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A small contingent of startups are setting out to show that there's m ore to virtual technology than just playing around with a pair of goggles.
Emerging technology powered by virtual and augmented reality opens a door into a digital world, with special headsets as the key. Days ago, Magic Leap lifted the curtain on a $2300 visor that superimposes computer-generated images in the user's line of vision, after raising more than $2 billion from major investors. The device enters a field where giants like Facebook Microsoft and Apple are all bringing their own versions of virtual reality to consumers using headsets.
Still, a handful of companies see the future of virtual images breaking free from the constraints of headgear, in a way that makes the user experience more interactive and applicable to the real world. One startup called Looking Glass has developed portable devices that display 3D holograms, and according to the company's founder, the next wave in digital computing won't involve bulky goggles that isolate users from one another.
Looking Glass's invention — which generates holograms from a small box right in front of the user — intends to "get content alive and shareable," founder Shawn Frayne told CNBC recently. The Looking Glass comes in two sizes, 8.9 and 15.6-inches, that start at $600 and $3,000 respectively.
"Our goal at Looking Glass is to get the hologram into every home and school and hospital, because we believe that's the only way to allow people to interact with advanced 3D content without headsets," he said. "Otherwise, it's gonna be an all headset future."
Sometimes, the objective isn't just entertainment, but has more practical purposes. Looking Glass's device can be used for a variety of interactive tasks, like creating CT scans and life sized models of human organs.
Meanwhile, a startup called Naked Labs recently launched a 3D scanning mirror that tracks body measurements, body fat percentage and weight. After scoring $14 million in venture capital funding from a range of top investors, Naked's invention was born from the idea of incentivizing weight loss.
CEO and co-Founder Farhad Farahbakhshian, who aas a background in electrical engineering and once worked as a spin instructor, told CNBC that people often get discouraged if they don't experience rapid results in dropping weight.
Enter the company's tricked-out full length mirror, which creates a 360-degree body model as the user rotates slowly on a specialized scale that functions like a turntable. While it's not quite VR or AR, the holographic image made with Naked Labs' technology is very lifelike, and tracks vital measurements like body fat percentage and weight. The scans are then uploaded to an app that shows progress over time, as well as side by side comparisons.
"You can actually go and design your own body and say I want to see what I look like with X pounds more muscle, with X pounds less fat, and it will actually take your avatar and show you what it will look like with more muscle or less fat," said Farahbakhshian.
Users can train with professional trainers remotely, targeting goals and tracking their transformation on the app, he added.
Regular scales have shortcomings, in that they only show how much an individual weighs without context like body mass and muscle. For instance, a before and after image shared by Naked Labs with CNBC showed a marathon trainer in February and July. Though her weight only changed by about three pounds, this individual lost fat but gained muscle — underscored by a dramatic visual change that couldn't be captured with a traditional scale.
"We're learning really quickly with the body models – even two people with the same height, same weight, same body fat percentage can look totally different and there might be a whole host of health implications for having one shape and one type of distribution versus another." said Sam Winter, a research scientist with Naked Labs.
Pre-orders for the scales and mirror were priced at $499 for early adopters, but the Naked 3D Fitness Tracker retails for $1,395 and is available on the company's site for purchase. Pre-ordered scales have already begun shipping while new orders will ship this fall.