This article was published on 23 April 2013
A digital children’s book that uses technology developed by a small company in Christchurch caught the eye of the judges and was awarded Top Toy for 2012 at the prestigious American International Toy Fair.
Whilst PopAR books are manufactured and marketed by an American company, the software that powers them was developed by MindSpace Solutions Limited, the first spinout company from the Human Interface Technology Laboratory New Zealand (HIT Lab NZ) – a research centre based at the University of Canterbury.
PopAR books use Augmented Reality (AR) technology which allows the user to see virtual 3D objects and animations that magically pop up from the book’s surface. MindSpace Solutions founder and Managing Director, Eric Woods, says it was “a huge thrill and surprise” to hear that the books had won Top Toy.
“AR evolved from virtual reality, which failed to gain traction due to bulky helmets and gloves that disconnected the user from the real world. AR solves this by overlaying virtual content on the real world and responding to movement in the real world. PopAR books are a great example of this type of technology,” says Mr Woods.
MindSpace Solutions was founded in 2003 to focus on identifying existing problems in the education and tourism sectors and using a broad range of new technologies to create unique solutions. The Government has invested $107,950 into MindSpace Solutions’ research and development (R&D) since 2005. Some of this funding was used to hire an undergraduate student to help develop the Imaginality platform, an adaptation of which is used in PopAR books. Further MSI co-funded projects have helped to develop the software further, for use in a variety of applications including education, tourism and marketing.
MindSpace's technology is currently being used in more than eight countries, including the United States, Australia, Mexico, Indonesia, Singapore and New Zealand.
Mr Woods says government funding and support have been invaluable to his company and helped to keep it afloat following the 2011 earthquakes.
“Like many Christchurch businesses, we really struggled during that time. Government support enabled us to get new staff back on board and keep moving forward,” he says.
“R&D is critical in our industry – technology moves so fast, you can’t just sit around; you have to keep innovating and moving forward. We got to where we are today much faster with funding support. It was incredibly valuable both at seed stage and to help enable us to access bigger markets.”
MindSpace has more than doubled its revenue in the past two years. The company is constantly exploring new applications for its AR software and is looking to establish new markets in Asia and Europe.