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“Alessandro Valignano” Competition winner’s interview

weAR srl is the winner of “Alessandro Valignano 2015” Competition, launched by the Chamber and oriented to SMEs. We had the pleasure to interview Mr. Emanuele Borasio, CEO of weAR srl, in order to discover augmented reality and wearable technologies. It was also an opportunity to share the story of an Italian SME, founded in 2014 and ready to brave the Japanese market, which is a leading actor of ICT sector in the world.

Last January the founder of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg, referring to the official launching of  Oculus Rift smart glasses, stated that: “We believe virtual and augmented reality will be the next major computing platform that will change the way we all connect and communicate”. Along with Facebook, big players of virtual and augmented reality are Sony Computer Entertainment Inc., Seiko Epson Corp., Apple Inc. , HTC Corp. and Microsoft, offering HoloLens and the touted Google Glass. 

Taking a step back, what is the main difference between augmented and virtual reality?

The main difference depends on the output. As far as augmented reality is concerned, the output produced by the device is ‘attached’ to the reality: smartphones, tablets and smart glasses can understand where the user is and what he is pointing out, thanks to geo locator system. The result is a ‘mixed reality’ made of user’s vision and augmented information provided by the AR device. This ‘mixed reality’ can help user’s experience in daily life.
Regarding virtual reality, the output is totally generated by the device. The experience is immersive and separated from the external word. In addition to the visual perception, other components providing 5 senses stimulus will enter the market very soon (gloves, clothes). AR and VR are not opposed but rather complementary technologies.

Which hardware and software allow users to experiment the augmented reality?

Augmented reality is possible thanks to internal components inside mobile e wearable devices: the camera, that allows to record the perceived reality and the MEMS, miniaturised sensors, i.e. accelerometer, digital compass and GPS, of which Italy is a major world provider. A lot of software - also called AR browsers - can generate augmented contents. While Youtube allows user to see a movie, Layar, Blippar, Wikitude, Aurasma, Zappar allow users to interact with common products: a food package for downloading a recipe, a LEGO® kit for seeing the 3D model already assembled, a magazine’s page showing a dress for seeing the ‘buy it now’ button.

It seems that the AR device is successful if producers can convince SW developers to release appealing and useful apps and provide concrete and persuasive possibilities of use. What are the main uses of AR?

I am sure that nowadays and increasingly in the future, the success of a device will depend on the quantity and quality of applications that will be useful for daily life.The flop of Google Glasses first release , of which the ‘Explorer’ edition was delivered to a few developers, is due to the incapacity to invent a ‘killer app’ that was really appealing for the consumer. The lesson is that consumers must be the central point of an ecosystem made of developers, producers and users/consumers. With regards to AR, it started to be used in 2009 in order to improve consumers knowledge of products. An example is the solution that we developed in collaboration with the German group Loewe Technologies GmbH in 2012: by fixing a piece of A4 paper to the wall, the potential consumer could use his smart phone to visualize the Loewe TV in his room before buying it. Wearables were initially used for sport and then for work activities, thanks to B2B apps. 

Let’s talk about you, now. How was weAR srl born?

weAR Srl is based on the founders’ AR know-how: 10 years of experience about image recognition software, 6 years about AR, 3 years in the field of app and user-interface development for wearable devices, i.e. smart glasses. Founders boast an important experience related to Ferrara's University; after that, they worked for G-maps, a start up company dealing with geomatics and augmented reality.

Why did you develop MARKO? by Polytechnic University of Milan demonstrated that in 2014 Italian companies saved about 9 billion euro thanks to the over 13 billion mobile devices used for business. Although this large coverage, we realised the lack of training devices for: maintenance support, industrial procedures explanation, work security improvement. We also noticed that B2B sector was missing easy ‘authoring tools’ that could link and overlay a real object with virtual contents. MARKO was born by this idea: it is a SaaS platform (Software as a Service platform) allowing companies to create and distribute manuals that works with AR mobile and wearable devices, such as smart glasses. It is not only an app but a MEAP - Mobile Enterprise Application Platform enabler.

What are MARKO’s points of strength?

MARKO guaranties incredible time and money saving to the companies that decide to chose it. For example MARKO’ s creator is a totally web based tool that allows one to create manuals in an easy way; as a result SW programmers are not necessary. Moreover the technic-maintainer who uses MARKO can point out machinery through his tablet or smart glass and quickly visualise the information useful for solving damage or an anomaly and for the standard maintenance. MARKO’s easiness makes it a good training activity supporter. In case of foreign products it can also be multilingual.

Who are your potential customers?

Every company can be a potential MARKO’s customer; every company selling a product has a manual that can be ‘augmented’ and delivered among its customers and its employees, so that they can be trained and supported during expensive maintenance works.

Why did you decide to enter the Japanese market?

We think that Japanese market is mature enough to massively adopt our tool. In 2015 the Japanese group Seiko Epson Corp. recognised our efforts. MARKO is the first Italian app that was published in the Moverio store for smart glasses, one of the first intelligent wearables available in the market. We had the honour to meet Moverio designers that came to Italy in order to know Italian software house providers.

Why did you choose to participate in “Alessandro Valignano” Competition promoted by the Chamber?

We considered this competition the opportunity to enter the Japanese market. Braving this market without strong support is not easy for either a start up and a traditional company. This entry in Asia must be handled with a good market and cultural preparedness.

As the Competition’s winner, how will you use the Chamber’s support?
We trust that the Chamber will provide us precious support regarding the potential partners research and meetings management. Demos about our tool and AR technology will be in fact fundamental. In the meantime we are translating weAR website and MARKO’s documentation into Japanese. 

What are your future projects in Italy and abroad? 
Since it is a ‘young’ platform, MARKO is at the beginning of a growth and improvement process. At the moment we want to make companies interested in AR technology for learning, training and maintenance. We are looking for international partners that can help us to introduce MARKO in their network and to improve our platform thanks to users’ feedback. Also synergies with producers are important. For example MARKO’s improvements will also come by the collaboration with Seiko Epson Corp. smart glass designers.

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