AR glasses company Tilt Five raised $7.5 million from investors in a Series A round led by SIP Global.
The investment marks a major moment for Jeri Ellsworth’s patented approach to tabletop augmented reality. For those just catching up, Ellsworth is an electrical engineer who worked at Valve in the early days of its VR and AR research. She developed a novel approach to AR delivery with a pair of tracked glasses that project light onto a special retroreflective surface. The result is a field of view for AR that’s on par with modern day VR headsets — as long as you’re looking at things with the glasses that are backed by that special reflective surface. You’re also not blocked off from the real world like a VR headset, so you’re able to see your friends around the table with you through the AR glasses.
If you’re wearing these glasses an otherwise still and flat board game could transform into one filled with life, movement and the sense of seeing real depth below anything within the board’s borders. An expansion piece extending the reflective surface vertically could even add some height to the virtual content displayed by Tilt Five.
A Kickstarter project for Tilt Five raised $1.7 million in October 2019, with delivery of the first PC-powered AR glasses kits originally promised to arrive in mid-2020. That timeline has come and gone with the global pandemic affecting hardware development timelines everywhere. In its funding announcement, the company wrote that it was ramping up production and would “commence shipping kits to Kickstarter backers and pre-order customers over the coming two quarters.”
Tilt Five is still offering its XE kits for pre-order, promising a pair of AR glasses, game board and wand for $359. Sometime in 2021 the company is planning to sell “Social Kits” with “3 AR glasses, 3 wands and a gameboard,” according to the announcement. Tilt Five’s investment round is led by SIP Global Partners with SIP’s Jeffrey Smith joining the startup’s board. BITKRAFT Ventures, Galaxy Interactive, Logitech, and Ken Birdwell participated in the round. The money will be used “to hire additional employees, build partnerships, and expand available content.”
“Our team has been so small for the last few years,” Ellsworth wrote in a direct message. “I’m so happy we’ll be able to bring on some more folks.”
$7.5 million isn’t exactly a huge amount compared to the hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars Rony Abovitz spent pursuing an AR dream at Magic Leap in Florida. The funding round is also half of what Ellsworth’s previous company, CastAR, raised in 2015 from Playground Global while working on what amounts to an earlier generation of Tilt Five’s technology.
“The environment for XR startups is much different these days,” Ellsworth wrote. “There was this notion that this new market would evolve much faster than other markets in the past. Companies were raising/spending billions and making claims that within a few short years they’d completely replace all the ways we do our computing. I can’t point to a time in tech history where any tech change happened this fast. It was like everyone was ignoring Moore’s law and forgetting how difficult it is to change consumer habits. This is why we’re in a good position right now (post-hype) with a very practical system designed specifically for entertainment, with a clear use case and marketing message that customers will understand.”
Tilt Five still needs to deliver on its Kickstarter promises of a great tabletop gaming experience. And even then? The company’s path to success is unclear beyond successful delivery. Still, if Tilt Five does find any measure of success in 2021 or beyond it might represent one of the most remarkable underdog stories in modern tech history.