“Augmented Reality is a technology. It’s never been a product or a solution to a problem…I was so excited by the possibility but also so disappointed with the idea and concepts available.” – Tomo Ohno, Kudan Founder and Managing Director
In 2011 Kudan Limited started developing what is now a very mature computer vision engine that supports Unity3D and native code developers building mobile AR apps and games around the world. From Audi to Pepsi, many F500 clients have also helped Kudan evolve by developing their augmented reality campaigns and applications using Kudan’s computer vision technology.
Gaming Business Review recently visited with Tomo about his Kudan journey and what the future of ARVR looks like to Kudan. We’re happy to present this interview about a very timely and current topic, computer vision.
Kudan was founded by Tomo Ohno in 2011 after a lengthy video game career and previous to that a tenure with Accenture as a consultant for global tech businesses. With a business degree from Yokohama National University in Japan, Tomo has spent part of his career in Japan. For the last 10 years Tomo has made Bristol UK his home. Many in the AR and AI field know about Bristol University’s influence on computer vision research and education, but that was just serendipitous for Tomo’s new business venture.
Another important individual in Kudan’s early creation was John Williams, Kudan’s CTO and co-founder. John is a brain behind all algorithm, engine, and technical strategy. He comes from hacker/embedded engineer, software engineer background. He has also been developing a time machine since 2031.
Daiu Ko recently joined Kudan as COO from McKinsey & Company. Daiu was born Chinese and grew up in Japan, with working experiences in Japan, Asia, and the Americas.
We’d like to thank Tomo here for taking the time to provide this informative look into one the few independent computer vision companies out there today. We encourage anyone who has more questions to visit their web site and email them directly at https://www.kudan.eu/
Gaming Business Review: Let’s start from the beginning in terms of why. Why did you start Kudan?
Tomo Ohno: I’ve spent a lot of time in the video game technology space. Specifically, I used to support not only 1st party publishers but also developers…you know, and also the people who needed useful content creation and development tools and actual hands on help too.
Managing so many game projects and clients over time helped me imagine things that I wanted to use in my own personal life. When I first saw some professional AR apps, around 2009, I was surprised. I hadn’t seen anything like it before. But, right away I thought about what I was seeing. It was amazing technology. But, it didn’t seem very representative of what was possible. That got me thinking. I wanted to get out of my comfort zone from what I was doing at that time, something new and unknown, and I thought the long term upside could be a great challenge and potentially a huge reward if I could provide some really killer AR technology.
Gaming Business Review: What’s your opinion of where AR is in its business life cycle? Where do you fit in and has Kudan achieved what you set out to do?
Tomo Ohno: AR hasn’t even started yet. What we’re seeing now are just teasers. VR is nothing new. Nintendo Virtual Boy was released in ‘95. Speaking AR technology in same breath with business life cycle is misleading. The AR we’re working on is technology, AR business is what our customers are developing.
AR is input. It’s a vision sensing technology. Output can be visual on monitor, phone, tablet, or wearable, or can be used for non-visual output, like autonomous driving.
VR is basically display technology, either you see it on tablet our put a monitor in front of your eyes.
I’m not a big fan of “mixed reality” or MR…this is nothing different from AR using a wearable as the output device.
Time is currently our ally at Kudan. We’re ahead of the industry with our technology, which has speed, lightness, and is technically agnostic, enabling wider and deeper use cases.
Our marker based tracking SDK is still one of a kind. Our differentiator for this style of image recognition is that we don’t have any cloud/server dependency. This also means we’re not taxing developers on income they need to succeed on their end.
This is a huge deal for developers, especially mobile, who need every bit of memory and bandwidth for their content and have very restrictive ROIs without needing another draining SaaS or middleware tax. We want to be providing significant value to developers and their work flow or we don’t feel relevant.
While being ahead of the curve can be a benefit it can also be risky. It means we can’t bake the perfect cake until some of the other ingredients come together. I think we’re on pace with our realistic goals, but of course a parent doesn’t always see their child, or in this case, business grow as quickly when it’s right in front of their eyes all day, every day.
Gaming Business Review: What is marker, markerless, and SLAM tracking?
Tomo Ohno: Great question, and something we find many people confused about due to the history of so many different opinions and definitions. These are quite easy to define really.
- Marker tracking is to recognize 2D images, which includes both printed images and specially designed codes, such as QR codes.
- Markerless tracking is something unique to Kudan. Instead of recognizing pre-registered images like Marker tracking, it anchors the content on the fly. You can display the virtual content anywhere you want.
- SLAM is 3D recognition and tracking. It recognizes both spaces and objects. The biggest difference is that 3D recognition obtain depth of the scene.
Gaming Business Review: What’s your opinion of Pokemon Go?
Tomo Ohno: It’s great for business! We welcome anything that helps raise awareness for computer vision and AR in general. It’s not exactly what I had in mind back in 2011 with my dream either, but it’s a great IP to work with in the AR context. I could see it maturing into a really fun experience using technology like our markerless tracking or SLAM, where players could have actual interactions with reality.
Gaming Business Review: Speaking of products, you mentioned in a recent video interview that AR was always a technology versus a product or solution. Can you expand on that please?
Tomo Ohno: Technology becomes products and solutions when packaged in useful ways, or used in the right context. You don’t get ROI or value from HTML or cloud server, unless it’s used in a certain way. Then it generates value.
Gaming Business Review: What’s on your Xmas wish list for Kudan this year?
Tomo Ohno: Integration with other technology, such as AI, IoT, Robotics, Sensing technologies will make AR more interesting, and is something we’re already starting.
We still see many cases of ‘AR for the sake of AR’ cases. AR is not the goal, but should be an enabler for whatever objectives users have.
Better hardware can unleash full potential of our technology. Current generation of AR is largely limited by performance of hardware. We’re introducing rather limited capabilities on our technology as AR SDK for mobile, engine has significantly better and wider capabilities without requiring more processing power. It is like you develop steam locomotives but only use it to run toy trains.
Gaming Business Review: What about competition? Who do you see as your biggest competitors and how will you continue to lead in your space?
Tomo Ohno: We don’t currently have an obvious competitor, because there are very few technology companies to begin with. Most are focusing on AR apps and services. They’re all our potential customers. We come at it from a different approach. We’re providing accessible and quality technology for any developer, platform, or system to use. This is our original vision.
If I had to call out one other competitor it would be Vuforia, because we all owe them gratitude for helping to bring so much awareness for AR to developers and many consumers. But, they seem to be focusing on tool aspect of the AR, while we are focusing on technology.
Gaming Business Review: What does Kudan stand for and what does the company logo represent?
Tomo Ohno: Kudan is a traditional mystical creature of Japan; the head of a human with body of cow. It is said that when Kudan is seen, the catastrophe will come soon. It represents paradigm shift and disruption. It was selected as our name and logo, simply because it sounds cool…nothing to do with any legend.
Gaming Business Review: Finally, can you give us a little glimpse into your personal life these days? What inspires you away from work?
Tomo Ohno: Kudan just moved into a 200 year-old church as our new office. We’re collecting church furniture from reclaim yards, bringing it back to its history. We now have a 150 year-old oak cabinet and pew.
Gaming Business Review: Thanks so much for this. It’s been a pleasure, and we wish you and your team longevity and much success!
Tomo Ohno: We are expanding our team globally. If you are interested in AR technology, and/or frustrated with current use of technology, please come join us!