AR startup Meta displays 'Toy Story' on a piece of paper

At startup incubator Y Combinator's Summer Demo Day, the augmented reality company catches the crowd's attention with its vision of the future of computing.

Nick Statt Former Staff Reporter / News
Nick Statt was a staff reporter for CNET News covering Microsoft, gaming, and technology you sometimes wear. He previously wrote for ReadWrite, was a news associate at the social-news app Flipboard, and his work has appeared in Popular Science and Newsweek. When not complaining about Bay Area bagel quality, he can be found spending a questionable amount of time contemplating his relationship with video games.
Nick Statt
2 min read
Meta CTO Raymond Lo demoes a pair of his company's augmented reality glasses at the Y Combinator Summer Demo Day at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif. Nick Statt/CNET

With the the press of a button, Meta's CTO Raymond Lo overlaid a trailer for Pixar's "Toy Story 3" that perfectly fit inside the piece of white paper he was holding in front of him. Using what is right now a bulky, cerulean headset -- it's going to get smaller, and sexier, Meta says -- Lo was able to fix the video onto the piece of paper and move it back and forth. He even began bending the sheet, and the video bent too.

This is what Meta's CEO Meron Gribetz called the future of computing onstage at Y Combinator's Summer Demo Day at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif., Tuesday. Pacing across the stage with a manic intensity -- most of the event's other 48 presenters simply stood in place -- Gribetz jokingly took shots at Google Glass while enthralling the crowd with a Steve Jobs-like intensity.

And an Apple-esque level of ambition is exactly what Gribetz is channeling. A neuroscience grad student who got his augmented reality chops working with the Israeli secret service, Gribetzhas likened his company's initial prototype to the Apple I and the the company's computing ambitions to that of Steve Wozniak and Jobs.

How exactly does Meta work? By using far more sensors than your standard Google Glass and the hardware guts of a full-blown laptop, the headset constantly 3D-maps its surroundings, which lets it even shift to an overhead view and allows users to manipulate the objects it's mapping on top of, like Lo did with the piece of paper.

The goal is to replace the current computing ecosystem with one more like Tony Snark's holographic home interface in "Iron Man." From what I saw, the company is making measurable headway in bringing aspects of the real world into a 3D interface that we can interact with in surprising ways. Other examples of the headset's capabilities involve physically manipulating the various slices of an MRI scan that Lo had mapped onto the same piece of paper that was previously streaming "Toy Story" and "Iron Man" trailers.

Meta blew past its Kickstarter funding goal last June, and Gribetz announced on stage at the Y Combinator event that his company had sold $500,000 worth of devices in the last week alone. But Meta has a lot of hurdles to overcome -- such as making its tech more useful and inexpensive while toning down the dork factor --before it can take augmented reality to the mainstream.

Google has been going to great lengths to accomplish this with Glass by tweaking the design of its wearable device and even getting a 12-page spread in the iconic September issue of Vogue this fall.

Right now, the device is sold for $667. But a smaller, cheaper, and more consumer-friendly model is on the way sometime next year. Check out the company's concept video showcasing its vision for the future of augmented reality computing.