Siemens and Atomico back Finnish start-up targeting VR for heavy industry

German industrial giant Siemens has invested in a virtual reality start-up aiming to bring the technology to heavy industry and provide a European rival to the likes of Facebook’s Oculus.

Siemens joined the $31m (£24m) funding round in Varjo, led by Atomico, one of London’s top venture capital firms. Varjo, a two year-old Finnish start-up, has developed a virtual reality headset that offers human-eye levels of detail. 

The start-up is working with the the likes industry giants including Airbus, Audi, Saab and Volkswagen to optimise virtual reality for their businesses.

The funding is a major vote of confidence in a European challenge to Facebook-owned Oculus, which makes the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, and Magic Leap, which is building a set to augmented reality goggles.

The start-up claims the level of detail its headset gives offers an additional level of precision with its virtual reality imaging. It offers in the 50 megapixels of detail per eye, 20 times that of a consumer device.

Varjo said it is planning to expand its team from 80 to around 200. It will launch the first version of its headset later this year. The start-up said that by using virtual reality for precision design, industrial giants can save millions of pounds on design processes on new products.

The company is made up of former Nokia and Microsoft engineers, many of whom worked on Microsoft’s own Hololens headset. 

„It has been said it would take 10 years to achieve human eye resolution,“ said Varjo chief executive Urho Konttori. „Siemens is the leader in computer aided design. They wanted to be part of this journey with us. We had a huge opportunity in the strategic space to take in investors but we saw the best opportunity with them. We are now kicking off a platform to allow design within the virtual environment.“

The start-up uses dual panels for each eye in its headset, while most headsets use just one display per eye. Varijo gained the backing from Siemens‘ investment vehicle Next 47. Atomico partner and founder Niklas Zennström, one of the founders of Skype, led his firm’s investment.

Mr Konttori added: „We are happy there are VCs like Atomico in Europe. In the US there are VCs who are daring and take the leap, but when we first met Niklas and the team the deal moved very quickly.“

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