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国际资讯投融资

软银领投Improbable亿元美元融资,金融科技迎来VR时代?

2014年,Facebook以20亿美元收购Oculus,VR产业瞬间成为投资热点。Google率先采用VR技术推出的Google cardboard更像是一项概念验证。去年,VR吸引的投资约为20亿美元,使其与AI、区块链一道,成为热点趋势之一。

本周早些时候,Improbable宣布完成5.02亿美元融资,由软银领投,现有投资者安德森霍洛维茨基金(Andreessen Horowitz)和维港投资(Horizons Ventures)参投。此轮融资使Improbable估值达20亿美元。Improbable专攻将云技术分布式计算应用于VR中,不仅可应用于游戏,还可为包括金融科技在内的现实世界构建虚拟模拟。

2016年Oculus Rift 问世,VR技术迎来首个重大商机。HTC Vive紧随其后。VR行业虽是新兴行业,据VR铁杆粉初期反馈,HTC Vive完胜竞争对手(Oculus、三星Gear VR, 索尼 playstation VR,Google cardboard自不消说)。然而,大多数头戴设备的销量远低于分析师的预估,近乎验证了VR不过是昙花一现之说。

闻及VR类咨询时听到的总是头戴式设备相关消息,软件与开发社区几乎退居次位。然而独木不成林。Improbable正重点通过其SpatialOS操作系统构建VR应用生态系统。尽管目前其大多数应用都聚焦游戏,软银将推进其解决现实生活问题。

“Improbable的技术将以以往难以想象的规模帮助我们探讨疾病、改善城市、理解经济、解决复杂的问题。Improbable的分布式计算技术,同机器学习与物联网技术一道,代表了计算机界的下一个重要风口。”——Deep Nishar (软银)

今年早些时候,瑞讯银行(SwissQuote)推出了其VR交易平台,用户只需一瞥就可进行交易,还可为用户推送瑞士市场指数数据、货币对与主要指标。眼球追踪技术可使用户针对某一特定股票提取更多信息,并通过盯住符号按预设价值进行交易。

那么,VR能否提供主流金融服务?

我认为首先要解决以下几大问题:

成本:据称提供了最佳VR体验的HTC Vive成本约为750镑。专注移动VR技术而非桌面端VR技术的Gear VR虽然平价,但体验却欠佳,且还需考虑手机的质量。例如,无缝式小额银行VR体验就难以在移动VR环境下实现。

设备笨重:现今VR头戴式设备设计使消费者难以采纳使用。VR要赢得主流用户,这是要解决的关键问题。然而,对大多数良好的VR体验来说,运动传感器与基站必不可少。这就使人们将VR用于非娱乐项目时,其显得更加笨重。

无标准化软件:VR设备提供商的生态系统操作方法各不相同。HTC采用的是开放式策略,Oculus生态系统则因竞争采用封闭式系统。有着丰富应用、像所有VR设备开放的标准操作系统就像是天堂。Improbable就朝着这一方向前进。

用例演进:Gear VR是迄今最为成功的VR头戴式设备,因为其专注移动设备而非桌面端。然而VR应用同样需要转变方向。现金VR应用多集中在娱乐领域,笔者认为,VR要成为主流就必须关注通讯交流。iPhone若没有通话功能,可能也无法获得如此巨大成功。

如果要使VR为配备提供B2B金融服务设备的银行服务,那么以上所列挑战可能未必完全适用。然而,在个人银行领域,采用这一技术的步伐可能更为缓慢。

如果我拥有一个时髦、并不昂贵的VR设备,使用它可与远在印度的家人通话,也能从标准化的VR应用商店中获得丰富的VR体验,那么我没有理由不使用这一VR设备与我的银行打交道。Improbable将成为所有VR设备软件平台之选,然而,有些VR产品需要先解决硬件设备的障碍。原因在于,如今,至少在我看来,VR只是一个更为精巧的任天堂Wii。有预测认为,VR设备规模将由2016年的1500万上升至2018年的3900万。但过去许多有关VR的预期也尚未实现。

When Facebook acquired Oculus for $2 Billion in 2014, it almost sparked the VR trend. While google did move first with Google cardboard offering VR, it was more of a proof of concept. Last year, about $2 Billion was invested in VR making it one of the hot trends alongside AI and Blockchain. Earlier this week, Improbable announced an investment round of $502 Million, led by Softbank, in which Andreessen Horowitz and Horizons ventures (existing investors) also followed up. This puts Improbable’s valuation at $2 Billion. Improbable specializes in using cloud-based distributed computing for VR that can be used not just for gaming but other real-world simulations, and of course fintech.

The first major commercial moment for VR happened when Oculus Rift launched in 2016. This was quickly followed by HTC Vive. However nascent the VR industry is, the initial feedback from hardcore VR fans is that HTC Vive beats the competition (Oculus, Samsung’s Gear VR, Sony’s playstation VR and of course Google’s cardboard) hands down. However, sales of most of these headsets have been really poor compared to analysts’ estimates almost feeding the argument that VR could be a fad.

Most of the time I hear VR, I hear about headsets but the software and developer community almost take a back seat. But one can’t grow without the other. Improbable are focusing on building an ecosystem of applications for VR, through their Operating system – SpatialOS. While most of their apps are currently focused on Gaming, Softbank would steer build out of use cases for real life problems.

“Improbable’s technology will help us explore disease, improve cities, understand economies and solve complex problems on a previously unimaginable scale. Along with machine learning and the internet of things (IoT), Improbable’s distributed computation technology represents a critical next frontier in computing.” – Deep Nishar, SoftBank

Earlier this year, SwissQuote launched their trading platform on VR, where users make trades with a glance. The virtual dealing platform feeds real-time Swiss Market Index data, currency pairs and the main indices to users. Eye-tracking technology enables users to bring up more information about a specific stock and execute trades to a pre-configured value by focusing their eyes on the symbol.

So, can VR provide main stream financial services?

Some of the challenges I see are the following,

Cost of VR: HTC Vive, that apparently provides the best VR experience costs about £750. While Gear VR that focuses on Mobile based VR instead of Desktop VR is affordable, the experience is not quite there, and it also depends on how good your mobile is. For example, a seamless retail banking experience on VR might be hard to achieve in a mobile VR environment.

Clunky Hardware: The current designs of VR headsets make it hard for consumer adoption. This is a key problem to solve if VR has to go main stream. Also, for most good VR experiences, motion sensors and base stations are needed. This adds to the inertia when one wants to use VR for anything other than entertainment.

Non-Standard Software: VR hardware providers have taken different approaches to their ecosystem. HTC has taken an open approach, whereas Oculus ecosystem is closed for competition. A standard operating system with rich applications, open to all VR devices would be Nirvana. Improbable are headed that way.

Use Case Evolution: Gear VR is the most successful VR headset so far because, it has tied itself to mobile rather than desktop. But application of VR also needs to change direction. At the moment VR apps are very entertainment focused, and in order for VR to go main stream, I believe, they have to be communication focused. IPhone may not have taken off so well, without the Phone functionality.

Many of the above challenges may not all apply if one used VR as an employee of a bank that has the infrastructure to provide financial services in a B2B context. However, in the consumer banking space, the uptake would be slower.

If I had a sleek, not too expensive VR device to talk to family back in India, and can receive rich day to day VR experiences from a standardized VR app store, there is no reason why I wouldn’t use VR to talk to my banker. Improbable could be the software platform of choice for all VR devices, however someone still needs to solve the hardware barriers. Because at the moment, atleast on my head, VR is just a more sophisticated Nintendo Wii. There are some ambitious projections for VR headsets from 15 Million in 2016 to 39 Million in 2018, but many VR projections in the past have not been met.


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