Investment in augmented reality development is one key to our industry’s success. So we thought we’d aggregate, and share a list of our industry’s “success stories”. We’d like this list to not only be about the developers that are getting venture capital funding, but the large corporations that are validating the space by investing their resources/money towards AR as well.
As you can see, the space is starting to heat up.
We’ll try to update this list regularly, so please feel free to add anything I’m missing in the comments.
Flutter Raises $1.4 Million For Gesture Recognition Tech (Link)
13th Lab raises $700,000 to build its ‘UI for reality’ (Link)
Ditto Picks Up $3 Million From August Capital, Others For Its Virtual, 3D Eyeglasses Sales Site (Link)
How To Attract Justin Timberlake: Here’s The Pitch Dekko Used To Snag The Celebrity Investor (Link)
Total Immersion gets $5.5M to expand augmented reality (Link)
Layar Augments Reality With $14M in New Funding (Link)
Tonchidot Raises $12 Million Round B, Expands Augmented Reality/Social Gaming Platform SoLAR Globally (Link)
EU backs ST-Ericsson to deliver augmented reality (Link)
Google, Apple Making Augmented Reality Cool Amid CES (Link)
Microsoft And TechStars Launch Kinect Accelerator For New Kinect-Based Startups (Link)
Qualcomm opens submissions for its $200,000 Augmented Reality Developer Challenge (Link)
Blippar raises seed funding from Qualcomm for mobile augmented reality technology (Link)
Gamma III structures first round funding of Mobilizy GmbH (Makers of Wikitude) (Link)
HP Acquires Control of Autonomy Corporation (Makers of Aurasma) (Link)
Augmented Reality App Maker CrowdOptic Scores $500,000 In New Funding (Link)
More funding news in Poland: augmented reality game ShootAR is backed by IIF (Link)
As Mobile Augmented Reality continues to evolve, it will be interesting to see (from a UI perspective) how these applications will show Augmented information integrated with the live mobile camera feed. Cities are one natural environment for this and we’ve already seen how Layar is allowing people to see how the Berlin Wall looked, where it was placed, etc. This is fine when there might be open space but how do you show the past on existing structures? While browsing my RSS feeds, I came across these amazing photos from English Russia (image above) which are combining imagery to show elements of the city in the past with the city in the present. An iPhone app called Streetmuseum, created by the Museum of London, already partially accomplishes this by showing historical images in select areas of London (image below.)
Will this ultimately be how Augmented Reality will overlay information, imagery and video on existing structures? I’m curious to everybody’s else thoughts on the matter so welcome comments below or on Twitter @Kobrakai.
This post originally ran on ReadWriteWeb on Friday, May 7th. You can view the original article here.
I’m starting to think that the Augmented Reality industry is very close to developing a Jan Brady complex. If you know what a “Jan Brady complex” is, then skip to the next paragraph. For those who didn’t grown up with the 1970s-era television show The Brady Bunch, a Jan Brady complex refers to the middle sister Jan Brady who constantly complained that her older sister Marcia received all the attention. Still with me? Good.
Guest author Matthew Szymczyk is the CEO and founder of Zugara, an interactive marketing agency that consults Fortune 500 brands – including Lexus, Sony PlayStation, Reebok and Toyota – on their strategic utilization of emerging media and technology. Zugara also develops its own proprietary Augmented Reality solutions and technologies. Video demos can be found here.
This idea came about through conversations with people in the AR industry, and also watching presentations and discussions from just about every high profile name in the biz. Some of the thought leadership and insight into AR and its future is just mind blowing. But therein (partially) lies the problem. People in the AR industry (ourselves included at Zugara) tend to talk more about the what ifs than the how and when.
How can AR be monetized right now? If not now, when?
When will AR start showcasing true utility and practicality over endless gimmicks?
How and when will AR become integrated into our daily lives?
Most of these questions are discussed from the what-if end, which results in a lack of investment into the AR industry. Despite the hype for AR, social gaming services like Zynga, location-based-services like Foursquare, and a host of other emerging media and technologies are garnering all the VC and startup capital. So why does AR still have so little respect from the investment community while these other emerging technologies get all the monetary love? Why is Marcia getting all the attention while Jan isn’t? Having met with a few VCs, here are my thoughts:
AR overall is cool but also seems very gimmicky. This hasn’t been helped by the recent onslaught of marketing-based AR initiatives that have no long term value and are really just quick PR grabs by brands. Though there is value in owning the proprietary tech – and, in turn, licensing revenue – it’s not sustained revenue that will attract major investment.
Despite AR being a hot technology for almost two years now, there’s very little in regards to stats, analytics or other measures to show that AR itself is a technology that helps to increase purchase intent and decision-making, raise brand awareness and so on. Where are all the AR leaders with case studies on past campaigns and general AR stats?
In VCs’ eyes AR is still struggling to break from the academic and research realm and into bona fide businesses. As a result, you’ll commonly hear this from VC’s: “AR is still too early stage.” Really? More early stage than Foursquare?
To break out of the Jan Brady complex, the AR industry must be able to define, from a investor point of view, what Augmented Reality is. Is it a technology that will be integrated into location-based-services platforms like Foursquare, or is it a platform that will incorporate location-based services and real-time ads? Or will it be a hybrid of the two? That is a key question since there’s quite a big difference between a technology that’s cool and a technology that can be monetized.
Searching for other emerging technologies and efforts to monetize them garners the following results:
Do the same search on Google for “Augmented Reality Monetization” and you get 28,000 results – most of which direct you to general mobile marketing-based monetization efforts. The only recent article of note is around Layar and its plan to monetize its technology through a store.
I’ve never seen more passionate people at conferences than those who are 100% behind AR (and I’ve been to a lot of conferences over the years for new and emerging technologies). But what we as an industry need to do is to start connecting the dots better for not only investors, but for companies that are looking for more than a spinning 3D model off a marker. Once companies start seeing the true value and utility in AR then there will be kind of long term investment that will connect the dots for VC and jump-start investment capital.
Until the AR industry can start proving that it’s an emerging technology of the future that can be monetized in the present, every time someone complains about the lack of respect all I’m going to hear is “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!”
I write this post realizing that if I were to title it, “The Top 20 Augmented Reality Apps That Will Totally Change Every Aspect Of Your Life,” that it would get way more hits, and would probably be tweeted about nonstop for the next three days. Thing is, in reality, not one truly life changing app exists yet, outside of a special effects lab. It seems, though, that no one in the blogosphere really cares. Augmented Reality is the sensationalist tech headline of 2009.
AR developers can’t change the hype cycle, but they can position themselves to withstand the upcoming trough of disillusionment. I think it will come with the iPhone 3.1 launch, when users find that the mobile AR tech isn’t quite at the level it’s advertised to be. So, how does a developer set themselves apart from the sea of wannabe AR upstarts? Here are a few suggestions:
Develop either your own AR tech or unique implementation of existing tech
If I wanted to, I could find someone to create a 3D model and put on a marker for less than $500. No AR developer is going to survive, in the long run, if they provide a product that can be reproduced by an offshore company, for a fraction of the price. This will soon include GPS/Compass based AR, as an open source toolkit is already available.
At Zugara, we’re busy creating web based, core frameworks, as well as new implementations of current frameworks, with a focus on practical applications. Companies with this mindset will win out in the long run, because those focusing most of their efforts on getting short term, viral publicity won’t have a viable product when the novelty of Augmented Reality wears off in a few months.
Don’t post videos promising more than you can currently give a live demo of
I put Layar 2.0 on the company G1 development phone yesterday. It’s a good app for what it does, but like all GPS/Compass based mobile apps, in my opinion, it isn’t worth the “OMFG this is AMAZING” blog posts that it’s getting. I’m confident that when the mass populace gets a hold of these types of apps, there might be a novelty to them in the beginning, but no one in their right mind will use them over a Google Maps implementation.
I, like many people, have been watching the hype following Layar for many months, where it was presented as overlaying information over the real world. In reality it overlays things in such an inaccurate manner that the camera feed is a completely unnecessary component of the program. This is nothing against the program itself, since the hardware technology doesn’t really permit any more functionality than is offered. I will, however, point a finger at how Layar was lacking in pre-release, live use video demos, since in the long run, the fostering of over expectation of a product’s abilities hurts the brand behind it. I believe that this is what will happen to most of the companies focusing on iPhone 3.1 AR.
In order to get around this problem, the smart AR developer clearly marks a video that they can’t reproduce in a live demo as being a concept or a work in progress. An even smarter developer never releases any promotional videos without a matching live run video. Following this rule will present the company as being more legitimate than those just looking to get some press.
Note: Ahead of possible comments, I’ll acknowledge that Zugara’s Webcam Social Shopper only has a promo video available to the public. This is because it was written as an API for clothing retailers to utilize with their product database. A fully working demo, with a sample database, is regularly demoed to clients.
Think outside of the box
Rather than repeat myself, for my reasoning behind moving away from visual examples, check out my earlier post on eye candy AR.
Augmented Reality is a visually amazing thing the first time you see it, and I think that this forces many people’s creativity towards visual implementations (including map overlays, since they don’t really provide any more functionality than an overhead implementation). This doesn’t mean, on order to be ahead of the curve, that it’s necessary to create totally new forms of AR from the ground up. In fact, I’m confident that the really exciting implementations, over the next few months, will be a mixing of object/marker recognition based AR with social networking tech.
I’m sure someone will read that and say, “TAT already did that with Augmented ID,” except that I haven’t seen a live demo video of it, so in my book, it’s a concept project only and holds as much weight as Minority Report. Zugara’s game, CannonBallz, on the other hand, even though it’s simpler version of AR is motion tracking and 2D overlays, uses Facebook Connect to share game photos. It gives users an interactive glimpse into what will be available in the near future for AR.
Overall, what I’m trying to get across is simply to be responsible when conceptualizing, developing and promoting your AR products, because pretty soon the public is going to be demanding substance over swagger, and right now there’s a whole lot of swagger going around.
The promotion video for Layar was (UPDATE: changed "a post production job" to "a completely controlled environment demo that can not be reproduced by the end user") that heightened many peoples' expectations. To what extent is debatable.
TAT’s Augmented ID is another example of a product that many people think is already at the proof of concept stage, even though there is no evidence that it is anything more than a post production video.
This week, Layar, a mobile augmented reality browser for Android phones launched globally to an incredible amount of excitement in the tech community. So, what exactly is Layar? Well, I’ll let Mashable describe it because they can do a much more efficient job than I can:
“Layar is a Reality Browser, which means it displays real time digital meta data on top of the physical world around you, as seen through the camera of your mobile phone. Point the camera anywhere, and you’ll see layers of information on top of real world objects; these layers can be real estate info, bars and shops, tourist information, tweets from users etc. Imagine sitting in an internet cafe and seeing what the folks around you are tweeting through you camera? Well, that’s exactly how it works”.
Only, here’s the problem. That may be how it’s being pitched/positioned, but that’s not “exactly” how it will work when consumers get their hands on it.
Let me be honest: like most interactive marketers, when I first read about this tech I felt like Steve Martin (in “The Jerk”) when the new phone books showed up. My mind was swimming with possibilities – I mean, think about all the ways we could use AR to provide real value to consumers. Think of the amazing experiences we could create! Then, I talked to our Senior Software Engineer who unceremoniously brought me back down to earth with a “thud”. The problem, as it turns out, is not with the software that’s being developed (as I firmly believe that companys like Layar deserve a serious “hat-tip” for pushing the industry forward) but with the hardware (i.e. the phones) that consumers will be running these technologies on. The fact is the hardware just isn’t accurate enough to deliver on the types of precise experiences that are being showcased/promised in videos around the net. Here are the two primary reasons:
THE GPS – No matter what handset you’re using, we aren’t dealing with military grade GPS. The fact is, even in the best conditions (please note the word “best”), civilian GPS is accurate up to 50 feet. With that in mind we spent the other day playing with Layar on a Google G1 (note: the phone’s hardware is not Google’s but HTC’s) to see what we were dealing with, and we noticed something. Typically we experienced a GPS accuracy level of somewhere between 100 to 250 feet. Now, remember, that could go 250 feet to the left, right, forward, or backwards… So really, the device was telling us that the piece of data that was overlaid on the phone’s screen was somewhere within a 31,400 square foot (if accuracy was 100 feet) to 196,250 square foot (if accuracy was 250 feet) area. That means you won’t be able to swing your phone around an Internet café and match a tweet with a face. In fact, you can’t even safely assume that the person whose tweets you’re reading is even in the café with you (not to mention you may feel a touch silly in an internet café holding up your phone and spinning around anyways, but that’s a conversation for another day).
THE IPHONE 3GS’ COMPASS – As of right now you can’t get AR apps on the iPhone but that’s going to change next month. So we should probably discuss this now as the the new phone’s compass will be a major component of most GPS related executions. Let’s check out the screenshot below. Do you see that “V” coming out from the user’s location? That “V” indicates that they are facing somewhere within those parameters. So, if the device doesn’t know exactly where you’re facing, how can you tell if the real estate data you’re looking at is actually for the house you’re viewing through your phone’s camera? Not to mention that as you get farther away, the margin of error increases. So that subway station you think you’re walking towards… it could actually end up being three blocks over and two blocks up. And that’s just what you want when wandering around New York right? A nice game of “hot or cold”.
At the end of the day, if the hardware can’t accurately tell: where you are, where the data that’s being overlaid is anchored, or where you’re facing… how reliable and useful an experience can you possibly have?
Now, you may be thinking that those two inaccuracies noted above aren’t that bad. Certainly, when you’re driving a car you never really noticed any issues with your GPS, right? Here’s the thing, an exit ramp being a couple hundred feet off is not a big deal. Between the street signs, the fact that there’s only one ramp in the area, and your speed, you just don’t notice the inaccuracies. But, if you’re going to overlay data on a precise location (e.g. real estate information about a house, or information about a city’s historical landmarks) via a phone’s video screen, those inaccuracies make a huge difference in the consumer experience. And here’s the corker, if at the end of the day the data isn’t accurate/reliable why will consumers use it (outside of that initial “this is cool/different” moment that one has the first time they try it)? So, I guess the real question is why would a consumer continue to use it?
Now, don’t get me wrong; my hope is that there are developers out there that are seeing this technology and having an “A-ha!” moment. I’d love it if some fantastic and useful apps get built even with the hardware’s limitations. I’m starting to doubt that it will happen given what I’ve been discussing, but a guy can always hope right? All I’m trying to do today is manage your expectations, because the experiences that are being promised are not what you’re going to experience when you get the application in your hands.
So, enough blabbering out of me, what do you think?
Augmented Reality has officially met the blogosphere. On Twitter alone, there can be as many as fifty posts per hour linking to demonstrations. Our beloved technology is leaving the playpen of developer forums and moving to the boardrooms of major corporations, but at what cost? For, with the exception of mobile GPS/Compass applications like Layar and TwittAround, most recognition based demos hitting the mainstream (that aren’t post production viedo effects for “concept” pieces) have one thing in common – they’re just browser based eye candy.
For now, visual examples get your company recognition. In a genre that has few applications accessible to the public, the “wow” effect goes a long way. In a few months, though, AR will be somewhat common in the mainstream. The average person is going to have the same mind set that people in the know about the technology already have – why waste the time printing a marker just to see a cheesy 3D model pop out? The obvious direction for developers attempting to position themselves in AR is to begin making fully interactive applications, and the tech is available.
Imagine the ability to go to a URL, launch a Flash application, and control a character through an AR adventure game, or drive a car with nothing more than a paper steering wheel. Or shop online? Right now, while most platforms don’t have practical uses of these concepts, Flash AR does. Flash also adds a level of consumer access unavailable to any other AR capable plug-in, in that over 85% of computers already have it installed. In essence, FLARToolkit is poised to be the dominant platform for Augmented Reality.
Most people don’t keep up with the latest AR releases, while even less know how it works, in the first place. It’s the job of the developer to enlighten others of the possibilities of Augmented Reality with Flash. When an executive says that he wants to break into AR by putting a character on a marker and having it dance around, the smart developer says, “sure, but we can do more than that.”
We Are Organized Chaos (WAOC) is Zugara’s (www.zugara.com) interactive marketing and advertising blog where we’ll be featuring some great projects and discussing upcoming trends in the digital world. Work — good and bad — will be critiqued. Hope you’ll enjoy reading our insights and thoughts on interactive.