has a lot of volume. Even when looking at it from the side it was pretty clear.

Play GIFLooking Glass


But the Looking Glass can also display lifelike images.


And you can make interactive content when pairing the display with controllers like Leap Motion.


Or a Nintendo Switch controller.


Looking Glass is hoping that architects …

Looking Glass

… product designers …

Looking Glass

… and 3D printing experts are among the first early adopters to try the technology out.

Looking Glass

That’s in addition to the 3D modelling experts that make up the core audience for the first batch of products.


Looking Glass’ CEO said the company went through hundreds of prototypes before finalising their design. Here’s the Hong Kong office holding some of them.

Looking Glass

But the company is primarily based in Brooklyn, where Frayne says he wants to anchor a new “hologram district” of similar companies working with 3D imaging.

Looking Glass

The small model is $US600, although there are some Kickstarter deals available. The bigger screen starts at $US3,000.

Looking Glass

It uses a USB cable for power and an HDMI cable for video.

Looking Glass

One of the most exciting things about the Looking Glass is that it will enable people who are interested in virtual reality and augmented reality to share their work without bulky, un-ergonomic headsets. A world where “everyone is going to be geared up — that’s a dystopian future!” Frayne exclaimed.

Facebook

He describes his company’s thesis like this: Looking Glass is trying to take advantage of what he sees as the greatest technical misdirection in memory – the recent investment in virtual reality headsets sparked by Facebook’s $US2 billion purchase of Oculus. If he’s right, the real world will be augmented by pieces of virtual space, little looking glasses, hopefully in people’s homes.


If that’s a future that appeals to you, or you’re a 3D designer, you can pre-order your Looking Glass on Kickstarter. They’re aiming to deliver them by December.

Kickstarter

Check out the Kickstarter here.

NOW WATCH: Tech Insider videos

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.