8i is one of the most intriguing virtual reality companies operating today, but for the past several months it has also been one of the most quiet. The New Zealend-based company is working to pioneer new methodologies for creating volumetrically captured, photorealistic holographic humans. Today, the company peeking its head above water just long enough to announce its plans for the new year and to tease us once again with the promise of powerful future technology.
In a series of blog posts published today, 8i stormed the Internet with several corporate updates. The first, and perhaps most significant is the appointment of Steve Raymond as the company’s new CEO. According to a post published by 8i co-founder Linc Gasking:
Since joining us nine months ago as President of Studios, Steve has been a close partner and adviser to me and our management team, a respected and loved mentor to our employees, an unwavering believer in our mission and opportunity, and an unflappable leader and strategist in the face of complexity common in early stage startups. In leading our studio business, Steve doubled the growth of our team and established our fully operational professional studio, created and grew countless relationships with brand and content partners, as well as vastly improved information flow with our core technology team in Wellington. More on this later.
Raymond will have plenty to occupy him in 2017. In the past year 8i has scaled from 25 employees up to around 75, inside sources confirm. This year will also mark the true beginning of the company’s western expansion, beginning with a brand new United States research office in Seattle, Washington and a US headquartered in Los Angeles, California.
Details are thin surrounding the Los Angeles location beyond the fact that it will also house a brand new 8i studio. More can be learned, however, about the Seattle office based on who exactly it will house. Several notable researchers will make this research center their home including Charles Loop and Phil Chou.
Although no official word has been given by 8i proper concerning the work that will be done in Seattle, Individual blog posts published today by Chou and Loop point toward one bleeding edge technology: telepresence.
Loop in particular seems passionate about unlocking holographic communications for humans. He wrote in his post that:
Several recent breakthroughs are behind making holographic telepresence a reality.
Real-Time Depth Acquisition. Digital cameras record a color at each pixel of a digital image. A depth image stores the distance along an invisible ray, from the focal point of a camera to the nearest object hit by the ray. “Real-time” means that a new depth image can be acquired at least 30 times per second. This technology became widely available with the introduction of Microsoft’s Kinect device in 2010. Since then, several similar “depth camera” devices have appeared, including the Intel RealSense camera. Strictly speaking, these are not really depth cameras, but rather ordinary monochrome cameras combined with infrared light projectors and filters that utilize various software algorithms to estimate the depth at each pixel.
Programmable Parallel Processing. Driven by the insatiable desire for realism in videogames, processors capable of executing thousands of floating point operations simultaneously, millions of times per second, have evolved both in terms of performance and programmability over the last two decades. This massive parallelism has ignited revolutions in many fields of science and engineering, including artificial intelligence and machine learning. It is this abundant compute capability that we leverage for holographic telepresence.
AR/VR Head Mounted Displays. Devices capable of tracking the orientation of a user’s head, and presenting geometrically correct synthetic stereo imagery are now widely available.
Loop closes his post by writing that he is joining 8i in Seattle specifically to study this problem and, hopefully, discover a meaningful and scalable solution.
For his part, Chou will be participating in work that could inform and advance Loop’s telepresence ambitions. Chou will be working to “help with the compression and communication of volumetric media” and he writes in his blog that:
“The birth of volumetric media, known popularly as holograms, is an extraordinary moment in the history of human communication. Holograms represent a new generation of immersive media: the third generation after audio and video.”
These advancements for 8i are significant and position the company as one of, if not the, early leader in the field of holographic communication. As Loop put it:
“Twenty years from now, holograms may become as ubiquitous in communication and storytelling as digital video is today. I am expecting to look back on this moment as the birth of volumetric media, and to see that 8i has played a key role in establishing not only how content is created and consumed in this new medium, but also how it is compressed and how it is delivered over the network to end users.”