Oculus adds Surreal Vision to its virty portfolio

British devs are quids in with purchase

Oculus Rift, the big dog in virtual reality headsets, has snapped up British startup Surreal Vision for an undisclosed sum.

"We’re thrilled to announce that the Surreal Vision team has joined Oculus Research!" the Facebook-owned firm said in a blog post.

"Surreal Vision is one of the top computer vision teams in the world focused on real-time 3D scene reconstruction – generating an accurate representation of the real world in the virtual world. Great scene reconstruction will enable a new level of presence and telepresence, allowing you to move around the real world and interact with real-world objects from within VR."

The buyout is a feather in the cap for Imperial College, London, where the three Surreal Vision founders – Richard Newcombe, Renato Salas-Moreno, and Steven Lovegrove – met while doing their PhDs in robotic vision.

The British firm has been working to refine software that can accurately and quickly build 3D maps of physical environments, which they dubbed simultaneous location and mapping (SLAM++).

Building a 3D environment by simple mapping is old hat. What SLAM++ brings to the table is that the software matches the data points it can spot with a database of known objects and adapts its model based on what it has seen before, and extrapolates shapes and properties from that.

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"Much progress has been made toward this future, but significant challenges remain," said the Surreal team.

"For virtual reality, the accuracy and quality of the continuously updating 3D reconstruction must be near flawless, which is a requirement almost no other modern computer vision problem faces. When we cross these seminal thresholds, users will perceive the virtual world as truly real – and that is the experience we’re driving toward."

Oculus is planning to release its long-awaited Rift consumer VR rig next spring, and having a system that can build virtual worlds quickly would be a godsend for content builders trying to write code for the system.

The Surreal Vision team will be leaving the rainy streets of London Town with the purchase and moving to the somewhat damp streets of Redmond in Washington State to join Oculus' laboratory team. Hope they pack plenty of Marmite, the stuff is ruinously expensive over here. ®

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