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4:18 pm ET
Jan 28, 2015

Company Funding

Augmented-Reality Headset Maker Meta Secures $23 Million

  • Article
  • Comments
  • Alexis Ohanian

  • augmented reality

  • BOE Optoelectronics

  • Commodore Partners

  • Danhua Capital

  • Garry Tan

  • Horizons Ventures

  • Meta

  • Tim Draper

  • Vegas Tech Fund

  • virtual reality

  • By
  • Lizette Chapman
    • Biography
  • CONNECT
      • Biography
    Meta augmented-reality glasses
    Meta

    Augmented-reality company Meta has secured a major vote of confidence from investors, raising $23 million to build holographic headsets that allow people to interact with digital images in the physical world.

    The infusion represents the beginning what Meta executives describe as a long and gentle push to replace smartphones and computers with wearable computers. The funding for Meta comes just weeks after Google Inc. made a major change to its high-profile Google Glass initiative and Microsoft Corp. announced its upcoming HoloLens product.

    “It’s a question of when, not if,” Meta Chief Product Officer Soren Harner said. “The lesson we took from Google Glass is you don’t overpromise and under deliver.”

    When the Portola Valley, Calif.-based startup launched its 2013 Kickstarter campaign, it fast became a darling among the early adopters, raising $2 million and logging 1,500 preorders. The headsets, which are shipping now, have a 3-D see-through display, two cameras, Dolby 3-D audio and 360-degree head tracking. The technology projects digital items, like a ball for example, into the physical world and allows people wearing the eyewear to play catch with the digital image.

    The company’s product of augmented reality is different from virtual reality, which separates users from the physical world by immersing them in a 3-D audio and visual setting. Virtual reality is the technology powering Facebook Inc.’s Oculus Rift, Sony Corp.’s Project Morpheus and others.

    Although many early endeavors in augmented reality have focused on consumer applications like gaming, the initial crop of Meta users have included enterprise applications including showrooms, warehouses and first responders going through emergency simulations.

    Mr. Hamer acknowledged the technology is complex and there are still a number of hurdles to surmount before it is ready for mainstream adoption. Still, it has made progress since the company, known as Meta Company Corp., was founded in 2012.

    The team created early prototypes using a 3-D printer and iterated on the design. Now parts are manufactured by suppliers world-wide and shipped to San Jose, Calif., where they are assembled into units. Meta has shipped about 500 of the 1,500 preordered units so far, which have varied in price with the average cost being $667.

    Mr. Hamer said Meta initially sought less funding, but expanded the Series A round based on investor demand.

    Li Ka-Shing’s Horizons Ventures, BOE Optoelectronics and private investors Tim Draper and Y Combinator partners Garry Tan and Alexis Ohanian led the round. Danhua Capital, Commodore Partners and Zappos.com Inc. founder Tony Hsieh’s Vegas Tech Fund also participated.

    The infusion will be used to hire more hardware and software engineers and nurture a developer community to create applications designed to run atop the headsets. The funding will also help bankroll roadshows, hackathons and developer workshops.

    “We’ve got traction, we’re shipping a product and now we’ve got capital to ramp this and move it forward,” Mr. Hamer said. “This turns your whole world into your display. In five years we want to replace your computers and cellphones. The dream is to make it the next form factor.”

    Write to Lizette Chapman at lizette.chapman@wsj.com. Follow her on Twitter at @@lizette_chapman

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