An Israeli-American virtual reality startup is making strides in the VR world, with ambitious plans to expand the field over the next 20 years.
As tech giants vie for a piece of the VR technology pie that is poised to take over our daily lives, the metaverse is the primary arena where this conflict is about to unfold.
As this field is relatively virgin territory, the rules had not yet been defined and there is no guarantee that Meta, Apple or Microsoft will control the virtual reality industry.
Enter realvr.ai – run by Israeli entrepreneur Ofer Baharav. Its new 3D platform, Villa, has recently become one of the most sought-after applications for the MetaQuest II VR headset, with nearly half a million users to date.
An impressive feat, considering we’re talking about a total of 10 employees from California and Israel, who have yet to launch their first crowdfunding campaign.
The aforementioned headset has its own app store, where you can download Villa for $10. Villa is already in the top 25 most popular apps in this store, and its popularity keeps growing.
“I strongly believe that as three-dimensional creatures, our future is not in the 2D world we have become accustomed to, but in the 3D world we are familiarizing ourselves with,” says Barahav, 50.
Originally from Kiryat Tivon, a small town in northern Israel, Baharav has resided for 15 years in the world’s high-tech mecca – Silicon Valley. The inspiration to enter the industry in the first place actually came from reading the novel “ForCognito” by Professor David Passig. “He explains that virtual reality makes people smarter,” Baharav says. “When I finished my role as CEO of a company in Brazil, it was clear to me that I wanted to go in this direction.”
Further inspiration for him and realvr.ai co-founder Carl Jackson is the TV show Westworld, where humans arrive at a theme park to team up with realistic robots. “We created an app where the end user can be like the founder of Westworld, create the world they want and open it up to guests.
“Now it is true that due to relatively low processing power, the interface is still somewhat crudely animated, but we believe that in the next 10-12 years it will look completely photorealistic. C is our goal.”
With 7,000 users, Israel leads the world in the percentage of Villa users relative to its population. That’s why Villa features cities that are the digital twins of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Akko, as well as Denver and Melbourne. Not New York and London. Still.
Baharav enjoys spending time “flying” around Jerusalem. “Being able to go to the Temple Mount without anyone telling you to scramble is pretty awesome.” If that’s not your speed, you can always take a hot air balloon ride over Denver, for example.
While the scale of capital tech giants pouring into the VR world is huge, the fact is that it’s still a niche market, with only 14,000,000 headsets to be sold this year. While that number is respectable on its own, when you compare it to the over a billion smartphones that are expected to be sold in the same time frame, you understand the proportions at play.
Apple is expected to unveil its own headphones next year. “It will cost $3,000,” Baharav says. “Although only about 2,000,000 copies will be sold in the first year, it will nevertheless make a statement. Virtual reality is coming and the world must buckle in.”
Villa is only available for Meta and Pico headset users at this time, but will be introduced to Apple and Sony customers.
While 45,000 users use Villa every month, the VR experience isn’t for everyone. Headphones are still bulky and heavy, and users report nausea and dizziness after prolonged use. “We’re implementing a web interface that will hopefully grow our audience, but some people find VR complicated and just aren’t into it.”
Primarily designed for gaming, the MetaQuest II headset already has a “sister” headset called Quest Pro, designed for businesses and organizations. “Right now, gamers make up the lion’s share of VR business, but organizations come next. We want to increase the percentage of organizational users by 20% to 30% over the next two years.”
This could really benefit the Israeli business landscape, where employers aren’t too keen on people working remotely. “Human interaction is important,” Baharav says. “There’s only so much you can convey through text. That’s where VR comes in. Zooming in with 3-4 people is fine, but for more than that, you really need to see the people in your space to get ideas across.”
Another interesting product they are working on is AI-based avatars, like the assistants found in the Westworld TV show. Baharav thinks AI interfaces can power voice-activated virtual worlds. “Artificial intelligence takes over. With content adapted to the interface, there is nothing that cannot be done.”