The French mixed reality (XR) startup Emissive has secured support from HTC through its Vive X accelerator program. The move is aimed at an expected increase in demand for virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) applications in museums.
Emissive also unveiled a new VR format known as immersive expeditions, which virtually transports people to culturally significant locations around the world.
Long live the revolution
After the pandemic, countless industries are adapting to a possibly “new normal”. COVID-19 could have a particularly long-term impact on museums and other cultural institutions that need to figure out how to operate within social distancing conditions.
Emissive was founded in Paris in 2005 and has evolved over the years to support devices and technologies in the market, including the first wave of consumer VR headsets. Emissive works with museums and companies ranging from fashion brands to telecommunications companies to bring their stories to life through VR and AR applications.
HTC may not have done well in the smartphone space, but the Taiwanese tech titan remains one of the top three players in consumer VR thanks to its Vive branded headsets. Back in 2016, HTC launched a new fund and accelerator to support young VR startups and support dozen of consumer and corporate companies. For VR, one of the major barriers to mainstream adoption has been the lack of everyday use cases. Therefore, HTC has a vested interest in helping 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 last year celebrated the Mona Lisa on the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death.
Mona Lisa: Beyond the Glass was a single user experience, although up to 11 people with headsets could immerse themselves in the famous painting. Separately, the Louvre and Emissive developed a version of the exhibition that people can experience from anywhere, either using their own headset at home or via a mobile app – “even if the immersion isn’t quite the same,” Emissive CEO Fabien Barati told VentureBeat.
After emerging from the first lockdown and trying to restore a semblance of normalcy, France is now entering the second lockdown. And the pandemic has raised questions about the long-term viability of museums and other public spaces. After all, companies can only endure so many closings before looking for a new model.
While several Emissive clients were forced to abandon projects during the lockdown, Barati said the company managed to attract new clients in the luxury and retail sectors. He added that museums and cultural institutions are also actively looking for new formats that they can save before it’s too late.
“They are under pressure to reinvent what they have to offer and find new sources of income, and everyone is preparing intensively for 2021,” he said. “They need to create new formats that appeal to a wider audience inside or outside the museum, and the haunting expeditions completely fit their perspective.”
To make the most of these opportunities, the company announced this week that it has raised $ 3.3 million from Vive X along with investors such as the Tech & Touch fund, managed by French investment banking giant Bpifrance.
Emissive’s first “immersive expedition” is called Khufu: A Journey to Ancient Egypt and builds on an earlier exhibition shown at the Cité de l’Architecture in Paris.
Each expedition takes place in a group and should last around 40 minutes. Emissive plans to start several more expeditions soon. A separate on-demand offer is aimed at customers who want a tailor-made immersive expedition.
“The originality of the format lies in the use of virtual reality in large spaces and collaboration with other visitors,” said Barati. “One of its main strengths is the ability to accommodate large streams of visitors and at the same time create the illusion of traveling through space and time with high-quality historical reconstructions. This gives them the sensations of a real visit, but they can do and learn a lot more than in real life. “
To make these virtual expeditions possible, 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 closed again, even virtual technologies like this seem risky, but according to Emissive, the expeditions can be used flexibly.
To start with, they offer space for up to 1,000 square meters. So if museums are allowed to reopen with restrictions, they can distribute visitors or limit expeditions to people from the same budget bubble. And nothing prevents exhibitions from taking place outdoors such as in the courtyard or in the garden. Barati said there are plans to create an online incarnation of immersive expeditions as well, although it is not clear what exactly that will look like – the current format is solely for visitors who want to gather in a special room.
Virtual expeditions are also timely given the current limitations (and fears) surrounding global travel. Anyone looking to wander around Petra or the Coliseum, for example, could potentially do so within the confines of a local museum or other experience location if the demand for virtual vacations is deemed high enough. VR vacations are not a completely new concept, but since much of the world is locked again, there is an opportunity to rethink the “virtual vacation”. This isn’t necessarily the goal of Emissive’s virtual expeditions, but it’s easy to see how they could evolve over time.
“In an era of COVID-19 when travel is difficult or impossible, it is a way to travel to the other side of the planet and, over time, discover our heritage as if we were really there,” Barati said.
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