What’s next beyond Zoom and FaceTime calls? How about teleporting from one device to another in real time using augmented reality? That’s the premise behind a startup called Beem, which today announces its first consumer app, $4 million in seed funding, and its longer-term plan to become a communications technology for the AR glasses of the future. .
Consumers today are familiar with AR technology through interactions with Snapchat Lenses and TikTok Effects, through mobile games like Pokémon Go, and by viewing the products they consider buying – like the furniture they place in their bedroom or makeup they virtually try on via an AR filter. But using augmented reality for telepresence, as Beem intends, is not a common use case.
Surprisingly, the idea for the startup came from a founder who grew up without much access to technology. Beem CEO Janosch Amstutz describes his parents as “hippies” who lived in a small Australian seaside town, Byron Bay, where they raised cows and chickens, used solar power, collected rainwater and didn’t even have a telephone – just a two-way radio that the community would share.
“We place a very high value on face-to-face communication,” he says of the lack of modern technology in his alternative childhood environment.
Meanwhile, communications continued to evolve from home phones to cell phones to Skype. “But then we kind of stopped,” says Amstutz. “Beem’s premise is that there will be an inevitable next step in how humans communicate digitally that is more believable and more immersive than making a video call.”
Amstutz first rebelled against his upbringing by working in the trading of physical commodities in the steel industry. But he did not find the work satisfying. He finally realized he wanted to do something else – and more specifically, he wanted to tackle the problem of the evolution of modern communication.
The founder assembled a team of computer scientists and researchers to work on the concept, which today includes product manager Damian Hickey, formerly product manager at augmented reality pioneer Blippar; and Denis Islamov, co-founder and CTO, whose background is in applied mathematics and physics.
After its official inception in 2017, Beem (formerly HoloMe) was not entirely targeted at the mainstream market. Instead, he has developed AR projects and campaigns for brands, companies and other organizations including Vogue, Carolina Herrera, Hermes, Louis Vuitton, H&M, Forever 21, Warner Music, LADBible (in partnership with KSI and Craig David), the British Army, TEDx and many others.
Meanwhile, Beem’s technology has been used to stream an artist’s music in AR, deliver a live conference to users’ homes in AR, create “virtual gateways” and create other types of entertainment experiences. AR for its customers.
That experience allowed Beem to stay afloat while testing and perfecting its technology, but the company never intended to be a development studio, Amstutz says — it wanted to provide a consumer experience.
With the Beem mobile app, which soft-launched in its latest iteration last month, the goal is to put that kind of live AR experience – or 3D-like, if you prefer – into the hands of consumers. .
To work, users download the Beem app for iOS or Android and position themselves in the camera viewfinder by either mounting the phone to capture their full image or having a friend record them. Beem takes the video, segments the human in the video away from the background using its proprietary computer vision algorithms and cloud infrastructure, processes the asset in real time, and packages it for the viewer .
The recipient receives the link, which they open in their mobile browser where they are directed to a microsite that is activated for each different AR web-like interaction, then back down when the communication is complete. Here, Beem accesses the phone’s accelerometer, allowing calculations on the server to skew and transform the sender’s video stream into your own space to give you the illusion of three-dimensionality.
The recipient holds their phone and places the “livestreamed” person in their own space by pressing a point on the floor – much like you do with other AR tools.
The end result is what appears to be a sort of hologram of the person in your room, talking to you in real time. You can pinch and zoom in on the person and move them around, but you can’t see them from all sides because that wasn’t captured in the original video. The quality isn’t as good as, say, that cute trendy AR “green guy” on TikTok or Google Search’s AR animals, but it’s smart because it’s live.
“We don’t have to be super technical… We need the viewer’s mind to believe that what they see is a real human and that’s enough,” Amstutz says.
Beem users can use the app to host “conferences,” like AR Zoom calls, where they stream the holographic version of themselves to up to 25 people with two-way audio. They can also launch one-way live streams to larger audiences or send pre-recorded video messages.
Beem has filed patents on its engine infrastructure and specific patents on different elements of its technology, such as video segmentation, its proprietary web experience, and its method of creating 3D-like experiences without being “actually ” In 3D. Two, so far, have been granted.
To date, the app has been adopted by a few TikTokers including Lev Cameron, Jake Joseph Everett-Rose, and Michael Fallon for content creation. In the UK, Beem has also partnered with an association of preparatory schools which has trialled teacher-student communication technology, with plans for a roll-out to 750,000 students. Over Valentine’s Day, Beem users sent over 1,500 AR messages.
Beem now has a cadence of around 500 posts per day and has seen around 14.2 million “beem” views over the past six weeks, according to the company.
The reality, however, is that Beem’s consumer use case is still somewhat cumbersome – you have to mount the phone or have someone hold it, record you, and when recording a message, there was a delay of a few minutes during processing. before your link can be shared.
Amstutz, however, says Beem’s ideal use case won’t be the mobile phone.
“The ideal circumstance for two-way telepresence to happen is to wear a set of augmented reality glasses and just have a tracking webcam in your room,” he explains. “So you can basically voice command the glasses…and then the tracking webcam will know it’s time to follow me and check me in, send you, and I’ll see you in my space at the same time and vice versa. “
The founder says Beem has an AR glasses experience prototype he is working on for a set of AR glasses, developed by an undisclosed FAANG company and a major chip supplier. But ultimately, Beem wants to bring this system to all AR glasses in the future.
Along with the launch of its consumer app, Beem is announcing $4 million in seed funding from 5 Lion, Ascension Ventures, Grouport Ventures, Inertia Ventures, Lior Messika and other strategic angel investors. The funds will be used to grow the team and develop its product for AR glasses in consumer markets.
“Innovation in AR creates huge opportunities for a variety of different markets, and the potential for impact from AR is colossal,” said Beem investor Lior Messika. “Beem’s technology creates the infrastructure through which augmented reality can become truly accessible – and viral. The global digital shift is happening fast and Beem is at the forefront,” he added.