COMPUTER VISION AND R&D: UNDERSTANDING PEOPLE IN REAL WORLD CAMERA VIEWS
At the end of 2013 our internal R&D began experimenting with a new kind of tool. As ever with early stage R&D the progress in slow, laborious and often populated by people who disagreed, didn’t believe or just simply don’t see the point at all - the stage of the lone wolf. Anyone who has ever found themselves at this stage before any early adoption will know just how lonely it can be.
While inside the office you find yourself buzzing with excitement, outside the office you often find yourself howling at nothing but the moon. Being on to something is one thing, being able to stay alive long enough to craft it into something great is something completely different. Large businesses often don’t have that issue as they can afford to make mistakes before balance sheets suffer. And while large businesses with large R&D departments are undoubtedly capable of greatness, they often lack something that small companies have in abundance that sharpens minds: personal contact on the ground.
Being a small business you dream of a huge R&D team with endless developers, content and production teams hunting the next big thing (you just presume more equals better). But sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for. Being a small business, R&D is often conducted by the same teams building commercially available products. And this, we have learnt, can have some interesting effects on the process of R&D because you can often float ideas in everyday commercial client meetings to get a sense of the tech or idea in question. One second you’re talking conventional builds for launch in 60 days the next you’re confusing everyone with technology that’s three years out.
Most of our team introduce our R&D into virtually every meeting I attend, anywhere in the world, because even facial expressions meetings can help you craft your research and development - no matter how bemused they are. Introducing and putting your tiny, unassembled ideas out into the real world early on is like shining a light on your instincts and being willing accept people’s opinions. I’m not saying you need to agree, but you do need to listen. And sometimes the truth hurts.
An so back to 2013, we began to do exactly that. The premise of our Computer Vision platform was remarkably simple. Develop a piece of standalone software that can turn any camera into a smart camera, giving it the ability to analyse the people in its view. Allow it to track traffic flow, time in shot and numbers in camera per hour, per day, per week, per year. Allow it to measure emotional state of user in the view, such as happy, sad, angry and more. And then link that data to gender and age recognition and deliver that data in real time to any device in the world, no matter where the camera was. Initial development occurred early in 2014 and now we’re coming to launch of Phase 1 which we’re incredibly excited about. It promises to revolutionise our interactive installations by allowing us to prove to clients directly that we create engagement with any space, anywhere in the world. It will also be implemented in a variety of industries across the world because it’s taught us that our ideas have power when coupled with knowledge of industries we don’t understand - most of which we can't discuss right now. Retail shop window environments, measuring ad engagement, market research, user recognition, the list is limitless and the applications are wide-ranging. Interestingly, only one of the original commercial applications for the software back when we started is still alive and we’re happy to be wrong about it.
As importantly as the product itself, it’s taught us something that is much larger which will inform how we build in the future. While market research is useful, market research doesn’t create the nucleus of an idea. The idea is a spark that comes from a deeper understanding of tech, consumer behaviour and gut instinct. Some business books teach that ideas are formed by groups which I believe is a myth. Ideas are formed by individuals with vision, instinct, and death-defying levels of self-belief. the sort of people we all find quite annoying on journeys longer than an hour. Ideas are driven by people who refuse to take no for answer, who stand tall in meetings when early ideas are panned and criticised for being too fantastical or just plain nonsensical because they know eventually, somehow, something will come out of it. They know what they have is not perfect but it’s a start. And you have to start somewhere.
The application of the idea and its formation into a product are where groups begin to provide benefit. At INDE our ideas are stress-tested inside a group of disparate individuals through official meetings, in office conversation, in aeroplane chat and most importantly in real world conversations with amazing people around the world. Arguments are had and input is given from a variety of sources. The group helps to mould the individual idea into something greater than an individual could make it. Sometimes the process isn’t pleasant but so long as the tension is pushing everything and everyone forward then it is a benefit to us all. Little do many know from Tokyo to Los Angeles via Salt Lake City and Berlin the people we meet have a critical role in helping us understand the application of what we do.
In 2015 and into 2016 our Computer Vision platform will highlight why the above is so critical and why we think that places us in a unique position. So, without prescription here’s what we feel is important when you start that long, torturous but ultimately inspiring road…
Believe in Yourself
No one else will so it’s so important to believe in the idea and keep pushing while everyone around you seems to have no idea what you’re talking about.
Believing in yourself is one thing but asking yourself questions about the weaknesses continuously will help you better frame the idea.
Test your Theory
If your concept is sound, then test it continuously on everyone you meet. Every conversation will help no matter where you are.
Engage like-minded individuals
There may be few who share your vision and ideas, find the ones that do and work with them.
Find Commercial Angles
Explore the different angles and possibilities for your idea and stress test them against different markets.