Mira Reality: AR for the Workplace and BeyondBy Sherry Wang
Mira Reality: AR for the Workplace
Mira Reality is an augmented reality (AR) startup based in Los Angeles. Founded by three USC Iovine and Young Academy students in 2016, Mira’s smartphone powered, affordable AR headset and productivity suite aim to change the way users interact with one another and the digital world, starting in the workplace. I caught up with co-founder and COO, Matt Stern, to learn more about the Prism headset, AR industry, and future of Mira Reality.
AR and the Industry, A Transformative Technology
Augmented reality is technology that creates an immersive landscape for users by overlaying a computer-generated image on the real-world image. It brings together the digital and real world when senses are “augmented” by computer-generated information. Popular applications include Snapchat’s camera filters and 2016 video game Pokémon GO.
The AR industry has unbelievable potential. With the prevalence of technology today, much of people’s physical being and experiences are influenced by that of the digital world. Matt Stern describes the interface layer as a series of windows – a laptop screen, phone screen, TV screen – which limits users’ access to the digital world. These screens create a large disconnect between the way in which we have conversations in-person and interact in the digital environment. Mira Reality’s Prism headset offers an intuitive solution to this disconnect by removing the restrictions and physical barriers, small screens, of access to the digital world.
“The interface layer of users and the digital world is a series of windows – a laptop screen, phone screen, TV screen – which limits users’ access to the digital world.”
-Matt Stern, Co-Founder and COO of Mira
Rapid growth is anticipated in the AR and VR industry in the next few years. In a Mart Research report, the 2017 global AR market was valued at USD 4.32 billion and is estimated to grow at compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 55.73% from 2018-2025 to reach USD 149 billion by 2025.
The International Data Corporation (IDC) reports that AR and VR headsets sales are expected to grow at a CAGR of 52.5% annually from 2017-2022 and hit 68.9 million units in 2022. In the same period, IDC estimates that worldwide spending on AR and VR will achieve a five-year CAGR of 71.6% and reach USD 27 billion in 2018.
Current Products in the AR Space
Well-known AR products include the Microsoft HoloLens, the first viable product in the industry, and Magic Leap, which has $2.3B in funding from investors including Google and Alibaba Group. While incumbent HoloLens has served as the industry standard for many years, and its newer model is due to arrive in the first quarter of 2019, the current price tag of HoloLens is a whopping $3,000. Magic Leap’s highly anticipated headset spent 5-6 years in development before its release this past August, priced at $2,295. Both the Magic Leap One Creator Edition and Microsoft HoloLens are aimed at developers to create a suite of content for their respective products.
When Mira’s Prism came to market last year in 2017, it introduced the first $99 AR headset in a market of minimum $1,500. With high implementation cost as a major restraining factor on the AR market, Mira gains a competitive edge. It further stands out by developing its own AR productivity suite for business-to-business opportunities.
“The headset is smartphone powered which creates a lower upfront cost. Users only need to download the smartphone app and snap the phone into the headset to use,” Stern said. “Today, Mira is focused on developing an entire productivity suite – from real time communication tools to hands-free solutions for every industry.”
Other Mira competitors include the Google Glass ($1,829), which has had a resurgence in the past year with Glass Enterprise Edition geared towards the workplace, Osterhout Design Group (ODG) ($2,750), and Vuzix ($1,000). The Google Daydream competes indirectly in the VR market at $99. While the Daydream is only compatible with select Android devices, Prism is compatible with select iOS devices.
“ODG and Vuzix are less focused on the immersive AR reality and overlaying digital art,” Stern said. “The headsets are worn to provide information rather than mesh the digital and physical world.”
This lightweight version of AR has been referred to as “assisted reality” and offers a view of a computer display when users shift their gaze across the screen.
Apple and Facebook are investing heavily in AR as well. The former is focused on creating developer tools (ARKit 2) and is rumored to be releasing a headset in 2020 while the latter is focused on bringing AR to the general consumer population through its apps.
Mira’s Story: Fish Bowls, a 3-D Printer, and Hot Glue Gun
Mira’s three cofounders – Ben Taft, Matt Stern, and Montana Reed – are 2018 graduates of USC Lovine and Young Academy‘s inaugural class. The undergraduate program was launched in 2014 by Dr. Dre (Young) and his Beats partner Jimmy Lovine to create a cross-disciplinary curriculum in business, technology, and the arts.
“Growing up in a technology-prevalent environment, we sought to discover what the next big technological evolution was, the same way that smartphones transformed people’s thinking when they realized they could have a super computer in their pockets,” Stern said.
They became curious as to the potential of AR, a future in which the digital world and real world could overlap without restrictions and small screens. The three started Mira as a part-time venture in 2016, and it became a full-time gig in 2017.
To learn more about AR, the three students spent time outside Mira working on research, projects, and reports. Stern spent time working internally at Sony Pictures Entertainment and CreateVR, Ben at AR headset maker Daqri, and Montana in research at USC. Their experiences allowed them to learn about the strengths and weakness of AR/VR development at larger firms.
The Mira team found that there was much friction between those creating the technology and the intended consumers. $1,500 helmets experienced difficulties selling to companies, and college students did not have thousands to spend on the Microsoft HoloLens. VR experiences came in a broad spectrum but disconnected users from reality, so the co-founders turned towards AR and sought to create a middle market solution.
Enter $10 fish bowls off Amazon, USC’s 3-D printer, and a hot glue gun.
“It was us, a 3-D printer, a hot glue gun, and some fish bowls that we chopped and popped into a 3-D printed headset, and that was the first prototype we showed anyone outside the walls of my dorm room.”
-Matt Stern, Co-Founder and COO of Mira
With this prototype, the team secured $1.5 million in seed funding from Sequoia Capital. As of today, Mira is still in the seed stage, is heading for its series A round next year, and has raised $6.5 million in funding. Investors include Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, global music artist and tech investor will.i.am, Jaunt VR founder Jens Christensen, and more.
The team’s first batch of $99 developer kit pre-orders sold out, shipped at the end of summer 2017, and arrived in the hands of every large film studio, gaming company, and several Fortune 500 enterprises.
Looking Forward – AR in the Workplace
With the current state of AR technology and education of the mass market, Stern sees the B2B route as the way to create the most value.
“For any type of company that has external field workers, Mira’s Prism enables real-time communication, guides users through tasks, and allows users to experience an action or training scenario that would not be possible with just a smartphone or a computer,” Stern said.
Once AR technology has progressed more and consumers come around to AR, Mira is open to moving into the mass market—their ultimate goal is to provide AR for everyone. For the time being, Mira develops full-stack and end solutions for companies and has already delivered pilots to some of the biggest companies in the world, as Fortune 1000 companies have the interest, the people, and the resources to research and conduct pilots.
In terms of a business model, Mira has a month-to-month software licensing fee. When deploying the productivity suite and headset to businesses, they go much lower than the developer kit price-tag of $149.
It Began as a Campus Venture
Mira was founded when three USC students recognized friction between AR technology and the user. However transformative, the technology’s existing price points were too high to justify use. Mira’s founders began to create prototypes, and within a few short years, they created the Prism and a productivity suite for the middle market.
Stern reminds aspiring founders that adults are willing to help students who are curious and respectful of their time. His best advice is to never sit on an idea, as an idea becomes worthless without action and will eventually become everyone’s idea.
“There is always a step to take to get closer to an end goal. By sitting on your hands, you are failing yourself and what your vision can become.”
-Matt Stern, Co-Founder and COO of Mira