French mixed reality (XR) startup Emissive has secured backing from HTC via its Vive X accelerator program. The move targets an anticipated spike in demand for virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) applications in museums.
Emissive has also unveiled a new VR format called immersive expeditions, which virtually transports people to culturally significant sites around the world.
Vive X la révolution
In the wake of the pandemic, countless industries are adapting to what may be a “new normal.” COVID-19 could have a particularly long-tail effect on museums and other cultural institutions that need to figure out how to operate within social distancing constraints.
Founded in Paris in 2005, Emissive has evolved over the years to support devices and technologies as they come to market, including the first wave of consumer VR headsets. Emissive works with museums and businesses ranging from fashion brands to telecommunication companies to bring their stories to life through VR and AR applications.
HTC may not have fared well in the smartphone realm, but the Taiwanese technology titan remains one of the top three players in the consumer VR space, thanks to its Vive-branded headsets. Back in 2016, HTC launched a new fund and accelerator to support fledgling startups in the VR space, supporting dozens of companies across the consumer and enterprise spheres. For VR, one of the big obstacles to mainstream adoption has been a lack of everyday use cases, so HTC has a vested interest in supporting companies that produce VR-friendly content and experiences.
HTC and Emissive have worked together on numerous projects, including the Louvre Museum’s first public VR exhibition, which celebrated the Mona Lisa last year on the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death.
Mona Lisa: Beyond the Glass was a single-user experience, although it was designed to allow up to 11 people to dive into the famous painting while wearing headsets. Separately, the Louvre and Emissive developed a version of the exhibit that people could experience from anywhere, either through their own headset at home or on a mobile app — “even if the immersion is not quite the same,” Emissive CEO Fabien Barati told VentureBeat.
After emerging from the first lockdown and attempting to reestablish some semblance of normality, France is now entering its second lockdown. And the pandemic has raised questions about the long-term viability of museums and other public spaces. After all, businesses can only endure so many closures before seeking a new model.
While several of Emissive’s clients were forced to cancel projects during lockdown, Barati said the company has managed to sign new customers in the luxury and retail sectors. He added that museums and cultural institutions are also actively searching for fresh formats that can save them before it’s too late.
“They are under pressure to reinvent their offering and generate new revenue streams, and all of them are intensively preparing for 2021,” he said. “They need to create new formats addressed to a broader audience, whether inside or outside the museum, and the immersive expeditions fit completely with their perspective.”
To make the most of these opportunities, the company this week announced it has raised $3.3 million from Vive X, alongside investors like the Tech & Touch fund, which is managed by French investment bank giant Bpifrance.
Each expedition takes place in a group and is designed to last around 40 minutes, and Emissive said it plans to launch several more expeditions soon. A separate “on-demand” offering is designed for clients who want a custom-built immersive expedition.
“The originality of the format lies in the use of virtual reality in large spaces, and collaboration with other visitors,” Barati said. “One of its main strengths is its ability to accommodate large flows of visitors while creating the illusion of travelling through space and time in high-quality historical reconstructions. So they get the sensations of a real visit but they can do and learn much more than in reality.”
To incorporate these virtual expeditions, museums must have a space large enough to accommodate groups of people wandering from point to point. At a time when museums around the world are going back into lockdown, even virtual technologies such as this seem risky, but Emissive says the expeditions can be deployed flexibly.
For starters, they can accommodate spaces of up to 1,000 square meters, so when museums are allowed to reopen with restrictions in place, they will be able to spread visitors around or limit expeditions to people from the same household “bubble.” And there’s nothing stopping exhibitions from being held in an outdoor setting, such as a courtyard or gardened area. Barati said that there are plans to create an online incarnation of immersive expeditions too, though how exactly that will look isn’t clear — its current format is entirely designed for visitors to gather in a dedicated space together.
Virtual expeditions are also timely given current restrictions (and apprehensions) around global travel. Anyone wanting to wander around Petra or the Colosseum, for example, could conceivably do so from within the confines of a local museum or other experiential location if demand for virtual vacations was deemed high enough. VR vacations are not an entirely new concept, but with much of the world reentering lockdown, there is an opportunity to rethink the “virtual holiday.” This is not necessarily what Emissive’s virtual expeditions were designed for, but it’s easy to see how it could evolve over time.
“In times of COVID-19, when travelling is hard or impossible, it’s a way to travel to the other side of the planet, and through time, to discover our heritage as if we were really there,” Barati said.