They always say that overnight successes are actually ten years in the making. It’s a thought that rang true to me this week, as everyone is impatiently waiting for the launch of the Apple Vision Pro VR system in a few days. It’s expected to take immersion, realistic rendering, and virtual reality (VR) productivity to completely new heights, even compared to its Meta Quest competitor, which we happen to have in the office, and which is very good as well.
It made me think of how Google Glass launched in 2013, and how I first saw a friend in San Francisco proudly wearing the augmented reality (AR) device in the fall of that year. It seemed something straight out of Sci-Fi, and even though its functionality was basic and limited, discussions offline and online exploded, arguing the pro- and contra- of such technology. Would it even work, asked some people. It’s completely unethical, said others. It’s only for gaming and fun, many agreed. How many screens do you really need, was often heard, in disapproval.
It’s quite interesting to see how eleven years passed since the launch of Google Glass, and that we’re only now witnessing the introduction of an AR/VR device that’s expected to really go mainstream, almost literally like in the “overnight success takes ten years” prediction. Such is the nature of hard things; they take time.
Much like the time it took to develop the hardware for something as complicated as augmented and virtual reality, it also was a long and winding journey for the makers of one of the leading development frameworks for VR applications, the Sofia-based company QuarkXR, in which we’re proud to have invested with Vitosha.
As often in the VR world, the QuarkXR story started with gaming. It’s in that space that the skills in video rendering, controller systems, and virtual motion technology are the most developed. Krasimir Nikolov was one of the founders of a gaming studio in Sofia that launched in 2014, saw some good traction with converting popular games to then-available early VR headsets, and raised a VC check from a local fund. By 2016, Krasimir and a few of his team decided to spin off an entirely new company, that would expand the core feature of their gaming technology into a product of its own: the ability to run heavy-processing VR applications in the cloud, allowing users to simply stream the application to their headsets. Which allows for much more powerful experiences and apps than the native processor of a headset would allow.
In 2016, the new company, then called QuarkVR, got accepted into an investment and acceleration batch at Boost VC in San Mateo, California, and released its first prototype. As Krasimir says today: “It might only be six years ago, but that’s a long time in VR. Back then, off-the-shelf prototypes weren’t very good, so we developed our own hardware, which we then monetized with corporate demos.” Another big break came in 2018, when QuarkVR raised their second investment from a group of prominent angels, and signed a deal with HTC, who had just released their own proprietary hardware and were looking to offer corporate clients an end-to-end solution. “We basically became HTC’s development framework and app store, and it really validated the idea we already had: that VR is at its best when streamed from the cloud”, adds Krasimir.
From those beginnings to today, the company now rebranded as QuarkXR has positioned itself as one of the top players in the field of cloud-based VR software development kits. With the investment we made with Vitosha, in partnership with our sister-fund NV3, Krasimir and the team of 9 at QuarkXR are aiming to bring the possibilities of high-end VR applications to many new industries. “It’s like if you’re building apps for mobile phones, and it’s 2008 on the calendar”, says Krasimir. “The opportunities are huge. We’ve so far developed about 40 apps for about 15 clients, and that’s just scratching the surface”.
When asked about use cases, Krasimir gives a few examples from recent projects they had. One was a training module for car factory workers. Another is an emergency evacuation training tool, so tenants of large buildings can practice vacating the property in an emergency, learning about the exact location of exits and stairwells. Yet another one is a virtual showroom for one of the big car makers. “It’s really cool how with VR, you can drastically enrich the experience in many standard use cases that exist today. Like in the showroom, you can sit inside and touch the car, but you can’t drive it. But with a pair of haptic gloves and a VR headset, you can actually experience near-real how the car would handle itself on a busy street or on the highway. And that’s just one simple example, the opportunities of cloud-based VR are near limitless”.