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Apple acquires VR startup Spaces

Spaces started as a location-based VR startup, but recently pivoted to videoconferencing.

Spaces VR videoconferencing solution

Forced to pivot under COVID, Spaces recently produced software that combines video chats with VR.

Photo: Courtesy of Spaces

Spaces, a VR startup that got its start as a DreamWorks Animation project, has been acquired by Apple, Protocol has learned.

Apple confirmed the acquisition after this story was first published. "Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans," a company spokesperson told Protocol via email, using the company's usual boilerplate statement to confirm startup acquisitions.

Spaces did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Spaces announced that it was shutting down its existing services last week, telling visitors of its website that it was "heading in a new direction," without revealing further details. "Thank you to our users and partners who participated in our awesome VR video conferencing product and the many people who enjoyed our VR location-based entertainment attractions found at theme parks, theaters, and more," the statement concluded.

Spaces spun out of DreamWorks Animation in early 2016, and developed a range of location-based VR experiences, including "Terminator Salvation: Fight for the Future." The company had to shut down its VR centers at the beginning of the pandemic, laying off some staffers in the process, and took a small PPP loan to keep the lights on. "COVID-19 felt like a tsunami for us," Spaces CEO Shioraz Akmal told Protocol at the time.

Spaces then pivoted to build a VR add-on to traditional video conferencing solutions like Zoom, allowing Zoom users to take part in meetings with an animated avatar. "We like to keep busy making things," Akmal said back then. "We can't sit around waiting a year for something to return."

Apple has been working on its own AR/VR headset for some time and has acquired a number of AR and VR startups to build out its staff for the project. Other recent acquisitions in the space include NextVR, Akonia Holographics and Vrvana. Apple has yet to officially acknowledge plans to launch such a headset.

It's still unclear whether the Spaces team will actually work on VR at Apple. Either way, the exit is a bad omen for the location-based VR industry, which has been struggling to survive through the pandemic. Just last week, news broke that fellow location-based VR startup Sandbox VR had filed for bankruptcy.

Update: This post was updated at 7:40 p.m. PT to include Apple's statement.

Protocol | Fintech

Plaid’s COO is riding fintech’s choppy waves

He's a striking presence on the beach. If he navigates Plaid's data challenges, Eric Sager will loom large in the financial world as well.

Plaid COO Eric Sager is an avid surfer.

Photo: Plaid

Eric Sager is an avid surfer. It's a fitting passion for the No. 2 executive at Plaid, a startup that's riding fintech's rough waters — including a rogue wave on the horizon that could cause a wipeout.

As Plaid's chief operating officer, Sager has been helping the startup navigate that choppiness, from an abandoned merger with Visa to a harsh critique by the CEO of a top Wall Street bank.

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Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Signal at (510)731-8429.

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The future of computing at the edge: an interview with Intel’s Tom Lantzsch

An interview with Tom Lantzsch, SVP and GM, Internet of Things Group at Intel

An interview with Tom Lantzsch

Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corporation

Edge computing had been on the rise in the last 18 months – and accelerated amid the need for new applications to solve challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Tom Lantzsch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corp., thinks there are more innovations to come – and wants technology leaders to think equally about data and the algorithms as critical differentiators.

In his role at Intel, Lantzsch leads the worldwide group of solutions architects across IoT market segments, including retail, banking, hospitality, education, industrial, transportation, smart cities and healthcare. And he's seen first-hand how artificial intelligence run at the edge can have a big impact on customers' success.

Protocol sat down with Lantzsch to talk about the challenges faced by companies seeking to move from the cloud to the edge; some of the surprising ways that Intel has found to help customers and the next big breakthrough in this space.

What are the biggest trends you are seeing with edge computing and IoT?

A few years ago, there was a notion that the edge was going to be a simplistic model, where we were going to have everything connected up into the cloud and all the compute was going to happen in the cloud. At Intel, we had a bit of a contrarian view. We thought much of the interesting compute was going to happen closer to where data was created. And we believed, at that time, that camera technology was going to be the driving force – that just the sheer amount of content that was created would be overwhelming to ship to the cloud – so we'd have to do compute at the edge. A few years later – that hypothesis is in action and we're seeing edge compute happen in a big way.

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Saul Hudson
Saul Hudson has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, especially in understanding and targeting messages in cutting-edge technologies. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, in helping companies to build passionate audiences and accelerate their growth. Hudson has reported from more than 30 countries, from war zones to boardrooms to presidential palaces. He has led multinational, multi-lingual teams and managed operations for hundreds of journalists. Hudson is a Managing Partner at Angle42, a strategic communications consultancy.
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Google wants to help you get a life

Digital car windows, curved AR glasses, automatic presentations and other patents from Big Tech.

A new patent from Google offers a few suggestions.

Image: USPTO

Another week has come to pass, meaning it's time again for Big Tech patents! You've hopefully been busy reading all the new Manual Series stories that have come out this week and are now looking forward to hearing what comes after what comes next. Google wants to get rid of your double-chin selfie videos and find things for you as you sit bored at home; Apple wants to bring translucent displays to car windows; and Microsoft is exploring how much you can stress out a virtual assistant.

And remember: The big tech companies file all kinds of crazy patents for things, and though most never amount to anything, some end up defining the future.

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Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

Transforming 2021

Blockchain, QR codes and your phone: the race to build vaccine passports

Digital verification systems could give people the freedom to work and travel. Here's how they could actually happen.

One day, you might not need to carry that physical passport around, either.

Photo: CommonPass

There will come a time, hopefully in the near future, when you'll feel comfortable getting on a plane again. You might even stop at the lounge at the airport, head to the regional office when you land and maybe even see a concert that evening. This seemingly distant reality will depend upon vaccine rollouts continuing on schedule, an open-sourced digital verification system and, amazingly, the blockchain.

Several countries around the world have begun to prepare for what comes after vaccinations. Swaths of the population will be vaccinated before others, but that hasn't stopped industries decimated by the pandemic from pioneering ways to get some people back to work and play. One of the most promising efforts is the idea of a "vaccine passport," which would allow individuals to show proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 in a way that could be verified by businesses to allow them to travel, work or relax in public without a great fear of spreading the virus.

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Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

Google wants to connect everything you own to the internet

Surveilling older adults, connected helmets, wearables talking to doctors and other patents from Big Tech.

Make all the things smart!

Image: Google/USPTO

Hello and welcome back to the world of zany patents from Big Tech! While 2020 is still dragging on (I know it's 2021, but you can't tell me 2020 is over until I can go anywhere other than the grocery store), at least there are still great new patents to uncover. And there's some fascinating ones this week, including Facebook wanting to make clothes like real in games, Microsoft trying to make sports more inclusive and Google wanting to make it easier to spy on your parents. If that's something you want to do.

And remember: The big tech companies file all kinds of crazy patents for things, and though most never amount to anything, some end up defining the future.

Keep Reading Show less
Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

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