Sunday 25 September 2016

Deal-hungry Google snaps up TCD-based virtual reality startup

Published 02/05/2015 | 02:30

Trinity College Dublin
Trinity College Dublin

Google has swooped in to buy an Irish virtual reality startup company, whose technology is to be incorporated into headsets and other futuristic devices.

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Thrive Audio, which is based in Trinity College Dublin, has filed patents to make audio systems for virtual reality and gaming headsets more realistic.

It is only the second Irish acquisition that Google, which currently sits on a cash pile of €60bn, has made.

Virtual reality is currently one of the most hyped areas in technology, with companies such as Samsung, Facebook and Google investing billions to get a lead.

The technology is of particular interest to the gaming industry, with the US headset manufacturer Oculus being sold to Facebook for €3bn last year.

Thrive's technology is the culmination of four years' research conducted by Prof Francis Boland, together with Ian Kelly, Brian O'Toole and Marcin Gorzel.

"We were originally working on audio technology and it suddenly became apparent that we had a very sophisticated viable technology," said Prof Boland. "The last 18 months have seen some tremendous advances."

Neither Prof Boland nor Google have disclosed the amount involved in the deal.

"We're excited to welcome the Thrive Audio team from the School of Engineering in Trinity College Dublin to Google," said Google. "With their ambisonic surround sound technology, we can start bringing immersive audio to virtual reality."

Prof Boland's team received €380,000 in two funding rounds from Enterprise Ireland, which does not hold any equity in the startup.

Google is currently investing in a product called 'Cardboard', which is a cheap way of accessing virtual reality applications using a phone and an inexpensive cardboard cut-out kit.

Although the technology is still at an early stage, there are already hundreds of Cardboard apps on Google's own app store.

These include practical applications such as test drives and games such as rollercoaster rides.

According to a report from Tech.eu, Google was the most active startup acquirer in Europe last year, buying eight European tech firms.

Google has the third largest cash reserve in the tech industry after Apple (€178bn) and Microsoft (€86bn).

While virtual reality hardware technology is tipped as the next big thing, social media is losing its appeal to investors.

Shares of LinkedIn, which operates the most popular social network for professionals, fell 20pc in early trading yesterday, wiping out more than $6bn of market value, after the company slashed its full-year forecast.

LinkedIn had reported its slowest quarterly revenue growth on Thursday since it went public four years ago.

The surprisingly weak results followed a similar story for Twitter on Tuesday. Twitter's stock fell by as much as 24pc, slicing about $6bn off its market value.

Even Facebook posted its slowest growth in quarterly revenue in two years last Wednesday, and its shares have fallen about five percent since.

LinkedIn cited slower revenue growth in its hiring business and a delay in recognising revenue from lynda.com - the online education company it agreed to buy last month - for its weaker results and cut in profit and revenue forecast.

In contrast to Twitter, most analysts were upbeat about LinkedIn's prospects, however.

(Additional reporting by Reuters)

Irish Independent

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