[Startups in Korea] Olaworks – Using Your Phone’s Camera for more than just Photos

Growing up watching movies like The Terminator, I always thought it would be amazing if humans too could somehow have a visual system that could analyze in real-time what we were looking at. “Augmented reality” is the combination of computer generated data and the real world. In recent years, many developers around the world have been experimenting with this technology, but there is one Korean startup who has been making more major breakthroughs than any other company.

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Olaworks was founded in 2006 and since then has been focused on computer vision and graphic technologies. The company utilizes the cameras of devices such as smartphones or tablets to accomplish a variety of functions including augmented reality and image recognition. While Olaworks has a few apps to their name, the company is more focused on creating new technology which can then be sold or licensed out to other companies. Olaworks currently holds over 60 patents and its technologies are being used on various platforms around the world.

Up until 2009 the company had been working with other major companies such as Naver and LG Electronics, its technology being used in search engines, apps and other various software. Nevertheless, Olawork’s flagship app ‘ScanSearch’ has definitely turned heads, and phones. The app uses augmented reality to show various locations in the direction that the camera is pointed including restaurants, bars and hospitals. ScanSearch is supposed to help users find places faster, without having to wander around looking for them. The app is available on both iOS and Android. An English version of the app for Windows 7 phones was also released in Europe but is unavailable for download and only comes pre-loaded onto LG Windows phones.

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In June this year, a second version of ScanSearch was released which included object analysis software which recognizes or looks for similarities between objects. Using the image scan function, a photo of a movie poster, advertisement or famous brand can be used to find more detailed information about the object online. Social network functions were also added to the new version so that users can share opinions about products, follow their friends “scans” and view the most popular objects that day.

The company has taken object analysis a step further with their new web-based tool Mnemonics. The system relies on searching for images “by context” as opposed to searching via text. It connects similar images around the world and these connections can even be projected onto maps or a 3D globe model. Images are arranged into ‘seedclusters’, which are the most similar images and ‘superclusters’, which are largely similar.

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The company’s facial analysis technology has also received a lot of attention and is able to do a number of things including recognize similarities between faces, recognize gender and detect facial features. It would seem that some of the other items Olaworks has developed such as smile and blink detection could also become extremely useful in digital cameras. Nevertheless, the best facial software they have developed is the facial recognition and real-time tracking. Using a smartphone camera, the software can recognize a face registered in its database and then display information in real-time on the screen. As the head moves, it is tracked until out of sight. View a demonstration of some the facial analysis technology at the bottom of this article.

Olaworks’ describes itself as “the best experience thru photos and videos[sic]”.  CSO Ryu Joong-hee explained the company’s philosophy further, “At Ola works, if we see a need for something in the market then we make the technology or solutions to match those needs.”

You can view the Olaworks website here or follow them on Twitter here.

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