The Future of Augmented Reality Platforms
An Interview With Atheer Founder Soulaiman Itani
Founded in 2011, and headquartered in Santa Clara, California, Atheer is a pioneering Augmented Reality Management Platform. The main objective of their undertaking is to provide a competitive edge to leading enterprises by offering a variety of solutions and applications tailored to their clients’ needs. They aim to do that by taking businesses to the next level on several fronts including “productivity, effectiveness, accuracy, and safety of their workforces.”
I interviewed Atheer’s founder and current Board Member Soulaiman Itani about their journey from a burgeoning start-up to a leading tech company in the AR domain. Here’s what he had to say:
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1. Tell us more about yourself, and how you decided to start Atheer.
I’m from Beirut, Lebanon. I finished my undergrad there in Computer and Communications Engineering and then went to MIT to get my masters and PhD in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science with work on drones and Unmanned Areal Vehicle (UAVs). After that, I moved to the Bay Area to do my Post Doc at UC Berkeley in cancer research. I created models for how cancer behaves and how healthy cells behave, and how to kill cancer cells while minimizing toxicity to healthy cells.
I started working on Atheer while I was doing my Post Doc. I wanted to create a phone that can project a screen and a keyboard and so can be used as a laptop or a tablet. After studying the problem, I realized that the projectors take too much power and so thought of using smaller displays close to the eyes. That’s when I started working on Augmented Reality.
2. Could you please explain to us the meaning and the reason behind choosing the company’s name?
The idea of the name is that the digital world is currently stuck behind screens, and we are freeing it out and putting it in the ether all around us. Atheer is Ether in Arabic.
3. Having followed Atheer’s developmental stages, I have noticed that you shifted from a B2C to a B2B business model. What made you opt for a more B2b approach?
We did a big market study around the end of 2013/beginning of 2014 and identified that the consumer market will take a long time and needs a lot of marketing and time to mature. We identified urgent needs and ROI in the enterprise and more direct access to revenue.
4. In what way do you think Augmented Reality can help businesses improve their status quo.
Our customers now use Augmented Reality in almost every aspect of their work. If you take Porsche, for example, they train their technicians for 4.5 years to get a gold qualification. Still, using our system, they were able to reduce the time to fix a car by 40%. This is because giving the right information at the right time, in the field of view of the user, can significantly improve their efficiency.
Additionally, automotive companies allow their customers to see the inspection that the mechanic does and know the possible solutions. That way the customers are more comfortable with the fix.
5. What, in your opinion, are some of the challenges that AR will be facing in the coming few years?
The market is still maturing and the hardware is still in the early stages. AR has started getting real installations in the enterprise and will start scaling in the next year and more in the year after. Around 2020–2021, not using AR would leave you behind the market.
The second challenge is just awareness and the simplicity and integration of the solutions. This is also improving significantly and will have a few big shifts soon.
6. What role, you think, does AR play in an ever-accelerated tech world with a more increased focus on AI, IoT, and Big Data?
AR is the interface for AI, IoT, and Big Data, like the touch screen experience, is the interface for mobile. AI and IoT rely on learning from your environment and giving you information and feedback in real-time. AR is the platform that allows both the learning of what’s around you and giving you the right information at the right time. To get the best out of IoT, Big Data, and AI, AR will be the interface that people will use to stay in the decision loop.
7. Have you taken any steps, or preemptive measures, to address some of the more important AR-related legal and ethical issues in order to avoid another Cambridge-Analytica-like setback?
We don’t access or use any of the customer’s information. It all belongs to the enterprise that owns it.