At the VRLA opening ceremony, it was asserted that VR and AR exist on a spectrum of opacity between transparent and opaque. Regardless of the minutia between terms, they both require mass adoption to be successful. BaltiVirtual thinks they have a solution with a marriage of high-tech and low-tech. It's cheap, and it's fun for all ages. They're temporary tattoos that come to life in AR.
Doubt Reality: So, tell us about HoloTats, where are you from? From Baltimore?
Shawn Flaherty(Principal, BaltiVirtual): Yup Baltimore. It was sort of born out of this idea of how could we introduce AR to people, and show them what it could do. It started with an AR demo that used our business cards as markers, and it had tons of things we could with it. For example, it would turn into a basketball hoop that you could shoot baskets into. Then we went to talk to the zoo and showed them the [poison tree] frog. And then we talked the University of Maryland, [and did their mascot]. Look, he even has the new Steph Curry's on!
Doubt Reality: Which zoo were you talking about?
Shawn Flaherty: The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. It's the 3rd oldest zoo in the country, celebrating it's 140th anniversary this year. We're also going to be taking their logo and making it an AR tag too.
Doubt Reality: So what's the next step?
Shawn Flaherty: What we wanted to do was continue to make this...well, we don't want the luster to go away. So version 2.0 is going to have interactivity, so the animals will be able to recognize one another, and fight or...get along. Maybe the dolphin will do a backflip. We're working on the back end programming for this right now. It'll make it more fun and you know, harder to imitate the concept.
Doubt Reality: Cool, so, I'd love to talk to your CEO about the underlying technology as soon as he's free. This is a crazy concept. Are you guys open to licensing your technology and letting business drop your app into their app?
Shawn Flaherty: Yes! So we realized right away we needed to be accessible, so we want to offer it as a plugin. We're totally open to that. We've done some white label stuff with it before. It's obviously a little more expensive to do it that way. Additionally, we have a licensing deal with the distributor of the disposable tattoo. They print stuff for Marvel, for LucasFilm, for Disney. And on the way here, we stopped in Tuscon and signed a deal. It's a mass market deal, we're going to be hitting the shelves in Walmarts across the country.
Doubt Reality: Well thank you!
Shawn Flaherty: Thank you, let me go get Will.
Will Gee(CEO, BaltiVirtual): Hey guys!
Doubt Reality: So the original question is, who spearheaded this whole thing?
Will Gee: My partner, our Creative Director, David Thompson, and myself came up with the idea of doing AR on a tattoo. Kids love temporary tattoos! We had done an AR project for General Electric in 2011 and so we kind of new about the tech. So he said, "let's just put it on a temporary tattoo and see what happens", and we did it. The reactions been awesome, people are really into it. It's been one of the most fun things we've ever worked on.
Doubt Reality: So let me just ask you my one technical question of the day, you guys used the Vuforia SDK? So I know with that SDK, there's some amount of machine learning that needs to go so it can accurately track and identify the marker, in this case a tattoo. So the thing about tattoos unlike other markers are that they can be curved, for example around your arm. How difficult was it to teach the system to recognize it from all angles?
Will Gee: It took us a little trial and error for sure. It's interesting, if we showed each step of our progress it would kind of reveal our secret sauce. When we started we had a certain design, but then we realized, as we add more noise, contrast the colors, add sharper edges, the trackability goes up. Then we realized we could use post-processing to create the tattoo designs.
Doubt Reality: Oh, so you take a 2D image of the 3D model and add a cel shading filter?
Will Gee: Exactly, and then we add an outline around it so it can be a point of reference and help work against all different skin tones.
Doubt Reality: Could you see this being used as an additional input method?
Will Gee: That's an interesting idea, you mean like some sort of tracked hud? We've definitely thought about using AR smartglasses to do some sort of Iron Man thing, where tattoos on your hands track them and let you launch blasts of energy. Stuff like that is definitely a possibility.
Doubt Reality: What else is a possibility?
Will Gee: We have this long laundry lists of things we want to do. Have two tattoos interact with each other, creating apps that turn your cars lights on and off, we're working on a tattoo pack of automobiles next. So, I guess, interactivity stuff.
Doubt Reality: So what's the long play? Licensing? Are a lot of people interested in your tech? Do they want to integrate it into their tech?
Will Gee: So really we're going in two main directions. One is mass market licensing for like the Disney's and Walmart's of the world. The other is promotional products. Like right now companies give out temporary tattoos of their logo, or give out promotional items at events. We want to take those into AR.
Doubt Reality: Any other cool things about what you're doing?
Will Gee: The other thing that's kind of interesting is that we collect some really generic analytics data about what is scanned. So like, which tattoos are scanned in a day. It's always interesting to look and go "oh, sharks were trending today". For advertising, it gives you more data like who interacted with your giveaway product. It's not telling you who they are or anything, but it does let you know how effective your product was and whether potential customers used it or not.
Doubt Reality: Is there anything else you wanted to share?
Will Gee: Just to check it out at holotats.com and that we love seeing people post pics of their HoloTats on social media. We try to post a lot of stuff to show how we use it, but we love having other people do it. It's so interesting. It's stuff we'd never think of.