10 VR/AR Companies to Watch

Some familiar names are still leading the pack, but newer entrants into the VR/AR space offering therapeutic applications, new developer tools, and novel interfaces should also be on everyone's radar. There's even a video game developer to watch out for.
  • With the hype finally settling down and companies seeking a real ROI, 2020 is looking to be a make or break year for virtual reality and augmented reality. 

    While established companies are still releasing new VR/AR products into the enterprise space, a growing number of smaller companies are entering the market an eye on giving enterprise customers a clear use case for VR/AR. 

    If one company on this list has its way, 2020 might also be the year that VR finds its killer app. 

    Here are 10 VR/AR companies to keep your eyes (and headsets) on.

  • BadVR

    We've recognized BadVR as a company worth looking at for how its technology will leverage 5G connectivity in the future. But the company's use case is worth repeating. Don't let the name fool you, BadVR is Bringing All your Data (BAD) and combining VR/AR with machine learning to offer quality, real-time data visualizations that can be used for applications ranging from factory management, to security, and even smart city planning. In 2019 the company received a grant from the National Science Foundation to further its goal of transforming how we visualize and analyze large datasets.

    (Image source: BadVR)

  • Cybershoes

    Cybershoes thinks we should be able to move through VR in the same way as the real world – by walking. The company's namesake is a VR controller that straps to your feet and uses your gait to control movement in virtual space. By sitting in a 360-degree swivel stool, users can navigate by moving their legs in the air. It might sound or look strange, but Cybershoes says its device allows for more natural movement, activity tracking, enhanced immersion, and more accurate directional tracking over options such as VR treadmills. Cybershoes is taking a literal step in the right direction as far as developing a means for us to more freely move through VR.

    (Image source: Cybershoes)

  • HTC

    HTC has been in the VR hardware market since the beginning of its resurgence. Where HTC has managed to distinguish itself from others however is in its focus on enterprise products alongside its consumer offerings. The latest version of its Vive headset family, the Vive Pro Eye (shown), offers integrated eye tracking capability for feedback and training as well as analytics and control functions. The company recently released two Office bundles for the Vive Pro Eye as well – offering customers additional hardware as well as expedited support.

    (Image source: HTC)

  • Microsoft

    Even though Microsoft enjoys a healthy share of the gaming market thanks to the XBox, the company has always kept its VR/AR ambitions aimed squarely at enterprise. The company's Windows Mixed Reality ecosystem focuses more on third party enterprise headsets like the HP Reverb and the HoloLens has emerged as an industry standard for enterprise AR. With the 2019 release of the HoloLens 2 (shown), Microsoft improved on the previous generation's weight and comfort, overall performance, and adaptability to various enterprise use cases. It's unlikely we'll be seeing a HoloLens 3 any time soon, but with high demand for its headsets we should expect Microsoft to continue extended use cases for augmented and mixed reality into new markets. Microsoft has recently been supplying the HoloLens 2 to the United States military for tactical training of soldiers.

    (Image source: Microsoft)

  • Penumbra

    VR/AR have found a place in healthcare in medical staff and surgeon training. But companies like Penumbra are exploring VR/AR for its therapeutic applications as well. Penumbra's Real System uses VR to assist with rehabilitating stroke patients. The system combines a custom-version of HTC's Vive headset with a tablet and accompanying app along with six body-worn sensors to guide patients through virtual exercises to assist with their motor skills and movement. Using the tablet a clinician can guide patients through tasks as well as track their progress over time. Penumbra hopes the portable Real System will not only provide positive patient outcomes but also assist with retention and time spent engaged in rehabilitation.

    (Image source: Penumbra)

  • Qualcomm

    Qualcomm is positioning itself to be the go-to chipmaker for standalone VR/AR headsets. Having its chips already appear in several headsets on the market, Qualcomm has recently released its Snapdragon XR2 (“XR” for “eXtended Reality”) platform, with a focus on enhanced processing for VR/AR as well as 5G connectivity. According to Qualcomm, the “Snapdragon XR2 Platform is the world’s first XR platform to support seven concurrent cameras and a dedicated computer vision processor. Additionally, this is the first XR platform to enable low latency camera pass-through to unlock true [mixed reality], which allow users to see, interact and create a hybrid of the virtual and real world while wearing a VR device.” Qualcomm has also released a reference design headset (shown) for the XR2 that features the aforementioned 5G connectivity as well as two internal cameras for eye tracking, two RGB cameras for mixed reality experience, and two more cameras for head tracking.

    (Image source: Qualcomm)

  • Spatial

    Workers are already collaborating remotely on a regular basis using software tools like Zoom and Slack. Spatial wants to take remote collaboration a step farther with its device-agnostic mixed reality platform. The company's solution works on desktop computers, laptops, mobile devices, and tablets, as well as a variety of VR/AR hardware including the HoloLens, Magic Leap, and offerings from Oculus. Spatial says its solution transforms any room into a 3D collaborative workspace where workers can communicate and share files and workflow. The company counts Mattel, Purina/Nestle, and BNP Paribas among its current customers.

    (Image source: Spatial)

  • Ultraleap

    Ultraleap, formed by a merger of Ultrahaptics and Leap Motion, two companies exploring novel ways to enable hand tracking and haptic feedback in VR/AR and other applications. We're probably still quite far away from the company's ultimate goal – gesture-control interfaces that provide a sense of touch and haptic feedback without gloves or other user-worn hardware, but the company is making steady strides in that direction. Pimax, makers of high-resolution 8K VR headsets, has announced it will be integrating Ultraleap's hand tracking sensors into its products going forward. Ultraleap is also engaging with automotive companies to create mid-air haptic interfaces for vehicle dashboards.

    (Image source: Ultraleap)

  • Valve

    For all of the in-roads VR has made in consumer and enterprise it still hasn't found its killer app. But video game developer Valve could change that with the release of its highly-anticipated game, Half Life: Alyx.

    A sort-of-sequel to the popular Half Life franchise, footage of Alyx shows the shooter game taking true advantage of the level of interactivity that VR can truly offer. Small details like an option for continuous movement instead of teleportation, being able to open car doors for cover fire, actually having to rummage through shelves and look behind things to find useful items, go a very long way in creating an experience that looks to be the closest yet to delivering on the promise of VR. Coupled with the recognition of the Half Life brand, Alyx could be the most popular VR game ever released. Of course the game is optimized for Valve's own Index VR headset, but it will work on other headsets as well. The success of Alyx could point both consumer and enterprise developers toward what customers really expect from a VR experience.

    (Image source: Valve)

  • Varjo

    Varjo is a VR/AR hardware and software developer targeted at the enterprise space. The company's XR-1 Developer Edition headset (shown) is a combination VR and mixed reality headset aimed at delivering photorealistic-quality visuals for engineers and product designers, including high resolution video streaming. The company recently announced new chroma key and marker tracking features for the XR-1 that will allow it to track virtual and real-world objects in real time. Using the device's chroma key features, developers will be able to utilize green-screen techniques seen in films and video games to accurately place objects within a virtual environment.

    (Image source: Varjo)

 

Chris Wiltz is a Senior Editor at     Design News    covering emerging technologies including AI, VR/AR, blockchain, and robotics.

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