The Great Camera Awakening — the incredible opportunities emerging in Computer Vision, at the intersection of the Camera + AI

TLDR; For the past two centuries the camera has been primarily a tool of capturing photographic record, in the next decade it will be the key enabler of artificial intelligence in our daily lives. The time is now to take advantage of new platforms, software and services that will enable our #camerafirst world.

The modern camera capable of capturing photographs is 200 years old. Computer vision, the study of high level machine understanding from visual images, objects and markers, has been a practice for nearly 60 years. The smartphone is 10 years old, and with it brought persistent connectivity, high powered computing, and sophisticated cameras to the pockets of one quarter of Earth’s population. In parallel, computer vision has been supercharged thanks to recent advancements in deep learning and artificial neural networks.

Combined, this means that every day two billion people carry around an optical data input device — the smartphone Camera — connected to supercomputers and informed by massive amounts of data that can have nearly limitless context, position, recognition and direction to accomplish tasks.

As quoted in Fortune:

“There are fundamental changes that will happen now that computer vision really works — now that computers have opened their eyes.” — Jeff Dean, Head of Google Brain

Applications of computer vision have been in use for decades, we see them in the largest industries, in security and surveillance, manufacturing, agriculture, medicine and more, but most of these applications are bespoke, very specific, and super high cost. They were purpose built by roboticists, running on proprietary hardware, and are relatively limited in scope and function. Many are limited to 2D camera inputs and a dependency on a fiducial marker which gives the machine a single point of reference from which to align.

But things are changing quickly; key components of the computer vision stack are aligning to enable rich application experiences and a robust developer opportunity. And equally important, the potential addressable market is here today, starting with the quarter of the world’s population who carry a smartphone, not to mention all the places where we are seeing cameras show up.

The prime enabling components of the #camerafirst technology stack are:

Object recognition

Object recognition is jumping light years; advanced camera technology and AI neural networks are enabling machines to capture and process tens of millions of images rapidly, from every perspective, angle and lighting condition possible, rendering the fiducial marker obsolete, or case specific, at the least. By recognizing objects in physical space, machines have the ability to know what they are looking at and make decisions accordingly.

Volumetric depth capture of the Shasta SF office (from Sketchfab)

Volumetric depth capture is on the upswing with platforms such as Intel RealSense, Google Tango, Stereo Labs ZED and the long awaited Apple 3D cameras (courtesy of their acquisitions of PrimeSense & Metaio). expected to launch with iPhone 8 — the release of ARKit is the developer kit precursor. By understanding the physical space around it, the machine can further determine the opportunity for contextual action, approach or navigation.

Facebook Camera Effects — AR Studio

Developer platforms on top of the Camera are exploding. Over the past three months, we’ve seen nearly all of the major consumer tech platforms rush to the table and announce Camera-based products and platforms — Apple ARKit, Facebook Camera Effects, Google Lens, Pinterest Lens, Amazon Look and more — I expect Snap to follow. As consumers, this means we’re about to see an unprecedented increase in the utility and functionality of the camera. Think applications built “on top of” the Camera, powered by AI and advanced computer vision where digital objects and experiences that are placed into our physical world. Just wait for the Apple “ARStore.”

Welcome to The Great Camera Awakening — the consumerization of advanced computer vision: the creation of platforms, software and services where the Camera comes to the forefront of user experience, and creates a bridge for the digital and physical world to co-exist.

This “Great Camera Awakening” creates vast opportunities for entrepreneurs and developers to build computer vision applications that span from autonomous vehicles and consumer robotics to AR face filters, in industries as broad as manufacturing and agriculture to medicine, and on devices as simple as mobile phones or as advanced as the fully featured Augmented Reality headsets of the future. The time is now! Welcome to the #camerafirst future.

— I’m actively investing in the 3D world including Computer Vision, Virtual Reality / Augmented Reality, AI / machine learning and #camerafirst applications at Shasta Ventures. Please get in touch if you’re building something great in the space. And consider joining us — or speaking! — at one of our upcoming VR Tuesday meet ups. Also I’m on Twitter @jacob.

Partner at Shasta Ventures investing in Smart Software: Applied AI, Computer Vision, Blockchain, and Financial Services.