Lightform raises $5M to turn old projectors into augmented reality machines

In Blade Runner 2049, one of the more interesting stylistic choices was how the film imagined futuristic augmented reality. While the Microsofts and Googles of our real dystopian world are currently approaching AR tech with headsets and smart glasses, Blade Runner 2049 relied entirely on external projection to augment its world and the people in it.

This vision of the future may still seem a tad concerning, but it’s good news for San Francisco-based AR startup Lightform.

Lightform isn’t a hologram startup, but by capturing structured light, their projector-mounted computer is able to easily scan the geometry of a space and place mesmerizing animations and stills onto objects and surfaces. The fun little expensive device plugs into the back of just about any projector and brings augmented reality to any surface it can shine on. The startup’s accompanying Lightform Creator desktop software subsequently allows users to easily edit how the projector interacts with the spaces it’s projecting on, letting them add AR effects or display media.

Lightform has raised $5 million in a funding round led by Lux Capital. Dolby Family Ventures, CrunchFund, Comet Labs, Presence Capital and Anorak Ventures also participated in the round. The startup has raised $7.8 million to date.

By first looks, the company’s product would seem to have every hallmark of the cool Kickstarter hardware project that you back only to have it arrive years later or not at all. Lightform has done something seemingly radical, however, in that they have already raised the necessary funding to manufacture the first 2,000 units.

 “There’s been a lot of undelivered hype in the AR/VR space, so we want to ensure we can ship a product to our customers, and deliver on our promises,” said Lightform CEO Brett Jones. “Given the skepticism around AR vaporware, we want to make it clear that Lightform is real and being used for real applications. Funding the development with this new capital allows us to finalize our product before we start selling it, not the other way around.”

The company’s tech is already being used to help display the menu at my favorite hipster San Francisco cafe, Vive La Tarte, a place that sells “Smashed Avo Toast” for $14. It’s safe to say that the early market for Lightform’s tech is aesthetic-first, and the company’s founders indeed emphasized that “designers who design spaces” are likely to be their first customers, though they noted anyone with a working knowledge of Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator should be able to handle it as well.

Lightform hasn’t put a final price tag on the device, but its founders say the company is hoping to ship it at under $1,000. The team is currently “alpha-testing” with partners as it begins manufacturing and will be opening pre-orders next year.

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