echoAR – Bringing Augmented Reality to the Masses
A year and a half ago, while still earning his master’s in computer science at Columbia, Alon Grinshipoon lead a joint project between Columbia’s computer graphics lab and Columbia Medical School. The key problem identified was that physicians were having difficulty with a procedure called “vascular intervention”, in which catheters and wires were moved through a patient’s blood vessels to reach a desired location in the body. The procedure was a complex one; relevant vessels and anatomy weren’t always directly visible to the surgeon. To give the doctors more visibility, Alon and his team created an augmented reality (“AR”) application that used a patient’s CT and MRI scans and projected a 3D model of the patient’s anatomy in the real world. This model would then float above the patient’s body during surgery, giving the surgeon a roadmap of the organ they were operating on, in real time.
Alon’s project was a smashing success with dozens of AR-enabled surgeries performed on patients at CUMC. However, despite demand from other departments and medical schools, it wasn’t scalable. Whenever the AR application was used in surgery, Alon or another programmer on his team had to physically go to the hospital and scrub into the surgery so they could be on hand to update the model. This would be the equivalent of having a computer programmer on hand every time someone gives a PowerPoint presentation, or builds a financial model in Excel. Excel and PowerPoint exist so that everyday users can create and update new financial models or slide decks, without the assistance of a fully trained computer programmer. Unfortunately, that type of platform didn’t exist in the world of augmented reality. So Alon and his team set out to build it.
Fundamentally, echoAR is a cloud based platform that enables developers and AR users to build, store, and deliver AR content to any device, anywhere. No longer do developers have to create different versions of the same AR application just to deliver on both the iPhone and the Android. Nor do clients have to call in the programmers to recode the application, simply to change a 3D model, video, or photo. Similar to how you change a photo in a PowerPoint slide, using echoAR’s platform AR users can simply drag and drop, and the updated content will be pushed to the final presentation.
But who uses AR?
AR is often outshone by its flashier counterpart, VR (virtual reality), in which users can immerse themselves in a totally alternate reality. But the use cases for AR are far more compelling, affordable, and commercial. According to the business intelligence company G2, the global market for augmented reality applications is expected to reach approximately $130bn by 2021, across a broad range of markets including retail, healthcare, manufacturing and marketing.
For example, to help customers visualize how new furniture would look in any given space, home furnishings giant IKEA has developed a mobile phone AR application that layers virtual Ikea items over users physical world. Another example is Boeing, who recently replaced 20-foot long paper diagrams with digital augmented reality models to help their engineers wire airplanes. The common component in both of these examples, however, is that both IKEA and Boeing can afford to keep a team of AR developers on hand. But what if they didn’t have to? What if all companies and retailers, from IKEA to an individual maker on Etsy, had access to this technology? To quote Alon,
“Asking people today what you need AR for is like asking someone 20 years ago what you need a website for”
Where is echoAR now?
In the 18 months since that first AR project, Alon and his team have graduated their masters programs and officially launched the company out of New York’s AR/VR focused RLab and Columbia’s own Startup Lab in Soho. They were accepted to and completed Techstars accelerator program, won a competitive grant from Y Combinator Startup School and, most importantly, recently launched their with OVER 250 developers and 3 enterprises on the platform.
They’ll be kicking off their first pre-seed round of $750K in the next few weeks to get them to 10K MAU and become the go-to tool for AR/VR/3D app creation. Prospective investors can contact the company at alon@echoAR.xyz and prospective users can try out the product by going to https://www.echoAR.xyz/getting-started.