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Virtual Reality: It’s Time to Believe the Hype

With the stock markets enduring a rocky 2016 so far – and high-profile private software startups suffering public markdowns – you’d think that funding for even the most heavily hyped technologies would be in a deep freeze.

Nope.

Instead, records are being broken.

Specifically, I’m talking about virtual and augmented reality.

Heralded as the “next big thing” in technology after the smartphone, new data from Digi-Capital reveals that the hype is legit.

That legitimacy is coming in the shape of significant investment.

In the first two months of 2016, virtual and augmented reality companies raked in over $1.1 billion in funding.

To put that in perspective, total investment in the space for all of 2015 only reached $692 million.

That’s an incredible jump.

Two companies are attracting the most attention from investors.

~ Magic Leap: The Florida-based firm raised a staggering $793.5 million in new funding last month, led by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Limited (BABA).

It means the company is now valued at $4.5 billion, making it one of the most recently crowned tech unicorns.

Fueling Magic Leap’s chances is the fact that it gets non-stop media coverage and has quickly become a household name in the space, despite constantly being referred to as a “secretive startup!”

~ MindMaze: By contrast, TechCrunch says Switzerland-based MindMaze has “largely been flying under the radar up to now.”

Now, while I’ll concede that MindMaze is legitimately lesser known, not everyone is oblivious to its existence.

If the name sounds familiar, I officially put the company on your radar almost one year ago as “one of the most promising startups” in virtual reality.

Fresh off a $100 million funding round, which catapulted the company’s valuation north of $1 billion, MindMaze remains the top private company I’m tracking in the space.

Consider this your second notice to do likewise. Here’s why…

MindMaze: The World’s Only Mind-Reading Virtual Reality System

As a quick refresher, MindMaze is a four-year-old company that combines virtual reality and motion capturing with neuroscience.

The result is a comprehensive hardware and software platform that takes a revolutionary approach to physical therapy.

As I noted in my original article, the VR and neuroscience work together “to help victims of stroke, amputation, or spinal injuries regain motor function faster than with traditional physical therapy.”

MindMaze CEO Dr. Tej Tadi recently told the Economic Times, “Our big vision is that five years from now, every device should have a MindMaze chip in it. The chip computes the world like your brain does more intuitively. You think of something and that would happen through the software.”

That last line warrants re-reading.

Tadi literally is talking about a mind-reading platform.

Rest assured, this isn’t fantasy.

MindMaze’s technology has already enjoyed significant success in restoring motor function to patients faster than with traditional physical therapy.

It works by using a motion-sensing camera to project a patient’s avatar onto VR goggles.

Then, with the help of as many as 32 electrodes placed on the head, the patient can command his or her virtual arm or leg to move to perform a task – such as lifting a glass or kicking a ball.

MindMaze’s technology essentially tricks a patient’s brain into re-activating damaged neurons or activating new neurons to take over for the damaged ones.

Fresh off its massive funding round, though, MindMaze is pushing to translate its success in the healthcare market into consumer markets.

An Enormous World of Possibilities

When you think of VR, it’s natural that video game, education, and fitness applications spring to mind as the most likely consumer applications.

Tadi agrees that it’s a logical fit for MindMaze’s technology, too. And with that in mind, he hopes to launch the company’s first consumer-based headset later this year.

A word of warning, though – literally.

“Hope” is sometimes the operative word when it comes to targets for such groundbreaking technologies, as timelines often slip. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the first MindMaze headset doesn’t ship until 2017.

Either way, we’re close to seeing an incredible leap forward in the development of VR capabilities. How so?

Well, I’m talking about actually feeling virtual objects.

Feeling Is Believing

As Tadi recently said in an interview with Bloomberg, “With virtual reality experiences, the whole goal is to increase presence – so you feel as real as it would in the physical world.”

Indeed. Being able to feel a virtual baseball in a game, for instance. The experience would become all the more realistic – and, therefore, more compelling.

This world isn’t far off, according to Tadi.

By mimicking the precise neurotransmissions that happen when we complete tasks and thereby creating the same physical sensation, Tadi believes we’ll soon be able to “completely experience” virtual reality, as if it were actual physical reality.

Think that sounds too wild to be true? Think again.

A recent innovation, unrelated to MindMaze, demonstrates how close we really are to “touching reality.”

Earlier this week, scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne revealed that amputees could feel textures with the use of a bionic fingertip. Check it out.

Clearly, MindMaze’s leap of building a brain-computer interface so we can feel virtual objects isn’t much of a leap at all.

Just the Beginning

As I indicated in my Top Tech Predictions for 2016, we’re still in the early stages of the virtual and augmented reality boom. And the future will bring plenty of investment opportunities as the market matures.

With that being said, some opportunities appear to be developing at a breakneck pace.

MindMaze certainly fits into that category.

When I first told you about the company, it had only raised a mere $8.5 million from angel investors and through Swiss government grants.

Less than one year later, though, total investment in the firm had ballooned by more than 10 times.

The smart money is tipping us off to the next big opportunity. And such a massive increase warrants our attention.

I’m closely monitoring MindMaze’s developments, awaiting an opportunity to invest. I recommend you do the same.

Ahead of the tape,

Louis Basenese