Left to right: CTO Adam Rowell, chief engineer Jack McCauley, CEO Han Jin
Jack McCauley, a cofounder of virtual reality company Oculus, has joined Lucid VR as chief engineer.
The Santa Clara, California-based startup builds a pocket-sized device that captures 180-degree footage using two 4K-resolution cameras. The camera isn't cheap at $500. Lucid cofounder and CEO Han Jin said the company has sold "thousands" of units and is already working on version two of the camera. One part of McCauley's job is to bring down manufacturing costs to make the device more accessible.
McCauley has a long history of building consumer electronic devices. The 57-year-old engineer helped design the hardware for the popular Guitar Hero video game as well as a heart rate monitor for Electronic Arts. As a cofounder and chief engineer at Oculus, McCauley worked on the first and second versions of the company's VR development kit (DK1 and DK2). He left Oculus soon after Facebook scooped it up for $2 billion in 2014. After Oculus, he continued to work on VR technology in his own R&D lab and attempted to solve VR's head-tracking problems using MEMS (or microelectromechanical systems) sensors.
Lucid was founded in 2015 by Jin and Adam Rowell, who has a PhD in electrical engineering from Stanford University. The company has raised a small seed round of $2.1 million and is currently trying to raise more. Along with joining the company as chief engineer, McCauley is also an investor in the company but declined to say how much he's committed.
One issue Lucid faces is lagging interest among consumers for VR. In 2016, high-end virtual reality headsets from Oculus, Sony and HTC finally arrived, but demand was tepid. By the end of that first year, research firm Canalys estimated sales of 800,000 for PlayStation VR, 500,000 for the HTC Vive and 400,000 for the Oculus Rift. Oculus has begun to cut its prices.
“High cost and lack of investment in content is what’s hurting VR,” McCauley said in an interview. “Sales for PC-tethered headsets have been less than underwhelming. Now that the PC stuff isn't working out, it’s all mobile. That’s my hunch.”
VR headsets attached to smartphones have been a little more popular than tethered versions, primarily because they're much cheaper and easier to use. At the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show, for example, Samsung said it had sold 5 million of its Galaxy Gear VR headsets to date.
But an even bigger problem for a startup like Lucid is the fact that most consumers simply don't want or need a dedicated camera. For most, they already have a perfectly good camera in their smartphone. Just look at action camera maker GoPro's collapsing performance since going public in 2014 to get a sense of how difficult selling a dedicated camera to consumers has become. Lucid is also hardly the first company trying to launch a VR camera. There have been a number of attempts so far at developing cameras that capture VR video for both the professional and mainstream consumer markets. In the consumer market, for example, Samsung has the Gear 360 camera for only $229, while Nokia is selling the $15,000 Ozo camera geared more towards professionals.
Rather than a dedicated VR camera, it seems more likely we'll see this technology take off in smartphones. In the future, smartphone makers will likely experiment with different camera systems to capture immersive VR video and images. Andy Rubin, the creator of Android, is planning to launch his Essential Phone soon that will come with a 360-degree camera accessory that clips on to rear of the device. But for now, the consumer demand for this type of content still hasn't shown up yet, so there doesn't appear to be a huge rush. Nevertheless, Lucid has a backup plan in case selling a camera doesn't work out: McCauley's other job is trying to convince phone makers to integrate Lucid's 180-degree video capturing technology into their devices through a licensing program.