Facebook VR firm buys Strathclyde University spin-out

Picture courtesy of Oculus

A Strathclyde University spin-out has been bought by the Facebook-owned virtual reality firm Oculus. The company, mLED, has developed a new generation of LED technology; ultra-bright, lower power micro displays for use in ‘near-to-eye’, ‘head-up’ and wearable products.

It was spun out from Strathclyde’s Institute of Photonics in 2010 and backed by £1.15m from investors, including the Braveheart Group, the Scottish Investment Bank, Strathclyde University and mLED board members. Last summer, a financial news website reported that Braveheart had agreed to sell its stake in mLED “to a large US based technology company”.

The deal, estimated to have valued the company at £4.58m, was expected to be finalised towards the end of the year, but no formal announcement was made by Oculus, mLED or any of the investors. Recently, however, the LinkedIn profiles of founder Jim Bonar and other employees were changed to “at Oculus VR” – Bonar’s title is given as scientific research manager.

mLED is the second Scottish company to join the Facebook family; last May, the social media platform bought Edinburgh-based virtual reality audio firm Two Big Ears.

Oculus began as a Kickstarter campaign, that raised $2.4m in its first month, and was acquired 18 months later in 2014 by Facebook for $2bn. The company’s Rift headset and the Oculus-powered Samsung Gear VR provide, it says, “the most immersive VR experiences and environments available, from games and movie scenes, to exotic destinations and beyond”.

Over the past three years, Oculus has bought a number of VR-related technology firms, including InfiniLED, another specialist in energy efficient display technology, which was spun out of the Tyndall National Institute in Cork. The acquisition of mLED by Oculus could be part of a move into wearables featuring augmented reality. In a 2013 pitch to EIE, the technology investor showcase, Bonar spoke of the importance in wearable displays of the ability to “see information in all sunlight conditions”.

“With brightness levels at least 50 times higher than OLED displays these devices are the best choice to optimise end user experience in demanding environmental conditions,” says mLED’s promotional material. “Designed with incredibly small form factors they give next generation wearables, including augmented reality, the edge. MicroLEDs are poised to become the next big thing enabling information on the move.”