The term moonshot is bandied about quite a bit lately, and with good reason. That’s because more than ever, each day holds the possibility for us in the tech world to look at our Twitter feed and say “wait, they did what?!”
The latest example is Facebook’s $2 billion pick up of Oculus VR, the virtual reality company behind the Oculus Rift headset. Zuckerberg announced the deal via status update, saying it would help the company bring Facebook users more immersive experiences.
This deal follows on Google’s acquisition of Nest, and before moves into self-driving cars, robotics and balloon-powered broadband.
As I explain at Gigaom, the reason for these big, unpredictable bets on markets that seem to come straight of out science fiction books is, unlike the previous generation of tech visionaries who largely focused on growing the domination of their core market, these leaders are just as willing to spend a significant amount of today’s war chest on securing control of new, non-adjacent markets in tomorrow’s world.
In other words, these leaders are creating the multi-faceted, diversified conglomerates of tomorrow, stepping into nascent businesses that could be $10 or $100 billion a decade from now.
While these types of new businesses and acquisitions are hard to predict because they are so out of left field, I thought I’d give it a try anyway since, after all, my column is about looking for the next billion dollar technology market.
So here goes:
Magnetic Field Motion Interfaces
One of the key areas that both companies are exploring are new machine to consumer interfaces. While Google has invested heavily in voice and inertial-based motion they, unlike Apple or Microsoft,have yet to make any big bets on free space motion interfaces.
One of the interesting new forms of free space motion detection is that of magnetic field free space motion sensing. Technology from company Sixense includes a multipoint motion tracking system for gaming as well as a product for 3D free space modeling that can do some pretty amazing things and is based on entirely different technology than that of what Microsoft uses in Kinect.
One could envision this technology being integrated with, oh I don’t know, an Oculus Rift headset?
While not exactly a new area, like robotics 3D printing is an older tech whose time has finally come. Interestingly, none of the new big tech players like Google, Facebook or even Amazon have yet to make any significant bets in this space, and there are a few companies who control a significant amount of intellectual property and have a variety of products.
Stratasys, which combined with recent acquisitions Objet (high end) and Makerbot (consumer), leads the 3D printing world in total patents and has a fully diversified product line of printers as well as services business. Following right behind is 3D Systems, which also holds significant IP as well as a hardware and services business.
It seems just a matter of time before someone takes a moonshot at 3D printing by acquiring one of these companies.
Brain to Machine Interfaces
Brain to machine interfaces are admittedly the most science-fiction of all the moonshots discussed here, but as long as these companies are looking for new ways to interface with machines, why not take the most direct route?
A technology called electroencephalography (EEG) has been in use since the 1920s, and most of the work with this technology that monitors the electrical activity along the scalp resulting from ionic currents coursing within the brain’s neurons has been centered around medical activity.
However, in recent years there have been a number of startups trying to take EEG into gaming and other consumer-facing applications. While many will bristle at the idea of Google or Facebook having direct access to their brain activity, don’t be surprised if these companies haven’t talked to Emotiv, Neurosky, InteraXon or other companies doing work in this space.