Startup sees mixed reality, a blend of virtual and real worlds, as the future

Shopping, touring and more will be revolutionized through use of MR lenses, says Israeli firm Mixed Place, whose tools it says will expedite people’s interaction with 3D images

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Alon Melchner, the CEO of Mixed Place, an Israeli startup that develops mixed reality technologies (Courtesy)
Alon Melchner, the CEO of Mixed Place, an Israeli startup that develops mixed reality technologies (Courtesy)

Israeli startup Mixed Place, a developer of mixed reality technology, in which digital content is inserted into the physical world, believes that in the future tourists will visit ancient ruins accompanied by a virtual guide and see long-crumbled columns or amphitheaters as they once were.

The same goes for shopping: consumers will enter stores and see, instead of real shoes on shelves or clothes on a mannequin, virtual products on display and virtual salespeople to answer their questions, and then will place an order and be given the real product.

“Within a few years mixed reality will become the dominant reality of our lives and billions of people will experience it on a daily basis as a new routine,” said Alon Melchner, the CEO of Mixed Place.

All that’s needed for this to happen, Melchner said in a phone interview, is for users to either use their phones to see the 3D images, which they can do today, or in the very near future use the artificial reality glasses, contact lenses and holograms that are being developed by tech giants globally.

The past few years have seen a boost in the development of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies. The term mixed reality (MR) integrates both VR and AR and merges the real and virtual worlds, creating new environments and images where actual and digital objects coexist alongside each other and interact in real time.

Tech giants like Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft are all pouring funds and resources into these fields.

Melchner said he believes that Apple will launch mixed reality glasses as a way to access digital content within two to three years, and that will bring a “big bang” to the field, with other firms following in its wake.

These glasses “will be as commonplace as the smartphone and the tablet,” he said, adding that the technology the startup is offering “will expedite the development of mixed reality applications.”

“Everyone eventually will walk around with some type of viewing device,” predicted Melchner. And in anticipation of that, the company is working on developing a mixed reality technology — which it calls an AR cloud infrastructure — that maps and “understands” physical space, enabling stores and tourist site operators for example to easily and quickly create digital content, like virtual tour guides, salespeople and products, and place it within real life structures for people to interact with.

Illustration of a mixed reality effect created by Israeli startup Mixed Place (YouTube screenshot)

“We want to enable location-based mixed reality content, and have built tools to enable you to create” such content, which people will be able to see hands-free, just via smart glasses or smart contact lenses, he said.

“We have been traditionally consuming content in 2D,” said Melchner — via TVs, phones, screens. But in real life, “humans need to experience things in a 3D environment.”

Mixed reality will revolutionize our world ten years from now in a “much much bigger way” than smartphones did, he said.

Mixed reality will combine the digital world’s benefits – the huge amount of data, the personalization and customization – with the real world.

“This will be the new medium that will combine all the digital evolution we have witnessed in the last 40 years,” he said. The interaction with this 3D virtual content will be “intuitive, as part of real life,” he said, and will have the “power to upgrade our lives.”

The startup said this week it set up projects with two of Europe’s largest retail chains: the pan-European supermarket chain Billa and the Belgium-based global food chain Ahold-Delhaize, in which loyal customers could get virtual toys for their children to interact with via apps downloaded onto their smartphones.

The startup said it was in talks with VC funds and strategic investors to raise some $7 million to finalize the development of its technology and market its software worldwide. In November 2017, the firm raised $750,000 in a seed round from PPI Worldwide, which specializes in sales promotion projects for retail chains around the world.

Mixed Place is now starting to offer its software to retail chains and advertising agencies that need to distribute content globally. In a second stage the company will start offering its solutions to startups and companies around the world, to use for the development of their own mixed reality applications.

Mixed Place was founded by Melchner — a serial entrepreneur who was also the founder of the AR/VR startup WakingApp Realities — and Eitan Yurman, a cloud computing expert. Mixed Place has filed 15 patents, several of which replace the traditional use of computer vision used for AR and VR effects with new ways of placing content into real settings, Melchner said.

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