The startup diaries: Fove #1

Ever wondered what it's like to be a startup on the Microsoft Ventures Accelerator program? Wonder no more...
Fove's Yuka Kojima and Lochlainn Wilson

The tech startup scene is a hotbed of competition and bright ideas – and Microsoft Ventures is giving a lucky few a leg up with its Accelerator program.

The 12-week Accelerator gathers a dozen of the most exciting startups in the world in London, offering them mentoring, hands-on input and advice from the best in the business; there are similar programs running overseas in Bangalore, Beijing, Berlin, Paris, Seattle and Tel Aviv.

We've teamed up with Microsoft to give you the inside track on the Accelerator program, straight from the horse's mouth; over the next few months, we'll be running regular diaries from the startups in London – like Fove.

Fove is set to change the face of virtual reality with its innovative new eye-tracking technology. Originally developed for an art installation, Fove has applications in everything from the medical field to the movie industry.

Fove co-founders Yuka Kojima and Lochlainn Wilson talk us through their first few weeks on the program.

READ MORE: The startup diaries: AppyParking #1

Eye on the future

Fove co-founders Yuka Kojima and Lochlainn Wilson
We are Fove. We are making the world’s first fully integrated eye tracking head mount display. 

Microsoft Ventures has been an experience like no other.

We started our program off with a detour to TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco, which we thought was pretty wild, but when we got to the UK things really took off. Microsoft Ventures is a networking powerhouse. In our first week after having our business plan reviewed we got awesome, highly connected mentors with decades of industry experience between them. This is proving crucial for both development and positioning ourselves for the next round of funding. The people at Microsoft are very enthusiastic and helpful and make us startups their top priority.

Here’s looking at you

A lot of people ask us what differentiates us from Oculus Rift and other virtual reality systems that don’t have eye tracking technology. Eye tracking enables your eyes to become a primary input device. In fully immersive VR this does two very important things:

  1. It significantly increases usability or ease of interaction and enables games to be aware of what you are looking at. Other than the obvious high tech eye-controlled user interfaces, this enables realistic, subtle non verbal communication with AI characters such as eye contact. It can also be used to increase the realism or impact of AI by giving them effective theory of mind.
  2. It enables depth of field simulation, which increases immersion and can reduce simulation sickness. This same technology can enable Foveated rendering. Foveated rendering means focusing rendering power where it is needed, i.e where our vision is most acute (the Fovea of the eye). If we are able to make it work, it will mean lower end hardware can use ultra high resolution VR systems more effectively. This is an active area of research for us.

Microsoft Ventures gives us opportunities to pitch our ideas to the world, training to make the most impact with our delivery and the support needed to secure business relations with big players. We are one of only two hardware startups in the program, which makes these skills extra important; it’s a lot harder to bootstrap hardware, as it is capital intensive.

Next stop, Hollywood

Lochlainn on the MSV 3D printer

An eye tracking head mount display has the potential to fundamentally change the power of expression in games. The age of movies reigning supreme as the symbol of culture and business may soon be coming to an end. Movies and novels have traditionally provided the viewer/reader with information along a unidirectional, non-interactive track; games, on the other hand, have strived to be non-linear and allow the player themselves to influence the world.

Eye-tracking VR technology could make the distinction between emotional games and movies that can be personally experienced extremely ambiguous in the future. In the future, if we were to watch a Avatar-like full CG movie using Fove, we could make eye contact with the characters, they could read our eyes and change their behaviour based on what they see and where they can interact emotionally inside the story. We feel that Fove is a device that will evolve the expression and cultural power of games.

The potential of Fove isn’t just limited to entertainment, though. We also made an appearence at the biggest erectronics exihibition, CEATEC Japan. At CEATEC, we worked with Orii labs to exhibit a system that could be used by ALS and other extremely disabled/hospitalized people for remote control of portable presence robots.

Over the next few weeks we are aiming to ramp up our construction efforts and have a prototype running at full spec by the end of the program.

Keep watching us.

READ MORE: Hands-on with Fove, the VR headset that has its eyes on you