Last week was a week like any other week, the event like any other. Inition, a Shoreditch-based company providing a range of high-tech products and services to a variety of industries, had opened its doors to prospective customers, journalists and other interested parties. The company’s offices occupy the ground floor of a blocky, nondescript building, whilst the basement houses a range of machines, a screening room and an open space that can be used for studio production purposes or to demonstrate what the company offers and how it works. Peer in the windows and it was just like any other of the tech/creative businesses I walked past on my way there. So why, precisely did I find the company so intriguing?
I was met by Jim Gant, one of the company’s founders, and account manager Kathy Hall, who took me on a tour of the various demonstrations on offer. We worked through the 3D Surface display, which (with glasses) I could view a simple object or a street scene from multiple angles. We looked at the iPad-enabled Augmented Reality setup, headed back round the holographic display via a discussion of 3D object rendering from 2D images, and then moved onto the glasses-free 3D displays one of which, while just a prototype, was clearly the shape of things to come. We then passed the Pepper’s Ghost in a bottle, checked out the advert done for Samsung with Manchester United team players, had a go at driving a tank with spectroscopic goggles, and wandered over to the haptic devices, then 3D printers – one resin-based which could print quite detailed moving parts, and one plaster-based which could print in colour.
While the tour was as mind-boggling as it was whirlwind, it left me with more questions than answers. Yes, quite clearly here was a company with genuine hands-on experience of some pretty leading-edge technologies – some, indeed, that were still to demonstrate their full value. We discussed QR codes and geolocation, film and production practices, current and future opportunities. Yet despite Jim’s own expertise and the company’s obvious competences, and even though business was growing and customer needs were clearly being met, I was even less sure by the end of the tour what the company stood for.
This is not so much a comment on the company, as I have taken pains to point out, but more a reflection on where such technologies as 3D, AR and so on currently sit in the scheme of things. What was obvious to me – and I cite Moore’s law as evidence – was that many of the demonstrations were destined for mainstream use. Equally, however, right now they lie outside of the mass market, which makes them appropriate for three places: domain-specific applications (such as haptic tools and dentistry); bleeding edge adoption by rich people (3D TV) and marketing. Much of the opportunity currently lies in this latter group. Marketing, be it for products or people, music or media, is always looking for something to differentiate what may be a quite dull offering against the competition – at which point new tech can deliver something that hasn’t been seen before.
Inition’s trick, however, is not to simply offer technological bling – whether they’d arrived at that point by luck or hard-earned judgement, that’s what I perceived at the heart of the company’s offering. 3D printing, haptic devices, new display technologies were all interesting in their own right – but they are only enablers of ‘the thing’ – be it communicating a message, connecting with an audience, supporting training or whatever it happens to be. Central to Inition’s wherewithal is a recognition that new technologies will keep on coming, and while somebody needs to be on top of all of that, the real opportunity is to continuously develop and improve the value-added services that run on top.
No doubt multi-dimensional displays will be in every front room just a few years from now, and we shall all be having fun manipulating images on the fly and forwarding them to our friends, while dentists and surgeons become increasingly dependent on haptic technologies. Such capabilities, today so new and refreshing, will quite quickly become old hat. But it is to be hoped that Inition will still be ploughing the front of the furrow, learning how to make the most of the newest technologies and delivering best in class services to their customers so that we can all benefit at some point later on. Whatever space the company ends up in, will be a space worth watching.