For this 10x10 Session, the Co-Founder and CEO of Zappar (Caspar Thykier) is joined by the co-founders of Poplar, COO & CEO, David Ripert, and CTO, Laurie Ainley.
They chat about:
1. The growth of the AR industry
2. The change of approach towards AR from consumers and brands
3. What developments are set to take the industry to the next level
Caspar Thykier: I am delighted to be joined by David and Laurie, the two Co-Founders of Poplar and CEO and CTO, respectively. Welcome. It would be great to hear how you both got into XR and Poplar’s mission.
David Ripert: First of all, thanks Caspar for having us very honored to be part of this and making history with Zappar. So I'm David, I'm the COO and CEO of Poplar studio. I was in Hollywood and various media technology companies like Netflix and YouTube as part of Google. So I was dabbling around with video content creation, working with independent creators and back then started working in VR, AR and Mixed reality. Doing stuff like live stream music, concerts, cartography and whatnot. I really got into it and think that it's the future of computing. So I launched Poplar along with Laurie.
Laurie Ainley: I'm Laurie, Co-Founder and CTO of Poplar. And my background is really just in the London startup scene.
So I spent the last 13 years building startups and various different sectors. But I've always had an interest in augmented reality. And I do remember the first time I came across AR in a consumer sense quite vividly. And that was 10 years ago. Just some after work drinks with a former colleague who showed me a 10 pound note.
And he used the app. I mean, this must have been about nine years ago and he kind of really had to flatten this out to make it a really detectable target. And we were in a sort of dimly lit pub and trying to just get enough lighting. And then it came to life and he kind of turned to the camera and said something and some birds flew off and it was just like, kind of really a memorable moment for me.
That sticks in my mind, but also just like an amazement sort of, wow, that's possible. Fast forward five years. And I had some time to actually explore building, augmented reality myself. And for my dad's birthday I thought I’d try and make a living photo frame. I took a model of the yellow submarine and put it sort of on top of a photo frame when you have your phone over it.
And it had some videos appear overlaid on the photos. And that was using tools like you'd seen in Vuforia. Yeah. And I think it's been really interesting to see that at that time, which was only about three, four years ago, you still needed a bit of awareness of 3D software, like Unity.
But the progression to where we are now with tools that are sort of making it more prosumer friendly, which is driven a lot by the snap, then the studio, the SparkAR community, it's really changed the game and made it a lot more accessible to consumers to also be making their own effects.
And so with Poplar, what we're doing is running a creative community that builds effects on behalf of brands and has access to commercial opportunities. But it's amazing to see every day, the kind of inventiveness and the creativity that is applied by this group of global developers in AR.
David Ripert: He showed me that project for his dad’s birthday card. The first time we actually met in a coffee shop. So that was quite fun. I think we shared that vision of wanting to democratize AR content creation, work with independent creators, making it more affordable for everybody.
Caspar Thykier: Yeah, absolutely. And it's great to see the kind of community really began to sort of increase in number and scope and creativity. Are there things about the technology or turning points over this last period that you think have sort of also helped kind of kickstart that growth? Is there anything that you sort of go, these were specific moments that are now driving the increase?
Laurie Ainley: I think, yeah. Like I said, the democratization on the creative side. So those tools have been a massive driving force but also seeing on the usage side, things like WebAR, they are already gaining adoption.
So being able to run AR just directly through the browser removes friction, not needing to download an app that's such a huge progression point. And I think that hopefully will continue to become more and more accessible and it can be even just, reducing friction so that instead of taking five seconds to load a website, that takes one second or using a QR code, becomes a habit.
That's ingrained in the consumer's mind. Those kinds of things are really exciting, but I guess on the technical side, also just the evolution of AR kits and AR core, the two iOS and Android native AR platforms that are able to deliver really high quality AR effects and experiences that are being installed across a user base of billions of devices.
That it's really moving the game forward and it kind of commoditized a layer of work that would have to be done manually for every developer. So you're building on top of all these blocks of automated technologies, whether that's occlusion and hiding objects behind objects virtually, or whether that's you using real time lighting to dynamically light an object to make it look more realistic.
All these things are kind of becoming more foundational layers. And then you can just focus as a developer or creator on the exciting bits, the fun bits on top of that. So yeah, those kinds of movements have been really amazing to see, even in the last couple of years.
Caspar Thykier: And you not only interface with this growing community, but also with brands quite a bit. Are you seeing sort of a change in the way that they're approaching AR and the sorts of conversations that you're having?
David Ripert: Yeah, so I mean, I think in parallel to the technology evolution and kudos to Zappar for providing an amazing WebAR SDK, which we're using for a lot right now. For projects there is adoption from brands and that is due to platforms opening up branded effects.
So of course platforms like Instagram, I think back in 2019 and then TikToK coming along and growing massively in part due to COVID of course means that you're getting more and more. Availability of platforms and of course, WebAR like we discussed with brands and then the growing community of creators, as well as making it more and more affordable.
So it's just a perfect storm for our brands to come along and be experimenting with AR seeing results, building case studies and metrics that then are used in turn to convince more brands to do it which is great because then we get more and more brands to adopt and we get money funneling into the industry.
I think the COVID situations definitely have been the silver lining is that it has impacted social media growth. So that means that it has been really interesting for brands. And then on the retail side, of course, which is a big one, the physical stores being closed means that brands and retailers are looking for new solutions.
So stuff like product visualization has been a big trend for a few months now, we've seen e-commerce completely explode. So the fact that you can do virtual try-ons of makeup, change your hair, etc.. or product visualization of furniture or other objects, including through the web is super powerful and can be integrated within a lot of e-commerce platforms.
So that's been sort of a game changer and we're seeing a lot of growth there in terms of 3D and AR.
Caspar Thykier: Yeah, it's brilliant. Isn't it? I mean, that does seem to be a general sort of sea change in how the camera is being used. Both from consumers, but brands as well are really thinking about it longer term, which is to make it more of this kind of ubiquitous utility, which is fantastic.
In terms of then, sitting where we are now in 2021 and kind of trying to look a little bit forward, what are the things that excite you in terms of stuff you're doing at Poplar or things that are sort of down the track that you kind of go, that's going to take us to another level?
David Ripert: There's definitely the retail side I would say is really exciting. So being able to get to a place where we can do body tracking of course, is going to be a game changer. The fashion industry, hopefully at some stage I'm sure Laurie will talk about machine learning a little bit more, but that's, that's one on the retail side, I mean, at some point it would be great to get to new devices.
I think recently we've been waiting, reading a lot of different release dates for different devices. So the sooner it comes along, the more testing experimentation we can do, and the more we can transfer into more comfortable things like AR glasses that are going to be indeed game-changers for sort of visual search and, and serving all of that branded content into our environment. So really looking forward to that.
Laurie Ainley: Yeah, that's a great point. I think but going back to retail, something that's really exciting to me at the moment is the kind of 3D scanning aspect. So using the new LIDAR cameras available on the iPad pro or the iPhone 12 Pro and will be built into more devices in the future you can go and scan objects much more faithfully than you would have been able to do previously, just on a device that doesn't need post-processing.
I was at the Emirate stadium on Sunday, just going around and scanning some of the statues outside the stadium. And it's amazing just to see, within a few minutes, you have a fairly faithful model of an object that you can upload and make available to anyone anywhere around the world.
And in our case, one of our creators happened to take one of my previous scans. And put a volumetric video into that to be viewed and in a 3D or VR environment. So yeah, it's really just eliminating distance to take an object from one location and make it available globally, instantly.
So to that point around retail whether it's shoes or other luxury products or handbags or whatever it is you know, we worked with Sotheby's recently and we're able to make a Botticelli painting available to view in your own environment through an Instagram filter. And I think those kinds of movements of just the other scan products in the same way that the camera kind of democratized video and filmmaking and photography through the smartphone. I think that same thing is going to happen with 3D scanning. So that's one really exciting trend to follow. And the other thing I'd mentioned, I think is a little bit more on the technical side, but I think that standardisation is really important when it comes to actually enabling content to flow. I used to work in the video industry and I still remember the days of having to have. Four or five different file formats, depending on which browser you're using.
At the moment in the 3D model kind of area, I think we had some points, maybe the early two thousands of video formats where you have these GlTF file formats that can work on an Android. You have USD, and that can work on iOS, and then you have a bunch of other formats like OBJ, FBX. So to actually have a smaller subset, at least if not one format that it's university recognized would actually make all workflow stuff, just a lot easier. And again, builds that kind of foundational layer, which you can then build more exciting technology. And the same is true with WebXR as well as standards to run VR and AR experiences through the browser written in one language that's understandable everywhere.
It doesn't need to have interpretations and custom kinds of adaptors built for every scenario its used in. So those kinds of movements to me are exciting because I think if they're solved then you're just having to do less of the legwork, which doesn't give value. It's just boring leg work you have to do. So yeah, those were exciting sort of trends to be.
Caspar Thykier: Yeah. I love that sort of notion of reduced friction, increased speed and great standardization. I mean, wow. That would just be seismic again, in terms of what happens next. Unbelievably we're already out of time and could speak to you guys for hours and I thank you so much for joining us. It’s been such fun.
Laurie Ainley: Thanks so much for having us Caspar. We really appreciate it.
David Ripert: Thanks Caspar for what you're providing also in helping the industry grow. Thanks a lot.