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San Francisco-based computer vision startup Fyusion released a new version of its Fyuse app for iOS and Android Wednesday that allows consumers to record unique 3D photospheres that the company has dubbed “surround view.” The company believes that this could augment all kinds of things, ranging from selfies to fashion shows — but when I got a demo of the technology a few days ago, it also struck me as a great way to bring user-generated content to mobile VR.
What the Fyuse app is all about
Fyusion’s Fyuse app looks a lot like Vine or another other short-form video sharing app, complete with a stream of recordings, a shortcut for popular posts, hashtags, a profile, the ability to follow other users and a tab to record media. What’s different is the media itself: Fyusion users don’t record short video clips like on Vine, or photos like on Instagram, but a unique hybrid that can best be described as 3D photospheres.
To do so, users press a record bar like on Vine, and then move their phone either horizontally or vertically for a few seconds. Once the clip is recorded, Fyuse starts to render it on the device and then offers it up for preview, and eventually sharing on the platform. (Here’s a clip I recorded with the Android app last night.)
Browsing through the videos shared on Fyuse you see a lot of this: People playing with very basic 360-degree explorations by circling small objects. Others use it as a kind of selfie replacement, and pan over faces (and inevitably also other body parts), or just record small motions, which turns the result in a weird mixture of photo and video.
But things start to really get interesting when people actually explore the places around them, because it adds an interesting sense of space and depth to what would otherwise just be a flat photo, or a very boring clip. Fyuse adds a sense of presence by letting viewers explore each recording by tilting their phones in the right direction, making use of the phone’s sensors to turn them into 3D viewers.
Not trying to be another Lytro
Fyusion CEO and co-founder Radu B. Rusu told me during an interview earlier this week that this emphasis on space was very much at the core of his company’s mission. “Photography captures a slice of space and time, movies capture time,” he said. Fyusion, Rusu explained, wants to instead capture space, and reinvent photography in the process.
However, Rusu and his team decided early on that they didn’t want to reinvent the camera. “Building another Lytro is a bad idea,” he told me. Instead, they took the camera that we already carry in our pockets, and added a whole bunch of vision recognition smarts to generate 3D scenes out of short clips. Rusu told me that the company initially experimented with rendering these recordings in the cloud, but but that doing it on the device was simply faster.
Fyusion is exploring a bunch of different angles for its app, including tags that can be attached to recordings, and partnerships with fashion labels that could be used to make this kind of medium more popular. But what struck me as one of the most interesting applications is VR, and especially mobile VR. Samsung just started selling its $200 Gear VR headset, which combines Oculus VR technology with Samsungs Galaxy Note 4 phone.
There’s no UGC for VR yet
Right now, Gear VR still has a big focus on gaming, but Samsung and others are also looking to turn the device into an immersive media consumption platform. Some studios and startups have begun to experiment with new types of media for these kinds of platforms, but what’s still missing is user-generated content.
Apps like Fyuse could one day fill that void, and Rusu said that his team has had conversations with a number of companies working on VR, including Magic Leap. “That particular space is very exciting to us,” he said.
Of course, Fyuse isn’t the only one working on 3D media capture. iOS app Bubbli has been offering similar functionality for some time, just to name one. But there is still a lot that could be done in this space. One example that came up in my conversation with Rusu was collaborative capture. Imagine multiple people at a concert recording clips with an app like Fyuse, which are then stitched together in the cloud to become an immersive 3D world.
Some of the shaky clips on Fyuse (including mine) may look they are far from that future, but to me, Fyuse seems to point a path towards a future in which VR media creation doesn’t require crazy expensive cameras, but just your phone in your pocket.