Israel is a Computer Vision superpower, says Moti Kushnir, CEO of Infinity Augmented Reality

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A Trip to Infinity (AR)

On my way to Petach-Tikva one of the “Silicon Valleys” of Israel, I was wondering, what can make a small start-up company like Infinity AR ,so unique that it was able to successfully complete its second investment round of $5 million in less than one and half  a year?  What can we learn from that on the very trendy world of Augmented Reality?  Who are the people behind this company and what the hell do they have in hand (or don’t) that caused VCs like Singulariteam  and Platinum Partners to invest more (in addition to their initial investments) and known companies like Sun Corporation from Japan to join the party?

Moti Kushnir - InfinityAR

With those thoughts in mind, the photographer Shlomi Yosef and I, went up in the elevator. At the entrance, we were met by Moti Kushnir who is the company’s CEO and also one of the founders. Moti, who had originally majored in the field of finance, shifted his interest to the Hi-Tech industry and to a long journey through the Israeli market. Two years ago, he joined forces with his current partner, Dr. Matan Porter. Matan is a real expert in the field of image processing and Computer Vision with Ph.D. from the Technion, Israel prestige technological university, and a lot of experience from Israel Defense Force’s Talpiyot project and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems.

The idea to start the company came to Moti while playing chess with his son. “While playing, my son found the game’s still pieces boring, lost his interest and went to play Wii with his friends. This made me think – how can one play chess, or any other game, with another person in a cool way using animation?” Moti started surveying the word of augmented reality while looking for a partner that would help him make his dream come to life.  He met Matan and they started right off. After a year of working at their home garage, while looking for investors, they met Moshe Hogeg from Singulariteam. Moshe liked their idea and decided to invest and implement it based on the resources of Infinity AR which back then focused on applications and other projects. This decision basically wrapped the entire work of Infinity AR’s around Moti and Matan’s new activity.

InfinityAR in action

Moti starts reviewing the current challenges in the field of augmented reality. “To be able to generate a virtual world we need three components:

The 1st component: The Display – the display unit can be a room with several projectors, eyewear device or any other device that can project a virtual world over the physical one. We can split the world of displays into three different subgroups:

  1. Virtual Reality (VR) – This subgroup consist of all Head Mounted Displays (HUD) that disconnect the user from his physical surrounding. Any conscience of the user (usually visual and audio) comes from the virtual world. There is no direct interaction between the user and others in his surroundings. He doesn’t see them and they don’t see him. One of the biggest challenges in the field of VR is to overcome the vertigo sensation that occurs while using such HUDs. The human physiological balancing system, which is affected not only by the middle ear feedbacks but also by the visual system, receives misleading signals from different sensors. This ambiguity causes fatigue which resembles seasickness.
  2. Google Glass – Those glasses are designed to act as a secondary screen for the user’s phone main display. From the moment Google started showing signs of doubts regarding its viability, we noted a major decline in the investments made in this area.
  3. The Augmented Reality world – This subgroup consist of all see-through glasses that are capable of displaying virtual layers over the physical world. Today, there are even few glasses that consist of all the components that can be found in an advanced mobile phone. There are some types or see-trough display technologies that are currently at their research phases, such as direct projection to the retina and contact lenses.

The 2nd component: Content – This refers of course to 3D content. Not just any kind of content, but such which will suit the physical world it is designed to be “attached” to. Let’s take a board game as an example. Board games can vary in a large number of parameters. They can be big or small, in the shape of a square or a circle etc. This variety requires from the system a deeper understanding of the environment in order to properly project a virtual content over the physical elements.

The 3rd component: Scene Understanding – We, as humans, perceive our environment by using our senses. We immediately know where the table is and what its boundaries are. We know what that this is a picture.

We identify the corners of the walls in the room. We subconsciously understand that this is a glass door and we can’t walk through it etc. Our brain understands our 3D environment based not only on our visual sensors, but also due to its ability to learn, analyze and conclude meaningful insights. To imitate this capability, we need to collect and detect analog signals, like lighting directions and transform them into digital ones. Another challenge is to determine the user’s location within the scene.

Today, to achieve an understanding of the three-dimensional space there is a need for a depth sensor and a tailored AR framework. The problem with common depth sensor is the usage of Infra-Red (IR) projectors that consume a high voltage and computing power and is not applicable in daylight. Another problem occurs when several users collaborate. This will cause the scene to be saturated with IR lighting and will affect the accuracy of the depth sensors (it’s like taking a photo when pointing a camera toward a direct light). Above that, we should consider the eye safety issues when dealing with IR emitters. Taking into account all those limitations, we can conclude that IR projectors are not a good match for AR glasses.

This is exactly what Infinity AR’s unique solution is designed to solve. The scene understanding is based on two standard simple (of-the-shelf) 2D cameras attached to the AR glasses. The cameras stream their feed into a complex algorithm that analyzes the data. Basically, the system imitates the human visual system (the two cameras) and their correspondence with the brain (the complex algorithm). The algorithm is where the magic happens without IR projector. Thus, the system overcomes the daylight and the multi-user collaboration issues.

Infinity AR have also developed a technology that “understands” the 3D structure of the scene by identifying geometrical lines. In fact, the company has developed an SDK (Software Development Kit) for scene understanding that can be adopted by applications and game developers. The data perception is based on different sensors, starting from the cameras, but can include others too. Those sensors construct a 3D scene for the developer. Any game or application can be developed easily on top of this structure. The developers are the company’s customers.

Moti describes Israel as a Computer Vision superpower nation. Over the years, the Israeli Defence Forces was required to develop solutions for navigation and localization without the use of GPS devices. This initiated the development of camera-based solutions for navigation systems. In this field, there are a lot of Israeli experts especially in companies like Rafael and Elbit Systems. As evidence, we can take the stock issued Israeli company Mobileye.

According to Moti, this is the future. In the same way we couldn’t imagine, few years ago that we’ll fall in love with our mobile device, in ten years from now, in the year 2025 (“It will be before that, but I prefer to make a cautious guess”) the world of augmented reality will be everywhere. “We won’t need screens anymore. It will be our sunglasses, our reading glasses that will enable us to watch movies, even on 70-inch “screens” . We will be able to work with them. Architects will see their 3D models right on their desk while sitting around it. Surgeons will immediately get medical records of their patients. For sure, the gaming industry will leverage from that as well and etc. This new display will simply do anything and will project visual data that correspond to the physical world”.

InfinityAR - AR Company

I thought about this new reality that Moti just described, and tried to challenge it. What will happen with all elder users that are accustom to work with screens?

“For those users, a virtual laptop can be projected, with a virtual keyboard. This will enable them to work exactly the same way as today, with no need to change their habits.”

“I think this is a very estranged reality” says Shlomi, the photographer, in sorrow. Moti straighten up and answer – “The opposite is true! Exactly the opposite! Today’s world of digital content, is one that every user is isolated from others. This is the only way to create new digital content nowadays. The world of VR is an extreme example. It sucks you into the virtual world completely. On the opposite side, the world of AR stir us from our screens and simply integrates the virtual content with the physical world around us.  If we go back to the chess board example, the two of us will sit around a table, with our AR glasses on, and enjoy a cool and lively interactive chess game. In the future, we will sit together, see each other while playing a game and share a movie even when facing one another. We will change the way we consume our content. Without screens”.

The resources that are being invested in the field of AR are enormous. They have long moved from millions of dollars to billions. Google, Microsoft, Facebook and all other leading companies are either buying or investing in this technology which they marked as the next big thing.

Moti is 45 years old. The age of most of the company’s employees is not common to what you would find in other startup companies, which is usually around 25-30. Most of the employees came from companies like RAFAEL, Applied Materials and others, with a lot of experience in the field of computer vision.

Today, the company is looking to hire new experts. do you qualify ?

* Photos by Shlomi Yosef

*Translated from Hebrew to English by Ron Ferens

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