RedLaser -- Part 2

As described in last week's posting, RedLaser is an iPhone application that accurately scans product barcodes using the built-in camera. The product was created by University of Michigan graduates Jeff Powers and Vikas Reddy through a start-up called Occipital. I was fortunate enough to be able to interview co-founder Jeff Powers, who left U of M to commercialize on his computer vision interests.

Why did you decide to create RedLaser?

Occipital.JPG
We realized, despite 50,000 apps at the time, there was no barcode scanner for the iPhone that actually worked. There were a few that required an add-on lens, but nothing that could do it well without the lens. There was clearly a need for such a thing, with quite a bit of chatter around the web incited by the fact that Android phones had a decent ability to scan barcodes due to their improved camera. As a boostrapped company, we saw RedLaser as a clear opportunity to keep the company afloat, as long as we could actually execute and create something that worked.

What separates RedLaser from similar iPhone apps?

The barcode recognition algorithms in RedLaser are state of the art. We've explicitly compensated for blur, lighting, curvature, among other parameters, making RedLaser extremely robust. We also went as deep as ARM assembly to make it work fast, making full use of the available CPU. Similar apps mostly use open source barcode software, which performs miserably on low quality images. There's only one other application that attempts to deal with poor quality images, but it doesn't perform as well as RedLaser.

How do you think RedLaser will change the way people shop?

Retailers enjoy being able to control what information consumers have at the point of purchase. But with RedLaser, people can take back some control and immediately know if it's a good price, or link through to find out if others think it's a good product. In the short term, RedLaser is already helping people get better deals from retailers that have price match guarantees..

Where do you see this all going?

Right now, it's mostly about online retailers getting increased visibility. Longer-term, I think we'll see physical retailers making their items visible online as well. This will help physical retailers compete with online, and give consumers even more choices and information.

Technology-wise, barcodes are just one way we can use mobile cameras to access information about products and real-world objects. Occipital is expandng mobile visual processing capabilities, which should lead to exciting new applications in the near future.

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David Dorf, Sr Director Technology Strategy for Oracle Retail, shares news and ideas about the retail industry with a focus on innovation and emerging technologies.


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