In the past several years, Apple has been doing small acquisitions of Augmented reality startups. And the latest of these series is called IKinema, a UK startup that morphs video footage into animated characters. Interestingly enough, we also found out that IKinema has a Bulgarian branch that even the local game development association GameDev Summit, has not heard of.
“Apple buys smaller companies from time to time, and we generally don’t discuss our purpose or plans,” a statement Apple uses to confirm acquisitions, quoted by Financial Times.
Apple’s new AR
Founded 13 years ago in the UK, and officially on the market since 2009, IKinema specializes in products that improve the quality of animation and reduce the cost of producing animation. The company owns patent protected intellectual property for fast, realistic and organic animation for games and movie production. At least, this is what Crunchbase tells us. Simply put, it turns video into an animation.
It uses patented IP to dynamically calculate animation sequences – captures body motions and transforms it into animations immediately. The resulting animations are more realistic and cheaper to produce and maintain. The company is a spin-out from the Surrey Space Centre, Guildford, England, and operates from offices in the UK and Bulgaria. Prominent clients include 20th Century Fox, Disney, Framestore, The Foundry, Microsoft, Zenimax, SquareEnix, Luxology, Lucasarts, Audiomotion and Vicon. The company is in partnership with Autodesk, Sony, Microsoft, Intel and Nvidia.
Indeed, IKinema technology originates from research undertaken by the Bulgarian researcher Dr. Alexandre Pechev at the Surrey Space Centre while he was researching on singularity avoidance in control Moment Gyroscopes used in satellites, we read in a summary by 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF). In LinkedIn, Pechev is still listed as the founder and CEO of IKinema.
According to this summary, IKinema’s technology is a novel solution to a known problem that exists in areas such as robotics, spacecraft control, and computer animation. The new method is a computationally efficient numerical tool that solves the inverse mapping problem, also known as the inverse kinematics problem, it reads. Real-time computer animation for games and virtual environments was a logical first step to commercialise the findings due to the necessity for solving highly complex systems in real-time and the size of the commercial market. The algorithm can potentially also be applied to the problem of protein folding for fast drug design, an area that is still to be explored.
The Bulgarian connection
Тhe company was not only founded by a Bulgarian researcher but has been running local operations for some time. “This is an interesting piece of the puzzle. All the giants are racing for simple wide-audience games, with AR technology expected to be at the heart of some of the upcoming big titles,” tell us representatives of the Bulgarian GameDev Summit.
In 2018, the company had as little as three employees, no registered revenue and a loss of €65k. The previous year however there was some turnover of €35k. As of the writing of this article, the manager of the Bulgarian branch in official registers is Peter Denwood, who according to LinkedIn appears to be the Director of Corporate Law International at Apple. We are still incapable of finding contact with the company in Bulgaria, we cannot say what the future of the local office would be. Yet, in any case, the software unit here, in some way, has contributed to Apple’s next AR plans over the past eight years.
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