Augmented Reality Gets Real In Dublin

Gaia Dempsey Dublin Globe

Meet Dublin’s Augmented Reality players, with Daqri, Panokam, Logograb & more.

After years of false starts in the consumer space, augmented reality looks set to make a breakthrough in industrial use, according to Gaia Dempsey, managing director of Daqri International.

Daqri develops both hardware and software for the augmented reality sector, with its recently opened Dublin office focusing on engineering and application development.

Augmented reality uses technology to visually interact with tangible objects like machinery or coffee cups. Daqri, which was founded in 2010, has developed a smart helmet for industrial use. The company has 200 staff worldwide, with 12 currently in Ireland, and aims to have 30 staff here within 12 months. “We decided to make the move at a time when we were getting a lot of interest from our European customer base and we were trying to serve that from a nine-hour time difference,” said Dempsey.

Dempsey has moved full time to the Dublin operation due to the complex nature of the firm’s business.

“It’s difficult to get anybody on board at any level of the company and expect them to quickly understand what the company does. It’s a complicated stack, there are a lot of moving parts, and the technical landscape is moving rapidly,” she said.

Brian Mullins, co-founder of the firm, worked in the 1990’s developing virtual reality training tools to aid in ship docking. The machine developed at the time cost in the region of $20 million, but the applications it carried out can now be conducted with a smartphone.

Dempsey’s own background is in marketing and working with startups. She said moves to bring augmented reality to the consumer space by the likes of Google had faced obstacles that weren’t present for business-to-business developers.

“Google Glass was a huge success in getting people to think about wearables, but it didn’t go far enough in terms of augmented reality. It didn’t allow you to do fully immersive 3D content,” said Dempsey.

“Consumers have aesthetic and weight requirements along with huge price sensitivity. If you are going to spend €300 or more on a device, you need to know there is content that is appealing to you. In order to get to that level of ubiquity of content, you need to have a massive community of creators – and we don’t have that yet in augmented reality,” she said.

“The hardware didn’t make a lot of sense for consumers. With industrial hardware, the return on investment is crystal clear. The form factor of the helmet fits perfectly for industrial workers who are required to wear that kind of safety gear anyway.”

The company’s chief markets are in industrial manufacturing, aerospace, semiconductors and pharmaceuticals. Dempsey said the requirements in these sectors for increased operational efficiency, as well as process documentation, made the switch to a headset from handheld devices appealing to customers.

“We look at kids creating in 3D. There are 100 million users of Minecraft, 30 million are children. They are living in that world. This is the generation that is going to expect to be able to interact in it.”

“If you can record video or a voice note without touching anything, it makes a difference. It’s about having access to real-time information. The cost of errors can be extremely high. With a device like this, it can reduce human errors to almost zero,” said Dempsey.

“After the hardcore industrial market there will be one for professionals, followed by pro-sumers and then eventually consumers. By that stage the price will have come down and lessons will have been learned about the user experience,” she said.

“We look at kids creating in 3D. There are 100 million users of Minecraft, 30 million are children. They are living in that world. This is the generation that is going to expect to be able to interact in it.”

That move towards consumer will in part involve mimicking how smartphone manufacturers developed their markets. Dempsey said it was about providing relevant functionality and ease of use.

“A hardware device will come with certain things that make it useful right out of the box. The first iPhone had a note-taking app, a phone app, a web browser, and a few other things. That is sort of the same model we are looking at with the smart helmet. We are building core applications that are useful across certain verticals.”

The firm has opted to set up an engineering team in Dublin because of the access to experienced and high potential talent with a background in various aspects of the augmented reality stack. Dempsey said the WebGL open source community’s presence in Europe was a key factor in opening the office.

“It was easier for us to hire top WebGL talent in Europe than the US because Three.js open source framework and community started in Europe, which is why we’ve been able to hire the best in the world in that technology in our Dublin office. There is talent that we are finding here that has deep experience in several areas. I’ve seen a lot of candidates who know how to do two or three things really well. Having folks who can think broadly across multiple disciplines is really important,” she said.

“There’s an ecosystem here where developers know they can find good quality positions, they can move their families here, and there’s a job market.”

As part of its employment drive, Daqri held a hackathon in DCU last month. Of the 100 competitors who took part, five have already been hired by the firm.

“They got a taste of what it was like working with all the technology and understanding what their job was going to be in the space of a weekend. We have a high technical bar, but we also look at how people do the work,” said Dempsey.

“This was the first time, anywhere, we had invited developers to work on the helmet with the software development kit,” she said.

“I often hear people telling me it’s the first company where they can use everything that they have ever done. We can ask people to draw upon their deep skillsets because we are working in a new space, and it’s very stimulating for engineers to be able to work on the most interesting problems.”

Despite the specific nature of Daqri’s business, Dempsey said the access to the talent pool around Dublin would be useful to the firm as it builds out its operation in Ireland.

“It’s not just specific technology knowledge that we are looking for here. The ability to lead a team and build good software is about communication. We use small teams that are able to move quickly. There are several teams starting here that will do completely new functions,” she said.

“Once we take the product to scale, it will improve the efficiency and safety of workforces. We expect to get that level of true market penetration within five years, but I think our investors will start seeing fruit being borne in the next 12 months.”

Abey Campbell

A researcher in University College Dublin (UCD) is looking at ways to use augmented reality to create a new kind of teaching.

Abey Campbell is working on methods to use headsets to enable lecturers in Dublin to give classes anywhere in the world. Campbell currently spends part of his year lecturing in China and this work gave him the idea to see if there was a way to deliver his lectures there from an office in Dublin.

“The main goal of my research is to have a class in a lecture hall in China while I am here. Once you start digging into this, you find some interesting problems,” said Campbell.

“Open University has shown for years that distance learning works in certain circumstances, but an undergraduate student might need more structure and a classroom. These technologies are perfect for those scenarios,” he said.

Campbell’s work with the devices includes finding ways to monitor the behaviour of students despite potentially being on a different continent. Headsets can be used to monitor the reaction of a student, so lecturers can tell if someone is paying attention during class.

Beyond teaching tools, the team Campbell is working with in UCD is investigating other ways to use augmented reality technologies.

“We have a few projects using Oculus Rift. For students in China who are coming to UCD but haven’t come over yet, they can do a virtual tour of our building. That way it’s not like the typical first day in college where they don’t know where everything is,” he said.

“We also have drone control projects where students can project inside a drone. If you move left and right, that moves the drone.”


Founded in March of this year, Dublin-based Panokam is using augmented reality to give users 3D experiences of photos and videos.

“I’ve been passionate about the potential of the technology since 1992. It was the launch of the Oculus Rift [a virtual reality headset made by start-up Oculus VR, which was acquired by Facebook last year] that convinced me the timing was right to look at it as a business opportunity,” said Stephen Keegan, chief executive of Panokam.

Keegan left a role in financial services to start the business, which currently has five staff.

“We deliver immersive photographs. That’s where the wearer of a headset gets surrounded by the photograph. With video it’s the same, only it has audio and moving images – it’s like a computer game,” said Keegan.

“We are talking to various types of companies but particularly digital marketing and tourism companies. It’s challenging because it’s all about timing and the delay of the Oculus Rift’s release to next year didn’t help,” he said.

“We are very much ahead of the curve here. This will become a mass media like print media and the web. This is the future of human interaction. All it needs is that start.”

Keegan said the efforts by large manufacturers, such as HTC, to deliver hardware for augmented reality was promising for the software side of the sector.

“Over the next few years many people will experience this technology through platforms like Google Cardboard,” said Keegan. “The hardware, to some extent, is coming out now. All of the big technology companies see this as an opportune space. The pace is increasing. We got to two billion smartphones within a decade. I can see a similar pace with this technology in a short space of time.”


Founded by Italian duo Luca Boschin and Alessandro Prest, Dublin-based LogoGrab is about to embark on an augmented reality campaign across 60 countries.

Boschin and Prest had worked in ETH, the Swiss federal institute of technology and Albert Einstein’s alma mater, before setting up LogoGrab a year ago.

The company currently has seven staff and plans to grow to up to 30 by the end of the year, with new offices in London and New York. LogoGrab uses a smartphone app to detect brand logos on products such as soft drink cans or bottles.

“We saw a gap in the market where we could use augmented reality to give brands the opportunity to detect logos,” said Boschin.

The duo chose to relocate to Ireland to scale their business internationally, in part because of the access to English-language speakers, but Boschin said there were other reasons Dublin proved attractive.

“It was one of the initial reasons, but we were at a stage where we needed to optimise our product. Dublin offers a lot of high-level resources in terms of sales in the technology sector,” said the LogoGrab co-founder.

“We took some time to build our core team. Then we completed our product in November and launched it,” said Boschin.

The company has already acquired McDonald’s as a client and further announcements are due around September when the international campaign begins.

“We are working on a campaign with one client which will be the largest augmented reality campaign in history. The countries involved include India and the United States,” said Boschin.

“We are really confident for the future. In the next few months we are working to open a regional sales office in New York and another in London. Right now we are scaling our sales team so we can answer all the opportunities out there in the market. Our resources right now are limited so we can’t respond to all of the sales opportunities.”

Originally published in The Sunday Business Post.

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