Aisopos, “co-founder of Greece”, has called any big venue without augmented reality (AR) “a foolish venue” – if you believe Immersal. You probably shouldn’t, as Aisopos clearly didn’t say that: although he was a storyteller, it’s highly unlikely he’s been making statements about a technology that appeared over 2 000 years after his death.
Immersal co-founder and VP of business development Jufo Peltomaa, are you making a funny?
“We’re probably just a cheerful exception for reporters going through press releases, as on average they make for a pretty boring read,” he states, referring to Immersal’s hilarious yet informatively near-zero approach to making announcements. “We started out like that when our product was still in development and we needed to keep it a secret, but now that it’s out, there’s no real reason for it – I suppose it just stuck with us.”
Immersal’s wit is omnipresent in its image, including job adverts in which the company hopes for someone with a nice car (“we don’t have decent cars so we’d like to use yours”). This, in Peltomaa’s view, is an excellent way of gaining attention in the intensely competitive field of software developer recruitment – and finding the people with the right kind of mindset.
“With customers, partners and investors we’re consistently very professional,” he points out. “It might look like we’re just joking, but really it’s a carefully selected tone of voice with an aim and a purpose.”
Finding tinfoil has never been this easy
Whether you’re laughing or not, Immersal has plenty of reasons for raising a few smiles. In December, the company announced a half-a-million-euro seed round with prominent investors on the list.
This goes to show Immersal’s product is serious business. The company develops AR experiences for large spaces, such as shopping malls and other retail venues. A customer can look for shops, restaurants, products and additional product information, as well as tempting offers or collectable points inside a shopping complex using his or her own mobile device and Immersal’s app. All this spells improved shopping experiences and hence opportunities for boosting revenue – and saving money.
“Ads and real time offers can hang in midair and the app acts like a clerk, explaining where things are and giving more information about products,” Peltomaa explains. “A customer looking for tinfoil can find it in two seconds instead of having to get lost and frustrated in a hypermarket. Who knew it’d be in the paper product section?”
The technology has been tried out at Messukeskus Expo and Convention Centre in Finland and is currently being installed in Finnkino cinemas. The future looks grand, as the world is crowded with potential AR users (anyone with a smartphone). Peltomaa predicts that in 2019, Immersal will have 100 stores using its solution, a year later the number will be 10 000 – and in 2022, it’ll have quadrupled.
“We’re aiming for insane scalability,” he says. “So far, each destination has meant a fair deal of manual labour from our side, but soon enough any retailer can activate Immersal and drag and drop whatever they wish around their premise.”
A team made of gods
Peltomaa’s history with digital realities goes way beyond the recent fad, as in 1995 he was one of the first people to import VR helmets to Finland and use them in advertising.
“They were absolutely terrible at the time, but we had a 150-metre queue of people wanting to test them at a fair,” he recalls. “We told everyone not to have their expectations too high.”
The technology has advanced in huge leaps, and Peltomaa has been involved in setting up a couple of successful tech companies. Even so, he’s not a fan of VR or AR – as words, that is.
“Mixed reality, XR, is the best expression,” he tells. “With AR and VR, it can be difficult to tell the difference. The technology is developing so rapidly that we’ll soon be in virtual reality experiencing augmented reality within which there’s virtual reality and yet still more augmented reality… So yeah, it’s pretty mixed.”
He should know, as does the rest of the Immersal team. Peltomaa refers to the gang of nine owners as a “team of gods” and says, “the others are much cooler than I am”. He believes that in addition to real customer cases, this track record is one of the reasons investors have had the courage to put their money into Immersal.
The market potential is vast, too. Peltomaa points out that although online shopping has bitten a big chunk of traditional sales, real-life stores haven’t disappeared, and won’t for a long time.
“Our retail solution blends together online and physical shopping. There might be a day when physical stores disappear and we have Matrix-level digital technology to replace them with, but not next Wednesday,” Peltomaa grins.