14 November 2014

Global brands see benefits in Augmented Reality from Atlantic Bridge-backed Metaio

Paul Murray, Investment Director, Atlantic Bridge. 14-10-2014.

It’s two years now since Atlantic Bridge invested in Metaio, a German software company that has been developing brilliant AR (Augmented Reality) solutions for over a decade. Set up by two PhD graduates from Munich University, Thomas Alt and Peter Meier, the firm’s deep computer visioning technology underpins an increasing number of applications so it was no surprise that they attracted a lot interest from investors. But the guys made it clear that they wanted to stay independent and grow the businesses themselves.

Demonstration of Augmented Reality at the InsideAR Conference in Munich

My colleague Kevin Dillon changed their minds. It took over two years and shows how important relationships are in this business. He built their trust and explained why Atlantic Bridge is different, how we forge long-term partnerships with client companies based on sharing our entrepreneurial expertise. It’s a measure of our success, not just that they let us onboard but that Thomas now refers to us as “part of the family”. He talks about the active role we’ve played in developing a strategy for expansion and how we added value to the business by introducing them to strategic customers and identifying crucial senior hires, all key parts of the Atlantic Bridge strategy.

This innovative German firm is competing successfully against companies such as Qualcomm in market share. It’s a great example of how a company can steal a lead with fewer resources if it has more innovation. With 110,000 developers working on the Metaio platform, and five times more applications in development than this time last year, you get a real sense of a company empowering creative people, giving them the tools to dream up applications that were unimaginable just a few years ago.

Augmented Reality being demonstrated at the Metaio InsideAR Conference in Munich

I was one of around 1,000 delegates at the company’s recent Munich event, InsideAR, where the depth and range of innovation was evident for all to see. AR is one of those areas of technology that has been gathering pace for a decade and judging by the conference is now reaching a new level of maturity with more blue chips using the technology.

Thomas said in his keynote, “We are engaging with global brands who are using computer vision and AR for very forward looking applications. In the last 1o months we have delivered more than 40 very unique projects to these top brands.”

He talked about these brands as “lighthouse customers” for product development. You can see his point. In the last year there has been a staggering 9.7 million downloads of an IKEA app that Metaio helped build, making it one of the most successful marketing applications. You capture items of furniture from pages of the IKEA catalogue with a smartphone or tablet camera then use AR to see what they would look like in your own home.

The latest version of its platform, Metaio 6, delivers spectacular refinements that will make the IKEA AG experience ever more powerful. New sensing capabilities for 3D cameras will ensure objects have the same shadows as the real world environment, that virtual objects won’t overlap with the real and spoil the effect.

IKEA makes virtual room design easier with augmented reality

Other Metaio customers include SAP, Intel and Mitsubishi – I suspect that enterprise adoption is going to drive the market initially with consumer adoption to follow. We saw ingenious demonstrations of here-and-now applications at the conference that are already helping businesses become more productive and efficient.

SAP uses AR and 3D modeling for warehousing picking, an application that Metaio has been developing at pace. Smarter maintenance is another hot area. Out in the field, rooky engineers are instantly upskilled through AR that delivers virtual notes, detailed maintenance histories as well as work and safety information.

These real-life business cases begin to explain why Metaio has been so successful in a relatively short period of time – and why AR is going to continue to grow to become a very big, high-value sector.

Smartphones, tablets and Google-type glasses are the enabling technologies for end users. When they are supplemented with 3D cameras and higher resolution capabilities, the AR experience will be even more immersive. All the major technology companies such as Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook are investing heavily in a space that Atlantic Bridge identified as a key growth area a number of years ago. Another firm we funded, Movidius, is also already exploring this area, developing software and chips that power computational cameras in mobile and wearable devices to make the AR experience even better. We expect to make further investments in this area as the market grows.