Augmented Reality: Know it now before it knows you!

Imagine you are at a bus stop and behind a large advertisement of a beautiful woman rocking a bikini catches your eye. You’ve seen her on television ads and even on your desktop pop-up ads, but you can’t seem to recall her name. You forgot about the application you have on your smart-phone that is capable of finding her name just by a few taps on your phone.

You’re probably familiar with virtual reality or artificial reality but not augmented reality (hereafter AR). So what is AR? And why should you even care about it? AR is "the use of head-mounted displays ("HMDs") to overlay computer generated images onto the physical environment." In layman terms, it’s technology that enables you to see what your naked eye normally cannot. The basic idea of AR is to "superimpose graphics, audio and other sensory enhancements over a real world environment real time." You probably have seen them on TV, especially in a soccer game. After the player fails to score, the sports commentators will mention what the player should have done supporting their assertions with computer generated graphics on the actual soccer field of where the game is taking place. That’s just a short reminder. So what’s so special about it that you need to care? It’s going to be the next bing thing in the upcoming future. Having one out of ten people using a smart-phone in Korea alone with rapid growth rate, the significance of AR soars. AR technology is usually embedded on a device that has a camera function to scan. Before it becomes widely applied in all societies, you should be able to understand its purpose and make use of it.

Although there are many aspects of AR, this piece is focused on the basic function of AR – facial recognition, which few companies have already developed the technology. Polar Rose, a company from Sweden, built a facial recognition software that identifies people in any public pictures on the net. The service was later shut down as they were acquired by Apple for USD $29 million in September 2010. Another competitor to Polar Rose, Viewdle, based in California, has been focusing on a visual recognition platform for smart-phones with heavy integration of social networking sites. Viewdle, the "largest independent company in computer vision," raised $10 million from retailer Best buy, chip maker Qualcomm, and the Blackberry Partners Fund. The remaining $2.5 million and $1.25 million came from venture capitals Anthem Venture Partners and Western Technology Investment, respectively. As for a local counterpart, Olaworks offers the same technology as Polar Rose and Viewdle, though yet to be known in a global scale. They received $4 million equity funding from Skylake Incuvest, Intel Capital, and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati ("WSGR"), a prestigious Silicon Valley-headquartered law firm. What these ventures all have in common is that they selected to develop a promising platform that possesses potential for the future that links between real-life and online worlds..

Olaworks has an edge by being based in a country where it happens to be an ideal test bed for new mobile application. Relationships with Samsung, LG and HTC enable Olaworks to have more upfront access to smart-phone users. Olaworks has strong research and development team, most of them out of from KAIST, an institution full of the top brains of Korea equivalent with MIT. Olaworks also has high penetration rate in Korea with the fact that there are 4 million smart-phone users in Korea and 1.8 million Olawork apps are already downloaded for both Android and iPhone OS. One of the early investors of Olaworks, Skylake Incuvest, was founded by a former Minister of Information & Communications and ex-Samsung Electronic’s president, Mr. Chin Daejae. Such investors allows Olaworks to expedite a firm base to develop and compete in the global computer vision industry. Olaworks will be transcending into an independent platform that may bring about a change in the AR era competing with their other peers. Olaworks is now in preparation to expand to the global market with a more active stance looking forward to seeing their strong presence in the market in the coming years.

(This article was developed with H.G. Byun, a publicist of KingsBay Capital.)