Austin Shows Off its Best VR/AR Startups

Woman in virtual reality headset enjoying her experience.


By HOJUN CHOI
Reporter with Silicon Hills News

The virtual and augmented reality industry has teased our imaginations for years now, introducing potential for audiences to reach new levels of immersion in their everyday lives.

At this year’s “Austin’s Best VR/AR Startups” panel, five local startups from Capital Factory’s accelerator program showed SXSW attendees exactly how they’re working to bring these imaginations into the market.

Axon Virtual Health’s founder Andrew Caven said virtual reality could help make the visit to the doctor a more pleasant experience for children, averting attention away from objects that induce fear and anxiety in children. In other words, they don’t have to stare down that damn needle; they can enjoy an informative game or puzzle during a procedure.

Caven told Silicon Hills News that the company has also participated in a study at The University of Texas at Austin’s psychology department to work with adults in a hospital setting.

“Imagine you’re stuck in a hospital for a couple of days,” Caven said. “We could walk you through deep breathing and meditation techniques using VR and change the way you experience pain over the course of those days.”

Attendees also got a sneak peak into RadixVR, a company that is developing a way to experience virtual reality content without the burdens of a headset. Richard Kerris, an advisor of the company, said users will be able to enter a pod in which the interior is plated with monitor screens.

The startup’s chief executive officer, Chris Linn, told SXSW goers that the company expects an official launch later this summer.

“If you’ve watched John Wick and want to act out those scenes afterwards with a headset in virtual reality, we could create an opportunity where you could do it,” Linn said.

Hauoli, a spinout from the University of Texas, uses sound tracking technology to streamline the way digital and real objects interact with one another in augmented reality. Lili Qiu, the chief technology officer for the startup, said motion tracking technology in it’s current state is insufficient when it comes to giving augmented reality users the ability to seamlessly interact with their surroundings. Qiu’s company seeks to use sound measuring technology in order to provide for better motion tracking.

Qiu, who has been a computer science professor at the University of Texas for more than ten years, told Silicon Hills News that the experience of changing from an academic to an entrepreneur has been both challenging as it is rewarding.

“I was mainly focusing on my research, but my students and I recently developed this very exciting technology, and we were able to see the commercial landscape for this technology,” Qiu said

Virtuix presented audiences with “The Omni,” a product that operates similar to a treadmill to allow users to walk inside the games they are playing in virtual reality. Jan Goetgeluk, the chief executive officer of the company, said prices currently range from $3,000 to $5,000 per unit, and are largely sold to arcades and theme parks. He said his vision, however, is to ultimately make these machines popular in the home setting.

“Hardware is very difficult; this is a product that has not been made before,” Goetgeluk said. “So to get the whole supply chain lined up and dialed in, it took a lot of time and effort.”

Thrillbox’s founder Benjamin T. Durham said his company focuses on collecting data to help virtual reality content providers to improve user interaction. He said the company’s technology can be used to collect information on how users of virtual reality respond to the content that is presented by tracking head motion.

“We let the data speak to you about what was good and bad about the content, so in the future you can produce better content,” Durham said.

The panel, presented by Capital Factory, gave five minutes to each of the five startups and allowed for a question and answer session from three guest speakers: Shel Israel from Transformation Group, Stephen Saltzman from Intel Capital and Will Mason from Upload VR.

Joshua Baer, co-founder of Capital Factory, told Silicon Hills News that he thinks augmented reality and virtual reality will have different paths in reaching mainstream usage, but also said it will be interesting to see how these technologies converge in the future.

“In virtual reality, I think it will be led by gaming and entertainment. In augmented reality, it will be led more by business applications,” Baer said.

Correction: This article has been updated to clarify a quote and include additional information.

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