Virtual Reality

China’s StepVR readies immersive VR enjoy that is going past Meta’s Oculus ‘toy’ headsets, founder says

Chinese virtual reality (VR) hardware maker StepVR is gearing up to launch a fully immersive product that founder and CEO Guo Cheng said goes beyond the Oculus headset from Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta, which he called a “small toy”.

The VR Gates01 is a large, open-air box that, according to Guo, will allow people to step into a virtual world and experience it in a way that a simple headset could not.

The product – which includes its own VR headset along with a vibrating vest, motion capture gloves and an omnidirectional treadmill – is set to launch in July.

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“You can unburden yourself and fulfill your dreams in the metaverse,” Guo said in an interview with the South China Morning Post at his Beijing office on Saturday.

VR Gates01 covers an area of ​​3 square meters and offers immersive experiences through the use of laser positioning, robotic force feedback, and an omnidirectional treadmill. Photo: Handout alt=VR Gates01 covers an area of ​​3 square meters and offers immersive experiences through the use of laser positioning, robotic force feedback, and an omnidirectional treadmill. Photo: Handout>

However, “total immersion” is not the only thing that differentiates the VR Gates01 from Oculus products and other headsets.

To experience Guo’s futuristic metaverse vision, Chinese consumers will have to show up to one of the bricks-and-mortar shops that has bought StepVR’s latest product.

StepVR said in a press release that a consumer version of the Gates01 would come later. Guo would not reveal the wholesale price of the current system sold to businesses, but he said the eventual family edition could be expected to set consumers back US$2,000 to US$2,500.

The company plans to start selling the current version of the product in Japan, South Korea, the Middle East, North America and Europe next year.

Guo started StepVR in 2013 after spending a decade in wireless sensor networking in the Netherlands.

So far, the company has raised US$15.41 million in venture capital funding from private investors, including Shanghai Guosheng Group and entrepreneur Fan Zhang, co-founder of Sequoia Capital.

The self-contained Gates01 is not the company’s first product promising an immersive VR experience. In 2019, the company launched Future Battlefield, a kind of esports arena where people garbed in VR gear compete against each other.

That product has been sold to 140 bricks-and-mortar VR game houses in China, and it has been popular in cities that were not affected by Covid-19 restrictions, Guo said.

Guo Cheng, the CEO and president of StepVR. Photo: Handout alt=Guo Cheng, the CEO and president of StepVR. Photo: Handout>

StepVR is one of many companies looking to capitalize on rising interest in the metaverse, a conceptual next-generation version of the internet consisting of three-dimensional virtual spaces. VR is expected to be a primary way through which consumers experience the metaverse.

Guo said much of the technology his company has spent the past nine years developing has been leading to the VR Gates01.

Covering an area of ​​3 square meters (32 square feet), with a height of 2 meters (6 feet, 6 inches), the system is similar to other increasingly complex VR products that have been showing up in shopping centers around China over the past decade as companies experiment with different ways of replicating real-world sensations in virtual worlds.

Guo compared the experience of stepping into the Gates01 to the full VR immersion depicted in the blockbuster Steven Spielberg film Ready Player Onebased on the Ernest Cline novel of the same name.

Other elements of the Gates01 system are laser positioning and robotic force feedback to allow players to experience VR games like people in Oasis, the virtual world from the movie, Guo said.

This science fiction vision of the future has captured the imaginations of many of the world’s largest technology companies as they race to find the next big consumer platform after the smartphone.

Zuckerberg found the idea of ​​the metaverse so compelling that he changed his company’s name to Meta from Facebook last October. The company opened its first store this month dedicated to selling VR gear like the Oculus Quest 2.

Apple is also expected to have a big impact on the market when it eventually launches its own headset. Executives reportedly showed off a stand-alone mixed-reality headset to the company’s board this month.

Chinese tech giants have been making similar moves. Beijing-based ByteDance, the owner of TikTok, acquired VR headset maker Pico last year. Shenzhen-based video gaming giant Tencent Holdings has also been testing the VR waters with its own headset since at least 2018.

However, Guo sees his more holistic approach as setting StepVR apart from the competition. The company, with about 100 employees, aims to offer experiences covering all five senses – even smell and taste, eventually, Guo said.

“Not by jabbing the screen of a pad or smartphone, but by entering a metaverse through an avatar, you can run, touch things, even smell things,” he said.

As the global smartphone market has become increasingly saturated, some tech companies have been placing big bets on VR becoming the next big platform through which consumers experience their digital lives.

Investment bank China International Capital Corporation (CICC) said in a note on May 25 that VR is expected to become the next-generation hardware terminal, and the market will take off as global companies build more products supporting the ecosystem.

Global shipments of VR equipment surpassed 10.95 million units last year, CICC said, exceeding an important inflection point of 10 million units.

Guo said he expects it to take at least another five to 10 years for the VR industry to match the ecosystem that Apple has built for smartphones.

“Entertainment and education are cornerstone sectors for the metaverse,” Guo said. “Our goal is to make the next generation of gear for home-computing platforms [that come] after the smartphone.”

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2022 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2022. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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