Occipital has grown up a little bit since August 2009. We had survived 2009 by running on fumes and building a shiny stage-1 rocket booster called RedLaser. Back then, we were happy that RedLaser had been installed on 95,000 iPhones. RedLaser has now been installed on over 2 million iPhones. The growth was pure word-of-mouth (see the Newsweek article about it written by Vikas from November 27 2009.) And as we recently reflected with UX Magazine, we learned that user experience was tantamount to success.
2010. We spent the early months of 2010 supercharging RedLaser. We added data feeds, local results, new barcode formats, and we licensed RedLaser’s technology to 70 companies including Target. Apple featured RedLaser in a TV ad which premiered at primetime during Lost, scanning a bright red Gaggia Espresso Machine.
It was around this time that we realized RedLaser had outgrown our basement office. Occipital is fundamentally a computer vision technology company, but we had transitioned to spend most of our time fueling a large-scale mobile commerce tool. We started laying the groundwork to scale RedLaser up and away from our core engineering focus, and it was around that same time that we started kicking around ideas with a little company called eBay that just happened to specialize in large-scale mobile commerce tools, which brings us to today’s announcement.
Today we’re announcing that RedLaser has been acquired by eBay, Inc. We are confident that eBay is a truly better home for RedLaser than Occipital. Not only will RedLaser continue to thrive (now free for the first time on the App Store), but we’re also excited to report that the RedLaser SDK and all of the companies it supports will continue and expand under eBay. If you’re wondering, Occipital remains a freestanding company and we will not be moving over to eBay. eBay has an entirely new team running RedLaser.
Tomorrow. We’re really just getting started. Remember, we were just on the crawler with our partially-completed rocket. We no longer have our stage-1 rocket booster, but we have something even better in the works – a stellar engineering team:
Robert Grant, a Computer Science master’s alumnus from the University of Michigan, joined the team on February 18 as Occipital’s first Computer Vision Engineer. Since then, Rob has been leading development for Occipital’s next major release, which begins our steps down the path of creating a human-computer interface that blends seamlessly with human vision, which will be Occipital’s primary focus for the foreseeable future.
Rémi Chaignon, currently working in Paris, is starting remotely in July as our first Augmented Vision Engineer until he will join the company in Boulder this October. Rémi worked at the University of Teeside on the fundamentals of an Augmented Reality Game engine dubbed GEAR.
Shaun Werkhoven, the most recent to accept our invitation to join the team, has a PhD in Computer Vision from the University of Newcastle. Shaun, who currently resides in Sydney until his trip to Boulder next month, deeply studied Interest Points as applied to object recognition and 3D reconstruction for his thesis. Shaun will play a crucial role, applying his research knowledge to more optimally help us solve problems as a Computer Vision Engineer.
Without a doubt, this is the most exhilarating time in company history. We’re looking forward to the formal launch of Occipital now that we’re refocused on what we do best as a company – computer vision, and we can’t wait to watch as eBay accelerates and improves RedLaser with a new dedicated team.
If you haven’t already downloaded RedLaser – it’s free today.
If you were watching Lost, NCIS, Parenthood, or Melrose Place on Tuesday 4/6, you might have noticed this commercial featuring RedLaser:
ProductWiki, a collaborative product review and information site, was also featured in the commercial. Check out the extension they created to search Product Wiki using RedLaser here (using our Custom Apps feature).
We just recently set up a display that shows scans happening in realtime at Occipital HQ. Here is what happened after the commercial aired:
About 72 hours ago, the RedLaser 2.5 update was published to the App Store. It was a soft-launch with our new partner, TheFind, which is the fastest growing search engine for shopping in the US with over 400 million products in its search index. In the 2.5 release we also improved our scanning speed (6% faster), and made a handful of interface improvements.
Behind the scenes, we were racing to get the technology ready for Black Friday, and in our rush, we made a mistake. In the US (and initially in the UK, too), we completely replaced Google Product Search with TheFind. We were overconfident in the volume of search results that would be immediately available from TheFind alone. Over the last 72 hours, based on your feedback, we and TheFind realized that this wasn’t the right decision for RedLaser users. In response, effective immediately, as of this posting, we have re-enabled Google Product Search results and are now providing them along with TheFind’s Product Search results. This means that in almost every case, we will have substantially better search results in version 2.5 than in the last version, 2.2.
The only case where RedLaser will now display fewer results is for some products on Amazon.com. The reason is that Amazon has a policy that prohibits querying their API from mobile applications unless they give explicit written permission. We asked for permission a few months ago, and were told “No.” We then tried a number of work-arounds and unfortunately, Amazon asked us to remove them as well. Despite the limitation, in some cases Google and TheFind may be able to provide Amazon results and will include them when possible.
Meanwhile, we knew it would be extremely frustrating to users if we removed Amazon with nothing in its place. So we began working on a partnership with TheFind. TheFind, we soon found out, has an incredible product search engine that is comparable to Google. They include products from over 500,000 stores and online sellers, a number that continues to grow. By featuring results from TheFind, we can now show local results for many products, a request of many RedLaser users. They also have coupons, reviews, local addresses, and comprehensive store information, which we can’t wait to start tapping into. Previously, with Google as our primary search provider, we were limited in how we could improve RedLaser. Occipital is first and foremost a mobile computer vision company. (That means we’re rocket scientists when it comes to image processing, but not when it comes to crawling the Internet for products.) Despite a lot of great ideas, we didn’t have the resources to focus on both computer vision and better results. With TheFind, we now have a partner committed to helping Occipital improve mobile product search relevance, the accuracy of barcode data, as well as providing information never before available in RedLaser, starting with local results (They’re rocket scientists when it comes to shopping.)
We’re confident that our partnership with TheFind is going to be a great one ― one that is focused on creating the best user experience possible and eventually paving the way for a new kind of shopping. Occipital will continue to build the best vision-based technology to power RedLaser’s barcode scanner (and barcode scanning is just the tip of the iceberg), while TheFind will innovate new ways to provide you great shopping search results. We stumbled a little with our rushed launch, but we’re back on track, and we hope that RedLaser will always be your trusted companion for mobile product search.
Keep the feedback coming. We’re listening and improving.
Thank you for using RedLaser.
Additional Release Notes:
- TheFind and Google Product search are now enabled for the US and UK. Google Product Search also supports searching for results in Euros, so RedLaser can be used today with Google Product Search in Europe. In other vicinities, we currently cannot surface listings. Let us know if you have data sources we should look into, and if you have one that can already be searched via barcode, check out RedLaser custom apps.
- Custom Apps improved: As in 2.2, you can create a RedLaser custom app that searches just about any website with barcode, and in 2.5, we’ve improved the launch screen to make it seamless, and added a built-in browser so you don’t have to redirect back to Mobile Safari after you’ve scanned in your custom app ( use “noexit=YES” ). We’ll keep improving Custom Apps so that RedLaser is even more useful in areas where our coverage is poor.
Sumocat from GottaBeMobile posted about of how he used RedLaser to organize his office by cutting the clutter of loose books. The before/after image he included with the post was so cool that we couldn’t help from posting it here as well.
I grabbed a book, scanned its barcode, put it in the box, then confirmed the search results matched. … Once I filled a box, I numbered it, emailed the list to my work email, and cleared the list for the next box.
Check out the imagery. The only thing that could be better than the super RedLaser arrow with drop shadow would be a timelapse video showing the the whole process.
What I really like about this is that this is exactly the organization system I’d like to use for all sorts of physical items, like massive (print) photo collections, and souvenirs that you don’t want to throw away but also really don’t want to waste shelf space for. The challenge is speeding up the electronic cataloging process so that it’s easy to do this. Thanks for showing us how RedLaser can help with that!
We’ve been getting a lot of requests that look like this:
I love RedLaser, but can you please add my favorite site X to your search results?
Can you send the barcode I scanned to site X for logging?
We thought this might happen, so we embedded a feature in RedLaser 2.2 that lets you search any website by barcode. But until now, we haven’t announced the feature.
Try building an app by following the instructions and let us know what you think. We’d also love some suggestions for other sites to add to our “popular” custom apps list.
We’re excited to see what RedLaser Custom Apps get built and used!
By the way if you like RedLaser, we also launched two other iPhone application last week -FoodScanner (partnership with DailyBurn), and Snapture (partnership with SnaptureLabs). All three of these apps are doing well – they’re all in the top 100 paid apps on the App Store and RedLaser is at #2!
******* EDIT *************
We just added the option to convert scanned barcodes to UPC if the site you are searching only supports UPC format. On the RedLaser Custom Apps page, when building an app, simply check the “Convert to UPC” box, and the app you create will convert to UPC before searching.
We believe that the future of mobile search is visual – using the camera in your mobile device to to get information about any object or landmark in your vicinity with no typing necessary. Not only will we recognize things via the camera, we’ll be doing it in realtime and overlaying results in augmented reality fashion. We launched our first mobile visual search application, RedLaser, about a month ago.
Today we’re excited to announce that we’ve released RedLaser 2.0, which lets you scan barcodes in realtime. This means you don’t have to take a photo, just hold it over a barcode and we scan it from the video feed. It’s available on the App Store, and we’ve cut the price temporarily to $0.99.
Here is RedLaser 2.0 in action:
Currently the realtime mode only works on UPC barcodes (which is most barcodes in the US), but we’ll be adding EAN (books/European barcodes) support soon. We’ll also be releasing a new version of our SDK that gives developers access to the new mode.
Barcodes are just the beginning, look for more mobile visual search technology from Occipital soon.
RedLaser has been quietly in development at Occipital since our last release. It’s the first accurate UPC/EAN barcode scanner for the iPhone. While barcode scanning might sound simple, it’s surprisingly challenging given iPhone images — in particular, out-of-focus images.
After scanning a barcode, RedLaser queries Google Product Search, and returns online prices. It also lets you pull up results on Amazon via Safari, and email a product list. There’s also an SDK for developers.
RedLaser is also our first mobile visual search application. Mobile visual search is about visually querying the world in your vicinity. Today, that means you can point your phone at a barcode and we’ll help you find information about a product. In time, we’ll be expanding the possibilities, helping you find information faster and more precisely (oh, and it’s definitely more fun than typing!).
Here’s a short video of RedLaser in action, enabling quick in-store price comparison:
We hope you like using RedLaser!