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Avatars of heads and hands communicate in virtual reality using Pluto VR’s technology. (Pluto VR Photo)

Seattle startup Pluto VR has launched its first product.

The company focuses on applications for people to communicate within virtual reality, and its technology debuted yesterday in Early Access on Steam. In a press release, the company said its application will run alongside other SteamVR apps to enable virtual face-to-face communications.

Pluto VR wants to be the application we use to talk to other people who are also wearing a virtual or augmented reality headset. The four-year-old Seattle startup is developing something like Skype or Facebook Messenger — a communication app that can run on its own, or on top of other experiences — but for virtual reality.

The Pluto VR founding team, from left to right: Jonathan Geibel, Forest Gibson, Jared Cheshier and John Vechey. (Pluto VR Photo)

Pluto lets users create their own avatar, control the opacity of each person, mute mics or make “calls” to other people without needing an avatar, and more. For now, Pluto only uses avatars that show faces and hand movements — which are trackable with headsets and accompanying controllers.

“Ultimately, we’re focused on shaping the future of face-to-face interactions in artificial spaces.We want all kinds of multi-user VR experiences to be more interactive, more collaborative, and ultimately less lonely,” Forest Gibson, co-founder of Pluto VR said in a statement.

Pluto had been running a closed alpha test as it refined the product, but the debut on Valve’s Steam platform brings it to the masses.

The company has been developing this technology since it was founded in 2014 by veterans of companies like Disney, PopCap Games, Valve, Microsoft and more. Pluto VR raised a $13.9 million round last year to ramp up R&D and continue testing its product.

GeekWire visited Pluto’s Seattle headquarters in 2016 and checked out its VR communication system. Pluto was a Seattle 10 company in 2015, and it employs 17 people at its Ballard office, which was previously occupied by pet insurance company Trupanion. It’s much too large of a building for your typical 17-person startup, but it’s perfect for Pluto given the technology it is building. The extra space and individual offices allow the company to better test its software.

Pluto VR is one of several prominent Seattle-area virtual reality startups. Tech and gaming giants like Microsoft, Facebook, Valve and more are also working on virtual and augmented reality projects in the region.

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