Archive: Feb 2019

Hololens 2 – The Draw & Code Verdict

Draw & Code have been trawling the halls at MWC and 4YFN here in Barcelona. With Microsoft’s Hololens 2 reveal being the big story for immersive tech junkies, we got our hands – and heads – on the much vaunted device courtesy of sessions with Microsoft and also with PTC. Phil Charnock quizzed Draw & Code co-founder and immersive tech boffin John Keefe on how the second-gen mixed reality headset handles…

This is a second attempt at a mixed reality headset from Microsoft, we expect the form factor to improve, has it?
When I saw the leaked photo before the MWC event I thought the Hololens 2 looked cheaper than before, but in the real world it’s well made. It had to be – the Magic Leap is such a high quality piece of kit for a first attempt at a product. The weight distribution being shifted further to the back meant it stayed comfortable through both my sessions with it.

The flip-up visor we’ve seen in VR, but for MR is there a point?
As with any MR headset, it may be see-through, but the reality is that there is a reduction in light and in peripheral vision. You want the best MR experience, but you also need the best real world vision, so why not? And the allowance for glasses is a massive bonus.

I never wanted to go back from Magic Leap’s expanding headband, it seemed an ideal design solution. How is the jog wheel tightening mechanism on the Hololens 2?
I agree, the simplicity of the headband on the ML1 is a joy to use. But the wheel mechanism works and feels secure, so it does what it needs to do.

Does it still feel like Windows in there?
I don’t know, I was just straight into the experience so I couldn’t really glimpse the OS.

OK, so you are in the experiences – what stood out?
Eye-tracking calibration is actually a lot of fun and really shows what the device can do. A hummingbird buzzes around your hand as you move it upon completion. The intimate experience doesn’t feel like the cold, enterprise machine that the Hololens is purported to be – this feels like a leaf out of the Magic Leap playbook where wonder and fantasy are to the fore. It creatively demonstrates the improved optics, eye tracking and vastly improved gesture control.

You tried a few demos across a couple of sessions, what else impressed you?
Pearson’s medical training application has a volumetrically captured patient and a virtual assistant that helped you diagnose the patient’s issue. D&C have worked with volumetric capture in the original Hololens and with the field of view (FOV) it required us to position the actors well out of arm’s reach of the viewer. With Hololens 2 the action can unfold a lot closer.

Speaking of FOV – did you feel the purported difference?
While the Hololens 2’s FOV clocks double the area of the original, when compared to the Magic Leap One for all intents and purposes they felt very similar. Excuse the pun, but it’s not worth focusing on. Look at the feathered edges on the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Magic Leap experience or Draw & Code’s own positioning of volumetrically captured performance in the original Hololens – smart creators will work with it.

You also checked out the Hololens 2 with PTC, custodians of the Vuforia AR platform.
Where there is AR you can expect them to be around! We have used Vuforia for all manner of projects for the best part of a decade so it’s great to see PTC also showcasing the Hololens 2 on their stand. I was shown an industrial application that guides you in repairing technical components. The natural gesture control was showcased to the full here; it was easy to pick up objects. This was also where I noticed the Hololens 2’s dynamic focal depth in action – it was noticeable how moving your gaze really worked to help build a very natural feel to the 3D view.

This is generally very positive, any criticisms?
There is a strong reflection in the lower portion of the visor that is quite distracting. Apart from that, it was a very able piece of kit.

Are there features found in the Hololens 2 experiences you tried that feel like must-haves for all future MR devices?
There was the option of virtual buttons and voice commands in one experience; both are interesting ways to interact with the mixed reality world that may very well come to be the default for this medium. And the eye tracking being used to enable natural reading was superb.

The Hololens 2 is touted as enterprise all the way, so was Hololens 1 – is there fun to be had here?
Look at the stage demos – there were pianos and unless you are in the piano business, that was pure creativity. I expect Draw & Code will be finding plenty of arty and esoteric uses of the Hololens 2 over the coming years!

Press Release: SwapBots Come Out To Play At 4YFN Barcelona

New UK product SwapBots, the collectible, customisable toys and game that come to life through augmented reality, will be showcasing on the UK Pavilion at 4YFN 2019. With a successful Kickstarter campaign under their belt, and early access samples shipped, the SwapBots team will be at Barcelona’s startup showcase to present their eagerly awaited ‘connected play’ offer.

According to Juniper Research*, the smart toy space is predicted to grow by 200% over the next four years to a value of $18bn. When combined with the rise and appetite for new brands in the toy sector over recent years – the SwapBots team are now in prime position to build opportunities within this dynamic marketplace.

John Keefe co-founder of SwapBots comments, “We came up with the idea for SwapBots at a trade show back in 2015. As a studio we’d been developing immersive tech-infused products and installations projects for clients for several years – and we could see there was real scope to develop a new type of connected, playful product around augmented reality”.

Fast-track more than three years and SwapBots has evolved from sketches in a coffee shop, to a successful Kickstarter campaign, to being in the hands of hundreds of early adopters. The collectible toys use augmented reality to create a spectacular, interactive video game world around a physical toy. By swapping pieces of the SwapBots, the player can influence in-game attributes. The toy is ‘scanned’ by a mobile device to unlock it in the game using an advanced version of marker-based augmented reality. As the digital animation is overlaid onto the physical toy, it gives the appearance that the video game has broken out of the screen and arrived into the real world. The SwapBots toys can be assembled in hundreds of combinations, each of which results in differing in-game abilities.

John continues, “Over the last few years we’ve learnt a lot about developing a product that combines a physical and digital offer. We’ve brought experienced toy industry people onto our team from Hasbro and Mind Candy, and established a fantastic manufacturing partner. We’re now looking forward to exploring further opportunities and partnerships”.

In Spring 2019 a limited number of early access products will be released, and interest can be registered at www.swapbots.toys. SwapBots are expected to launch to the international market in early 2020.

* Juniper Research Smart Toys 2018-2023

Press contact:
For more information about SwapBots, images, video or to arrange interviews please contact
UK: Phil Charnock / e: [email protected]

About SwapBots
SwapBots are collectible toys that use augmented reality to create a spectacular, interactive video game world around a physical toy. By swapping pieces of the SwapBots, the player can influence in-game attributes. The player simply points their phone or tablet at the SwapBot toy to see it come to life as the digital animation is overlaid onto it. This style of combined physical and digital play is often referred to as connected play. SwapBots were conceived during a trip to the Augmented World Expo in 2015. Witnessing a lack of child-friendly uses of AR, the Draw & Code team set to work on designing what was to become SwapBots. Initially the toy was prototyped as internal R&D, but after gaining interest from industry in the concept during 2016 it was spun out as a product in its own right. From home-made prototypes to gaining support from the VC-backed HAX Accelerator in San Francisco, SwapBots were successfully crowdfunded during 2017.

About Draw & Code
Draw & Code is the immersive technology studio behind SwapBots. The UK-based studio has been working with cutting-edge technology such as AR (augmented reality), MR (mixed reality) and VR (virtual reality) for over seven years. Previous clients include Philips, Red Bull, Hyundai and the BBC. Co-founders John Keefe and Andy Cooper have over 25 years experience and an established track record working with interactive technologies and video games. The company’s innovative, technology-driven artistic projects and products include video games, augmented reality installations and projection mapping events.

Philips Displays’ Magic Leap Experience Debuts

Draw & Code are thrilled to announce our collaboration with Philips Displays on an exciting mixed and augmented reality installation. Developed especially for ISE 2019, the A/V industry’s premier trade show held in Amsterdam, this is the first commercial project utilising Magic Leap to leave the confines of the Draw & Code studio. It is also the first use of Magic Leap technology with a screen brand and is accompanied by an app created in ARKit that is intended as a practical toolkit for the A/V industry.

The team at Philips Displays will be showcasing their latest products using sophisticated immersive technology, their vision is to pair the creative and the practical to offer each visitor to the Philips ISE stand two ways to interact with the stand. The first utilises Magic Leap One, the latest mixed reality headset, to deliver a playful brand engagement experience. The second harnesses mobile augmented reality to offer a toolkit for potential Philips customers that can help them find the right screens for their needs.

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The Magic Leap One headset is a sensation in the immersive technology world and is rarely seen outside of secretive design studios. Visitors to the Philips stand will be able to wear the headset and interact with playful scenes that take Philips’ brand, ethos and products as inspiration. The visitor is then invited to view a ‘portal’ into four different scenarios where Philips screens are commonly used to bring them right back to the real world.

Also debuting at ISE is a second immersive Philips experience, this time using tablets to deliver a fully functional augmented reality toolkit to aid buying decisions. Using the device’s camera, the app can measure a space and allow the user to find the right screen for it. The app can even automatically populate the space with screens, allowing you to configure a video wall set-up without climbing a ladder or even using a tape measure at all. Built using Apple’s ARKit and the ever versatile Vuforia, measurement apps are very much consumer AR at its most utilitarian and useful.

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Draw & Code co-founder Andy Cooper says, “The brief was the ideal blend of the fantastic with the functional and as Philips are all about innovative display technologies, it seemed apt to use exciting visual tech such as Magic Leap to explore their offering at ISE.”

If you are in Amsterdam for ISE 2019 you can find the Philips Displays mixed reality experience at stand 10-K170.

What came first Draw & Code or the Egg?

Draw & Code co-founder John Keefe takes a look at the origins of Draw & Code as we emerged from our shell just as augmented reality was hatching as a potentially ground-breaking consumer technology…

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It’s eight years since the beginning of Draw & Code, even though in those first 12 months the company was technically nameless, and I wanted to document our story whilst still (relatively) fresh. If superheroes can have origin stories then so can businesses, after all it takes a superhuman effort (by many super humans) to start a business let alone keep one alive! So why am I talking about eggs in relation to the birth of an immersive experience studio? Well in this origin story I can tell you it was an egg, or in actual fact it was many eggs, that were the catalyst for Draw & Code.

Back in 2010 my first business had just failed due to the biggest client I had going bust. An incredibly difficult thing to go through made worse by the fact that my wife and I had not long welcomed our first child into the world. With the country still in the grips of a recession I was at a loss to what to do next. Being a developer there was still decent opportunities around but I was tired of building generic web applications for banks and various corporate machines, as I had been for nearly a decade. Post the iPhone’s emergence, mobile games were booming, Fruit Ninja had just exploded onto the scene, like a freshly sliced watermelon, and there was a new games engine on the block. Unity 3D had suddenly made the path from being a web developer to games developer a much easier one. I’d originally studied Interactive Media in the late 90’s when I was adept at Macromedia’s, Director and Flash so Unity was the perfect tool to join the mobile games revolution.

This perfect storm of forced occupational freedom and a new digital frontier was also aligned with the fact that one of the city’s best animator and creative minds had also been caught up in the crossfire with the aforementioned client that went bust – enter Andy Cooper, the draw to my code. After working together on and off for years on previous projects we’d been chatting about making a game. So Andy, myself, Phil Charnock – the wordsmith extraordinaire and the talented Chris Barker, providing the weirdest array of SFX and music, set to work attempting to make our fortune in mobile games.

So, about those eggs. After much nonsense and brainstorming we had finally cracked it (sorry). We were going to make a reaction game called ‘Eggs in Space’. Cue the theremin. In all honesty I think we just found a cool sounding name and then made a game to fit in with that. I’m sure that’s what the big studios do right? Anyway, without us realising it this was the beginning of Draw & Code. Whilst either working full or part time, Andy and I worked every spare hour on designing and building Eggs in Space and in my case I was actually learning an entirely new engine in Unity. 2010 was early days for Unity which made it challenging as updates would frequently break our already fragile project.

On one very late night Andy was talking about augmented reality how it would be cool to have the game be played in the real world. I was certain Andy had just watched Roger Rabbit one too many times but intrigued about the possibility I started to play around with opening up the camera and rendering the video as a texture, which was kind of cool. It was as janky as you could imagine and even when we hooked up the gyroscope it was barely passable as an experience but that’s when we discovered a very early version of Vuforia. The power of Unity coupled with Vuforia back in 2010 was remarkable even when using it on my second generation iPhone. It feels like the ‘hello world’ equivalent of AR was a teapot on some pebbles. I appreciate that probably makes no sense to most of you but I’m sure there are some of you out there nodding away. Essentially a quick print out of Vuforia’s go-to marker (a photo of some pebbles) and every 3D artist’s friend (a 3D teapot) it was as if we’d been transformed into digital magicians. These primitive AR tests were highly addictive and we both looked at each other and that was the moment where we knew this was our future and eventually everybody’s future. This transformational technology would become our north star and that was the beginning of our journey.

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As for ‘Eggs in Space’ it nearly killed us, however we did manage to release it to the world on iOS. When released on the App Store we made approximately £100 in sales in the first month and realised that this was not our golden goose. It did get played over 250,000 times though thanks to the fact that within 6 hours of release the APK was cracked and distributed freely. Luckily we managed to secure a number of clients as a collective at the time and the work-for-hire paid for our experiments in augmented reality over the coming years.

Andy, myself and Chris officially formed Draw & Code but for the first few years AR remained as a passion residing as an R&D activity from the meagre profits of the business. The next major turning point came in 2013 when we decided to see what the rest of the world thought of our experiments in AR. We booked a stand at the biggest AR event in the world – Augmented World Expo, which obviously was based in Silicon Valley, and took our half built augmented reality experiences. We had demos showing use cases in art, architecture and video games and the demos were so raw that in a cab on the way to the exhibition I was sat under a huge floor marker debugging and fixing them. Six years on we’ve exhibited every year and have firmly established ourselves in the augmented reality world with many of the people we met at that first show being friends, partners and clients to this day.

Our AR work has been experienced by millions globally and we are now working with some of the best brands in the world while the team has attracted talent from the likes of Hasbro, Chillingo and Blippar and we’re excited to write the next chapter as we believe this is just the beginning for both augmented reality and Draw & Code…