These Founders Are Taking On The Next Level Of VR With Virtual Skylights

VR Skylight
Credit: Photo by INNERSCENE

Recently I met with the founders of a startup who were showing off their new product, ATMOS, at the LightFair conference in Philadelphia. Walking up to their booth I could see a clear blue sky and a distant sun through the virtual sky light. I was hooked.

Virtual Skylight Daytime
Credit: Photo by INNERSCENE

Jonathan Clark (CEO of INNERSCENE and previously founder of Thinstall, acquired by vmware) told me about how their team has spent the last 5 years developing glasses-free 3D displays capable of displaying images that provide the illusion of looking through a real window.

Their first product, ATMOS, is specifically targeted at the lighting industry. It is meant to be a wall or ceiling mountable “virtual portal” that brings natural looking sunlight or moonlight to any room currently lacking windows or skylights.

Co-founder Sean Flynn, CTO at INNERSCENE, has been doing research on 3D displays for over a decade. He’s designed numerous types of glasses-free 3D displays based on new optical systems. He’s also demonstrated and shared designs for cameras that capture 3D images using integral photography years before Lytro came to market. With this focus on creating virtual reality without using headsets, these two came up with ATMOS, and they’ve got plans for a number of other products based on this technology as well.

The Problem With VR As We Know It Today

The brain uses dozens of different cues to determine the depth of objects it is looking at. VR headsets have provided one of the most successful approaches for creating artificial depth and making objects appear to be far away because they use lenses to change the focal depth of what you are looking at. Unfortunately this only works for a very small viewing area, and explains why you need to wear a headset directly on your face. Strapping a box to your face can often make today’s VR a cumbersome and isolating experience and limits its ability to be a part of every-day life.

Glasses and glasses-free 3D displays have been around for decades, but because they don’t change the focal depth of the images you are looking at and don’t support motion parallax, the amount of perceived depth they are able to create is severely limited. Displays that are used to train airline pilots provide an amazing experience but have a price tag starting at $1 million USD.

Credit: Photo by Wikipedia

How (Some) Virtual Reality Can Exist In The Real World

With VR you can be physically sitting in a closet, but when you put on your headset and load the right scene you can have the feeling of sitting on a mountain top. Wouldn’t it be great if we could take those magical views from VR and turn them into real windows in our houses and office buildings? That’s the idea here. Mounted on a ceiling or high on a wall, this skylight lets you see a view that closely matches what you’d see in a real skylight.

They also showed how multiple skylights can be synchronized to change color and brightness over the course of a day or to be controlled directly via mobile phone app.

Immediately I’m thinking subway systems, underground rooms, interior rooms, and even elevators.

There could also be a positive effect on people who live in areas with very long winters.

Virtual Skylight Mock Up
Credit: Photo by INNERSENE

Virtual Windows As A Portal Into Another World

The idea of having a virtual portal that allows you to see anything you want has been explored in science fiction and fantasy movies, most recently in Doctor Strange.

Dr. Strange Movie
Credit: Photo by IMDB
ew of the ocean from any property, would it change property prices? If you can create a glass ceiling penthouse look in the basement, does that change architecture and design? Pretty exciting first glimpse at this industry.

ATMOS will start shipping at the end of this year, no word yet on pricing.

This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.

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