Company shakes up IT sector

TESS MCCLURE
Last updated 05:00 21/06/2014
Hell Pizza
INTERNATIONAL RECOGNITION: Hell Pizza marketing manager Jason Buckely with augmented reality game ’Zombies from Hell’.

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For a Canterbury tech firm, blurring the borders of virtual and physical reality has been a step to international recognition in marketing and information technology (IT) development.

Christchurch's One Fat Sheep specialises in augmented reality (AR), the art of "overlaying virtual content on a real life canvas".

They create apps which allow smartphones and tablets to project digital images over the real-life environment surrounding them.

A simple example could be projecting a 3-D couch image onto a wall into your own home, but the purpose of AR is also that digital apps can recognise their surroundings and interact with them.

So far, so sci fi, but the idea is catching on and One Fat Sheep's portfolio includes corporate clients Hell Pizza and ASB and featured as a top "tech export" company by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise.

"It's really going to change the landscape of how people engage with technology, as the digital layer and real life layer start coming together. That's a game changer for a number of different industries," One Fat Sheep owner and CEO Rupert Deans says.

Deans said the company was "swamped" with work coming in, and seeking investment to develop a new platform allowing smaller firms to create their own, simpler augmented reality applications.

"It's about making it accessible for most companies to be able to create augmented reality experiences and deploy them. Those will be less bespoke and allow us to provide some of our SME [small to medium enterprise] clients with that ability."

Deans hopes the firm can raise $500,000 of investment for product development.

Their biggest launch so far was of the Hell Pizza "Zombies from Hell" experience, which layered a 3D digital game on the top of a pizza box.

The game, Deans says, picked up in 8 different countries, downloaded 30,000 times, and became the eighth most downloaded app in New Zealand - significant uptake for an advertising mechanism.

Players point the camera on their phone at a Hell Pizza box, which is needed to play the game.

Viewed on the screen of their smartphone, the box then "opens" into an interactive 3-D map of Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch, at the centre of which is a Hell Pizza store, under attack from zombies who must be destroyed.

The game caught the attention of international media, and was a finalist for the "Auggies" - best AR games of 2013.

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Hell marketing manager Jason Buckley said on release that the company "wanted to do something others haven't done".

But one of the the difficulties of their business model is the "newness" of the technology, Deans says.

"The hardest thing is people don't get it until they see it - but that's because the penetration just isn't there yet."

He estimates that the number of smart phones with the technology necessary to make it work only reached penetration around six months before the app was released.

One Fat Sheep has spent the past three years developing their technology, but Deans says "Only in the last year has it come into its own."

Dealing with the newness of the technology and creating programmes from scratch does present challenges.

"Whenever you're dealing with new tech there's a huge learning curve.

"There's a lot of research and development, testing, refining, and tech challenges with devices not working," Deans says.

"One of the biggest challenges is getting our heads around how far we can push the technology and what we can do," Deans says.

Like many other New Zealand IT businesses, finding skilled staff is also a challenge, and the skills shortage has meant looking to Australia for hiring.

The business' core team of eight scales up to 30 contractors, depending on projects.

One Fat Sheep now has offices in Queenstown, Christchurch and Melbourne.

- Stuff

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