What to do with holograms? 8i gets $27 million to explore the possibilities

8i Corp. has robust software. After 42 cameras collect images of a person on a stage, the Culver City start-up’s program renders a realistic 3-D replica of the individual on a computer.

The question now is why would anyone want to pay for a hologram of themselves?

8i thought that people would like the idea of interacting with holograms while using special headsets such as the HTC Vive, which immerses people in digital environments. But only a sliver of the population has such devices. So 8i is prioritizing a different option in the meantime.

On Monday, the company announced plans to launch a camera app in the coming months that would enable people to record videos with celebrity holograms. If people wind up playing with holograms of movie stars or music icons, it could become a paid marketing ploy for the entertainment industry.

“You hold your phone up, drag a hologram into the room and use the camera on the phone to create a composite,” 8i Chief Executive Steve Raymond said of the Holo app. “Any phone can do that.”

8i’s ideas have received backing from the investment funds of Time Warner, Hearst, Verizon and China’s leading online search engine, Baidu. The firms were among those that recently gave 8i $27 million.

The start-up is sure to face competition from the likes of Apple, Snapchat and Facebook — all of which are developing mixed reality media tools in hopes of providing users a reason to stick with their apps.

8i wants to separate from the pack by emphasizing the hologram-creation part. The company, which plans to move to Playa Vista this year, says it’s on track to have the most efficient and affordable way to capture and render people in 3-D. The goal is to get to the point where someone could get a hologram after aiming just three smartphones at themselves for a few minutes, Raymond said.

Last year, the company made progress on speeding up the rendering, increasing the quality of the 3-D image and reducing the file size, he said.

Building a media creation tool carries risks though. A firm such as Facebook or Snapchat could offer similar software for free, subsidizing the technology by selling ads on their respective communications programs.

For now, 8i and its investors are just eager to see whether people enjoy starring in videos with moving, talking, lifelike versions of well-known characters and people.

“We are excited to back the extraordinary team at 8i and help bring its superior holographic experience to mass audiences in China,” Baidu Ventures managing partner Daisy Cai said in a statement. “We envision a future where [mixed reality] can be applied in numerous industries that serve our more than 1 billion monthly active users."

Soylent Bar recall comes to an end

The Food and Drug Administration recently signed off on Soylent’s completed recall of nutrition bars that sickened customers.

Rosa Foods, the meal replacement beverage and snack maker behind the Soylent brand, started hearing from ill consumers in October. The Los Angeles start-up couldn't come to a decisive cause for the temporary stomachaches and vomiting that people experienced but pointed to intolerance to a new ingredient — whole algal flour — as the likely issue. TerraVia, which says it supplied the algal flour that was used in Soylent products, has disputed Soylent's conclusion, saying the ingredient hasn't caused issues in other items.

Rosa Foods also had similar issues with another product.

Soylent had distributed nearly 546,000 bars to about 13,500 customers in about two months before issuing a recall, according to FDA records received through a Freedom of Information Act request. The agency redacted details about the number of bars manufactured and illness complaints received.

About 43% of customers had sought refunds by Jan. 20. And tons of the bars were dumped at landfills across North America as part of the recall, the records say.

New investment fund Embark Ventures nears launch

Embark Ventures filed regulatory paperwork this month showing it has raised $45 million to become the region’s newest early-stage venture capital fund.

The Santa Monica firm is led by Yipeng Zhao and Peter Lee, who spent the last year investing in Los Angeles start-ups for Baroda Ventures.

Baroda’s portfolio includes DogVacay, Gem, Pathmatics and Surf Air. The firm has been an investment vehicle for David Bohnett, who made a fortune after co-founding website hosting service Geocities in the 1990s. The company went public and later was sold to Yahoo.

Bohnett said in a statement that Baroda “remains an active participant in the L.A. tech sector and is pleased to be a founding investor in Embark."

Embark wants to bring in another $5 million in cash to invest, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission filing. It's unclear who has stakes in the fund so far. But the investment strategy, with a focus on Los Angeles companies, is likely to be similar to Baroda’s based on the amount of capital and people involved.

Lee declined to comment.

Upload sets up a virtual reality hub in L.A.

Upload Inc., a San Francisco company that serves as the booster for the virtual reality technology industry, has set up a co-working and meeting space in Marina del Rey.

The company leased a 20,000-square-foot space, according to CBRE, the real estate firm that represented it.

Through online media coverage, in-person events and mentorship, Upload hopes to accelerate bringing VR and similar technologies to a wider audience.

Elsewhere on the Web

Los Angeles augmented reality headset maker Daqri is laying off about 80 people, or a quarter of its workforce, according to Business Insider.

A pair of former USC researchers say they can increase usage of mobile apps by providing users “highs” as part of the experience, according to TechCrunch.

E3, the mega video game industry conference held annually in Los Angeles in June, is selling tickets to the public for the first time, according to Gamespot.

Near its headquarters, SpaceX is changing the vibe of Hawthorne, and its workers are embracing the first craft brewery in the city, according to the Daily Breeze.

In case you missed it

Meet Brogan BamBrogan, who left Hyperloop Technologies and has helped launch rival hyperloop firm Arrivo Corp

Snap says shareholders won't have a “say on pay” for executives.

What's a daily user? Facebook and Snapchat have different definitions.

Snapchat turns into a broadcast platform in the developing world, and that's bad for business.

Loyola Marymount University plans to open a Playa Vista campus in 2018 to host events and house the School of Film and Television’s graduate program, which has partnered with such entertainment companies as Disney and 20th Century Fox. 

Coming up

Marketing agency Ayzenberg hosts a conference Thursday in Los Angeles about e-sports, or competitive video gaming. Scheduled speakers include Steven Roberts, chairman of e-sports events company ESL, and Chad Biggs, who works on e-sports initiatives for the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers.

paresh.dave@latimes.com

Twitter: @peard33


UPDATES:

5:45 p.m. This article was updated with a quote from David Bohnett.

This article was originally published at 4:10 p.m.

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