A Kiwi start-up that wants to "back up the world" and revolutionise teleconferencing has been given almost $1 million in grants to make it happen.
RealityVirtual, a Wellington-based machine-learning photogrammetry company, had now received a grant from Epic Games to support open-source 3D graphics capabilities.
• Kiwi inside Fortnite's studio: 'It's been very humbling'
• Fortnite bug gave hackers access to millions of accounts - study
• Fortnite is live again with a new map and more ways to level up
• Fortnite effect strikes again: Activision to lay off 800 workers
Simon Che De Boer, RealityVirtual director, said the US video game and software developer most famous for its online video game Fortnite, is just the latest global name to back the Kiwi start-up.
"Between Epic Games, Nvidia and Amazon Web Services we've been gifted close to a cool million in hardware, services and finances," De Boer said.
"It's a lot of money when you come from Levin and can live off noodles for a lifetime."
De Boer said it was ironic that "overseas juggernauts" had seen value in the New Zealand technology, but local industry and investors had never shown an interest.
"If you are not Weta Digital you are just completely looked over," he said.
"We've been able to do this for years with support from abroad, but we've struggled to see any local action. We are hoping they get the message now."
The money will be used to create virtual reality versions of iconic New Zealand tourism destinations and research and development in teleconferencing technology.
De Boer said the grant had arrived at a critical moment when his work to "back up the planet" by digitising iconic locations was particularly relevant during the global pandemic.
"I've been preaching virtual tourism and the importance of digitising this stuff in case of war, famine or inaccessibility," he said.
RealityVirtual can process locations which have been scanned previously and that will soon be uploaded to the Steam online game platform for free. These include a number of iconic beaches and St Matthews Cathedral.
The machine learning technology - designed to map textures and recreate 3D spaces from 2D images - is also being put to use to create an "immersive teleconference experience" to create a more human experience than current video-conferencing platforms.
De Boer said the technology creates a 3D version of a webcam image to resemble speaking to a friend through a window.
The image would be 3D depth-mapped from your 2D webcam and track your movements to change perspective in sync with your movements.
"We haven't learned how to teleport yet, so this is the next best thing," De Boer said.
The technology is in development, but RealityVirtual hopes to have an early alpha phase by June or July and wants to hire up to 20 new staff in the next six months — if more funding can be found.
"Epic Game's money goes a long way, but it doesn't go to the point that we can zoom up big. But we are confident we might see more funding from other parties," De Boer said.