Softbank buys into Improbable UK cloud VR startup

The technology incubation activities of Japanese conglomerate Softbank show no sign of slowing after it pumped $502 million into UK cloud VR startup Improbable.

Virtual reality is fast becoming more than just a futuristic gimmick, with the likes of Facebook perceiving it as a new frontier of human interaction. Improbable specialises in using cloud-based distributed computing for the cleation of virtual worlds that can be used not just for MMO gaming but other virtual environments and even real-world simulations.

Softbank just loves a forward-looking UK tech company, as shown by its acquisition of ARM, and its CEO Masayoshi Son has made it clear that he’s more interested in the future than the present and is taking Softbank on that journey whether its shareholders like it or not.

“Beyond gaming, this new form of simulation on a massive scale has the potential to help us make better decisions about the world we live in,” said Softbank MD Deep Nishar. “Improbable’s technology will help us explore disease, improve cities, understand economies and solve complex problems on a previously unimaginable scale. Along with Machine Learning and IoT, Improbable’s distributed computation technology represents a critical next frontier in computing.”

The company’s signature product is SpacialOS, the aforementioned distributed operating system. Distributed computing enables the harnessing of multiple computing resources into a kind of hive mind, providing far greater computational power than any one system. This is the kind of thing required if you’re going to simulate an open world environment.

“The global games market is already huge, and we believe that far more growth is possible,” said Improbable CEO Herman Narula. “The kinds of games enabled by SpatialOS – multiplayer games allowing players to form meaningful relationships with games worlds and with each other – will be category-defining, and attract new audiences.

“This investment reflects the potential size and importance of the market for this next generation of games and, ultimately, how massive-scale virtual worlds could become fundamental to how society works. SoftBank is a perfect partner for us, with many complementary investments in their portfolio. This investment will allow us to take the big, bold steps needed to fully realise our vision.

“We believe that the next major phase in computing will be the emergence of large-scale virtual worlds which enrich human experience and change how we understand the real world. At Improbable we have spent the last few years building the foundational infrastructure for this vision.”

This is thought to be one of the largest pieces of series B (i.e. the second round of) funding ever received by a UK startup. The company was only formed five years ago by a couple of Cambridge computer science students and Softbank’s investment now values it at over $1 billion. Nice.

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