Архив метки: Star Trek

Banuba raises $7M to supercharge any app or device with the ability to really see you

Walking into the office of Viktor Prokopenya — which overlooks a central London park — you would perhaps be forgiven for missing the significance of this unassuming location, just south of Victoria Station in London. While giant firms battle globally to make augmented reality a “real industry,” this jovial businessman from Belarus is poised to launch a revolutionary new technology for just this space. This is the kind of technology some of the biggest companies in the world are snapping up right now, and yet, scuttling off to make me a coffee in the kitchen is someone who could be sitting on just such a company.
Regardless of whether its immediate future is obvious or not, AR has a future if the amount of investment pouring into the space is anything to go by.
In 2016 AR and VR attracted $2.3 billion worth of investments (a 300 percent jump from 2015) and is expected to reach $108 billion by 2021 — 25 percent of which will be aimed at the AR sector. But, according to numerous forecasts, AR will overtake VR in 5-10 years.
Apple is clearly making headway in its AR developments, having recently acquired AR lens company Akonia Holographics and in releasing iOS 12 this month, it enables developers to fully utilize ARKit 2, no doubt prompting the release of a new wave of camera-centric apps. This year Sequoia Capital China, SoftBank invested $50 million in AR camera app Snow. Samsung recently introduced its version of the AR cloud and a partnership with Wacom that turns Samsung’s S-Pen into an augmented reality magic wand.
The IBM/Unity partnership allows developers to integrate into their Unity applications Watson cloud services such as visual recognition, speech to text and more.
So there is no question that AR is becoming increasingly important, given the sheer amount of funding and M&A activity.

Joining the field is Prokopenya’s “Banuba” project. For although you can download a Snapchat-like app called “Banuba” from the App Store right now, underlying this is a suite of tools of which Prokopenya is the founding investor, and who is working closely to realize a very big vision with the founding team of AI/AR experts behind it.
The key to Banuba’s pitch is the idea that its technology could equip not only apps but even hardware devices with “vision.” This is a perfect marriage of both AI and AR. What if, for instance, Amazon’s Alexa couldn’t just hear you? What if it could see you and interpret your facial expressions or perhaps even your mood? That’s the tantalizing strategy at the heart of this growing company.
Better known for its consumer apps, which have been effectively testing their concepts in the consumer field for the last year, Banuba is about to move heavily into the world of developer tools with the release of its new Banuba 3.0 mobile SDK. (Available to download now in the App Store for iOS devices and Google Play Store for Android.) It’s also now secured a further $7 million in funding from Larnabel Ventures, the fund of Russian entrepreneur Said Gutseriev, and Prokopenya’s VP Capital.
This move will take its total funding to $12 million. In the world of AR, this is like a Romulan warbird de-cloaking in a scene from Star Trek.
Banuba hopes that its SDK will enable brands and apps to utilise 3D Face AR inside their own apps, meaning users can benefit from cutting-edge face motion tracking, facial analysis, skin smoothing and tone adjustment. Banuba’s SDK also enables app developers to utilise background subtraction, which is similar to “green screen” technology regularly used in movies and TV shows, enabling end-users to create a range of AR scenarios. Thus, like magic, you can remove that unsightly office surrounding and place yourself on a beach in the Bahamas…
Because Banuba’s technology equips devices with “vision,” meaning they can “see” human faces in 3D and extract meaningful subject analysis based on neural networks, including age and gender, it can do things that other apps just cannot do. It can even monitor your heart rate via spectral analysis of the time-varying color tones in your face.
It has already been incorporated into an app called Facemetrix, which can track a child’s eyes to ascertain whether they are reading something on a phone or tablet or not. Thanks to this technology, it is possible to not just “track” a person’s gaze, but also to control a smartphone’s function with a gaze. To that end, the SDK can detect micro-movements of the eye with subpixel accuracy in real time, and also detects certain points of the eye. The idea behind this is to “Gamify education,” rewarding a child with games and entertainment apps if the Facemetrix app has duly checked that they really did read the e-book they told their parents they’d read.
If that makes you think of a parallel with a certain Black Mirror episode where a young girl is prevented from seeing certain things via a brain implant, then you wouldn’t be a million miles away. At least this is a more benign version…
Banuba’s SDK also includes “Avatar AR,” empowering developers to get creative with digital communication by giving users the ability to interact with — and create personalized — avatars using any iOS or Android device.Prokopenya says: “We are in the midst of a critical transformation between our existing smartphones and future of AR devices, such as advanced glasses and lenses. Camera-centric apps have never been more important because of this.” He says that while developers using ARKit and ARCore are able to build experiences primarily for top-of-the-range smartphones, Banuba’s SDK can work on even low-range smartphones.
The SDK will also feature Avatar AR, which allows users to interact with fun avatars or create personalised ones for all iOS and Android devices. Why should users of Apple’s iPhone X be the only people to enjoy Animoji?
Banuba is also likely to take advantage of the news that Facebook recently announced it was testing AR ads in its newsfeed, following trials for businesses to show off products within Messenger.
Banuba’s technology won’t simply be for fun apps, however. Inside two years, the company has filed 25 patent applications with the U.S. patent office, and of six of those were processed in record time compared with the average. Its R&D center, staffed by 50 people and based in Minsk, is focused on developing a portfolio of technologies.
Interestingly, Belarus has become famous for AI and facial recognition technologies.
For instance, cast your mind back to early 2016, when Facebook bought Masquerade, a Minsk-based developer of a video filter app, MSQRD, which at one point was one of the most popular apps in the App Store. And in 2017, another Belarusian company, AIMatter, was acquired by Google, only months after raising $2 million. It too took an SDK approach, releasing a platform for real-time photo and video editing on mobile, dubbed Fabby. This was built upon a neural network-based AI platform. But Prokopenya has much bolder plans for Banuba.
In early 2017, he and Banuba launched a “technology-for-equity” program to enroll app developers and publishers across the world. This signed up Inventain, another startup from Belarus, to develop AR-based mobile games.
Prokopenya says the technologies associated with AR will be “leveraged by virtually every kind of app. Any app can recognize its user through the camera: male or female, age, ethnicity, level of stress, etc.” He says the app could then respond to the user in any number of ways. Literally, your apps could be watching you.
So, for instance, a fitness app could see how much weight you’d lost just by using the Banuba SDK to look at your face. Games apps could personalize the game based on what it knows about your face, such as reading your facial cues.
Back in his London office, overlooking a small park, Prokopenya waxes lyrical about the “incredible concentration of diversity, energy and opportunity” of London. “Living in London is fantastic,” he says. “The only thing I am upset about, however, is the uncertainty surrounding Brexit and what it might mean for business in the U.K. in the future.”
London may be great (and will always be), but sitting on his desk is a laptop with direct links back to Minsk, a place where the facial recognition technologies of the future are only now just emerging.

Banuba raises $7M to supercharge any app or device with the ability to really see you

Scanadu Raises $2M: “Check Your Body As Often As Your Email”


Meet Scanadu, an innovative health tech startup I daresay you’ll be hearing a lot more from in the future. It’s not the easiest of tasks explaining what the company is building at this point, but let’s call it a personal, mobile, auto-diagnostics product – they refer to it as a Medical Tricorder.

Founded in January 2011 by a team of entrepreneurs with diverse backgrounds, the roots of Scanadu actually go way back. One of the company’s founders, and its chief executive officer, is Walter De Brouwer – something of a legend here in Belgian entrepreneurial circles, and beyond.

He says he had the basic idea for a personal health monitoring service back in 1999 when he was working at the renowned Starlab research institute, which he jump-started alongside MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte. And from watching Star Trek.

“Sci-fi stories are business plans in disguise,” De Brouwer tells me, referring to the invention of the mobile phone, which was inspired by the Star Trek communicator. “I’ve tried to build the Tricorder once before, in 1999 at Starlab, but the technology was too immature.”

De Brouwer says the idea resurfaced in his mind in 2006, when his son was hospitalized for 3 months following a serious accident. So he conjured up the idea of using one’s smartphone as a personal doctor of sorts, leveraging many of the things modern cellphones can do to help people auto-diagnose and manage many of the easily identifiable health conditions that may arise.

Scanadu’s first product, the ‘Medical Tricorder’, is built specifically with parents with kids in mind, and to help avoid expensive trips to hospitals based on insufficient information and/or anxiety.

“Today, the health tools in your home probably consist of a thermometer and a box of band-aids. We can do a lot better,” says co-founder and COO Misha Chellam.

The company has worked with IDEO to create a video that captures its core vision well that includes the quote I used for this posts’s headline, albeit paraphrased. You can watch it below.

Scanadu has raised $2 million from a network of global angel investors, including Playfish co-founder Sebastien De Halleux, and is currently moving the team from Belgium to the San Francisco Bay Area (the lab is being established at NASA’s Research Park).

The company is building a core team of biomedical engineers, software and hardware developers, and AI specialists. They also have a Medical Advisory Board that includes Stanford-affiliated Dr. Daniel Kraft and Dr. Jordan Shlain, founder of Healthloop and Current Health.

Scanadu is currently seeking technology partnerships with telemedicine and diagnostic technology startups, and hiring more people to join its quest to build a personal ‘pocket doctor’.


Scanadu is sending your mobile phone to med school with the aim of creating a commercially-viable medical tricorder in the next 3 — 5 years.

Healthcare is rapidly becoming quantitative, a number’s game — see the quantified Self
movement. Patients as well as doctors will be overloaded with ‘big’ data. This will open up a massive market for auto-diagnosis. But this market needs a tool, just like the mobile market needed a mobile phone.

The tool will be called the medical…

Learn more

Scanadu Raises $2M: “Check Your Body As Often As Your Email”

iVerse Media Receives $4 Million Investment to Grow Its Comics+ App


Cross-publisher digital comics distributor iVerse Media today announced a $4 million private equity investment from PS&J Group. The money will go towards expanding marketing and product development for its iOS comics reader app Comics+. While publishers such as Archie Comics, Dynamite Entertainment, and Marvel maintain standalone reader apps, Comics+ aggregates content from dozens of publishers to offer a one-stop comics purchasing and reading experience.

PS&J’s investment indicates its belief that the newsstand is quickly giving way to the App Store in terms of where readers get their comics. Apps have high monetization potential, as users can instantly buy the next installment of their favorite series. This facilitates purchasing binges where readers might spend more than $20 in a single reading session, rather than leaving a bookstore with just a few $1.99 issues or a single graphic novel.

Pierre LeRoy, PS&J Group chairman says that “Through digital comic sales, software licensing, and strategic partnerships, iVerse has been financially solvent for some time now.” Currently, iVerse offers its Comics+ app which includes video capabilities, and Comics+Kids which exclusively provides family friendly comics. Both iOS apps are free but charge users the standard newsstand price of $1.99 per issue through in-app purchases.

Comics+ already includes titles from many of the most popular publishers, but is missing some heavyweights such as DC Comics which can be found in competitor comiXology’s app. The funding could help it secure distribution deals to round out its content offering.

Marketing will also be an important use of the funding as comiXology’s Comics app currently has a higher search ranking in the App Store for the query ‘Comics’. If iVerse can get more downloads and increase its average rating, it could improve its discoverability. Product development that would allow Comics+ to host innovative new multimedia reading experiences could also aid its quest to become the #1 digital comics reader. iVerse already powers standalone reader apps for Archie, Star Trek, and other titles, and product development could attract more publishers to build on the company’s technology.

With brick and mortar comic book stores going out of business or diversifying into more lifestyle products, finding comics in paper form is getting more difficult. Still, the medium is very much alive with Marvel releasing big-budget films featuring super heroes and television shows like The Walking Dead being adapted from comics. The PS&J Group investment will give iVerse’s Comics+ apps a better chance of picking up first time readers and those switching to digital.

iVerse Media Receives $4 Million Investment to Grow Its Comics+ App