3D Sensor Startup Occipital Closes $13M Series B, Plans Expansion

Occipital, a San Francisco startup founded by two University of Michigan alums, announced this week that it has raised $13 million in a Series B round. Participating in the round is a previous investor, Colorado-based Foundry Group, as well as Intel Capital, Shea Ventures, and Grishin Robotics.

Adam Rodnitzky, Occipital’s vice president of marketing, said the round was “a long time coming.” Occipital chose to raise the money now because it wants to accelerate its growth plans.

Occipital’s technology relates to the emerging field of spatial computing, which allows devices to interact with the 3D world. For instance, Rodnitzky said, spatial computing is used in virtual reality, augmented reality, and 3D scanning and printing. The company has developed something called a structure sensor, a piece of hardware that plugs into a tablet and allows the user to capture 3D models or images in order to map the surrounding area. “It allows any device to have a real-time understanding of the 3D environment and translate that,” he explained.

Though 3D sensor technology has been around for a little while, the sensors have been expensive—typically between $5,000 and $50,000 per sensor, Rodnitzky said. “Ours costs $379, and it performs as well or better than traditional 3D scanners,” he added.

Rodnitzky said the structure sensor can be used in both consumer and enterprise applications. His brother uses it to capture “little 3D statues” of his two sons as they’re growing up, a futuristic version of the old practice of drawing lines on the wall to record a child’s height as they age. Rodnitzky used the structure sensor to capture his old childhood bedroom before his parents turned it into a study. In the future, he plans to load it into Oculus Rift and satisfy his craving for nostalgia.

Rodnitzky said the company wasn’t expecting some of the enterprise uses consumers have found for the structure sensor. It’s especially popular with 3D printing enthusiasts who don’t have a firm grasp on computer-assisted design software, he said: “You can capture things from the real world and make a perfect replica using a 3D printer. We’re seeing people use it to set up kiosks in malls and do 3D portrait studios.”

Occipital’s structure sensor technology is also a hit with virtual reality game designers and the medical community. “It’s taking off like wildfire in prosthetics, wound care, custom orthotics, and custom-fit eyeglasses,” Rodnitzky said.

Achin Bhowmik, vice president of Intel’s New Technology Group and general manager of its Perceptual Computing Group, said in a press release that his company invested in Occipital because its “work in 3D computer vision is an important building block for the future of interactive computing. Our investment underscores that as computing devices with 3D sensing proliferate, the importance of this technology will rapidly grow.”

Rodnitzky said Occipital has competitors, though he pointed out that Google’s Project Tango, which is developing similar hardware and software, launched six months after Occipital’s structure sensor came on the market. But because it’s still early days in the spatial computing world, Rodnitzky said companies working in the industry are more “genial” than those in other technology sectors. “Everyone is working toward the same goal, so we all see each other at trade shows and compare notes about what we’re working on,” he said.

Occipital was founded in 2008 by Jeff Powers and Vikas Reddy, who met while attending the University of Michigan. Reddy had recently finished his PhD, and Powers decided to quit pursuing his doctorate in order to join Reddy in forming the company. Occipital’s first product, an app called Red Laser that turned a smartphone into a barcode scanner, was bought by eBay in 2010 and has been downloaded more than 30 million times. Its second product, an app that allows users to take 3D panoramic photos, has been downloaded more than seven million times.

Rodnitzky said Occipital’s goal is to remain at the forefront of spatial computing, and in order to do that, it needs to grow quickly. More than a third of the 20-person Occipital team is from Michigan—including Fetchnotes co-founder Alex Schiff, who came on board after Fetchnotes was acquired by Driftt last year.

A Midwestern sensibility dominates Occipital’s culture, and Rodnitzky said the company wants to keep it that way as it gears up to expand later this year. (He encouraged Michiganders interested in a career with Occipital to check out its jobs page.)

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