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。
“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）
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。
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.