Lubricated by good food and drinks, Alex Fernandez and Maurizio Festa began chatting one day about the rise of virtual reality, an industry projected to rake in its first annual billion dollars this year. When they got on the topic of 360-degree cameras, they thought they’d found a niche.
“There’s a huge gap between what a regular consumer can afford and operate and what professionals use,” Festa says. "We started thinking about an app that would enable people to take 360 [degree] pictures that are compatible across all sorts of media. Then we thought of an accessory that would allow people to take 360 pictures from their phone.”
On bellies full of barbecue, Festa and Fernandez decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign for Vyu360, a phone accessory and social media platform they hope will help democratize the community. And people have taken notice. More than 500 backers have pledged nearly $23,000 total in the first three weeks. After all, if you can snap a photo of your burger from your phone, wouldn't it be great to include your drooling mug in the image as well?
Unless you’re a professional photographer or a hobbyist with money to spare, 360-degree cameras can be prohibitively expensive. Buyers can expect to drop anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to a few thousand. On Kickstarter, Vyu360 cameras start at just $19, which is a steal if you're willing to work with the company as it refines its product.
Vyu360’s camera accessory uses two lenses – one on the front and one on the back – each of which captures a panoramic image and then sews them together to create a single 360-degree shot. Festa admits his camera doesn’t stack up to the features or resolution of top-of-the-line devices, but he compares the Vyu360 accessory to the Rico Theta m15, which retails for $250. Regardless, the Vyu360 camera is only part of the product.
"Really, it’s the social media platform that we’re trying to create,” Fernandez explains. "You have to be really tech-savvy to be able to upload and share 360 media, and we’re trying to make that easier for people.”
"I think of Vyu360 as a media hub, comparable to the Instagram platform but for 360 images and videos,” Festa adds. The Vyu360 platform is meant to be compatible with other social media sites in the way Instagram is with Facebook.
Even after purchasing one of the more expensive cameras, photographers need a means and a place to share their content. Vyu360’s app is built to allow photographers to connect HD external cameras, to create and share images with minimal hassle. Until recently, this hasn’t been easy.
But just this month, Facebook launched Facebook360, which allows users to view and upload 360-degree images and video on their newsfeeds. Though the service seems like competition for Vyu360, Festa insists his product offers something unique with its ease and mobile functionality.
"To share 360 media on Facebook today, you need to buy expensive equipment, download, post, and edit content, as it is not possible to do it directly from your phone,” Festa explains. "Also, you must know how to inject media with 360 metadata to allow for media to be shared. Vyu360’s powerful compilers allow [you] to capture and share media at the touch of a button directly from your phone."
Many of today’s 360 cameras automatically add 360 metadata to their video files. But Festa’s point stands: The Vyu360 camera is convenient and affordable for nonprofessionals, while the platform attempts to bridge gaps in the community. "It unifies everybody,” Festa says. "If you’re a pro, you can share with your entry-level friends and professional photography friends. It puts the entire world of 360 media-sharing together.”
Vyu360 has less than a week to raise an additional $7,000 through Kickstarter, which, the business partners say, was the perfect platform to publicize their product, test the waters, earn interest from early adopters, and receive feedback from backers before pursuing a commercial launch. If their campaign is fully funded, they plan to launch by November 2016. Otherwise, they aim to bring Vyu360 to market by early next year.