The SpinMe Studio suite of products automates a number of highly manually intensive and laborious processes required to produce seamless 360 degree product photography, in order to enable ‘spin and rotate’ virtual product views online.
The company originally started life as a mainstream photographic studio, but work with various forward-thinking clients and the prominence of the internet and online shopping created the demand for a fully automated 360 degree photographic process.
The challenge with these types of development is that not only is there a significant number of non-related components that all need to work in perfect unison, there are many more subtle variances that need to be controlled and managed in as automated and effective a way as possible.
The products in question come in all shapes, colours, styles and sizes, with each one presenting its own unique set of challenges.
For example during the course of a week the team might be photographing the latest range of Sony electronics, followed by a range of Omega watches for a particular retailer, followed by the latest Superdry clothing range, either being modelled by professional models (which introduces yet another level of potential complexity) or simply ‘standalone’ as depicted in the picture below.
In order to achieve the levels of automation required the system would need to incorporate as many manual processes as possible and attempt to replace these via a smart amalgamation of hardware and software processes and applications, all designed to refine and automate the various tasks as much as possible.
Cameras and other robotic hardware needed to be integrated and then fully synchronised, combined with parameters that would automatically adjust to allow for the varying and fluctuating conditions, in order to produce as perfect a result as possible.
In order to commence this process the team firstly needed the ability to be able to interpret and even modify existing third party firmware, which was often incomplete, usually incorrect and untested and almost certainly undocumented; this requires a great deal of skill and the ability to second-guess a sequence of events and an intended outcome.
The synchronisation process itself then included the development of systems capable of managing multiple simultaneous commands to the nearest millisecond, as well as various algorithms designed to assess problems, manage auto-corrections and auto-adjustments.
However the not only is the development of algorithms a notoriously specialised and iterative process, this was further compounded by the inherent incompatibility of the various hardware components, as well as hardware documentation and SDKs that simply didn’t stack up, all of which meant that the team was perpetually having to think outside the box in order to achieve their objectives.
One of the more specific aspects of the auto-adjustment process in this particular application was the development of some automated chroma-key logic.
Chroma keying is the process by which photographic or video producers either remove background colours altogether, or remove the effect of background or other ambient colouring from the subject matter, as these things may either directly or indirectly affect the outcome of the image.
Whilst the technology and required outcomes of something like chroma keying are quite specific, the principles of developing ‘intelligence’ to perform a task like this tend to be similar, insomuch as they require not only ingenious design at the outset, but constant adaptation and iteration in order to arrive at the final solution … and even then this is only the final solution Mark I.
The HMRC R&D Tax Credit scheme was something the company had heard about before, but like many companies before them they were not convinced of the veracity of any potential claim, because although they were overcoming technological challenges on a daily basis, they never saw themselves as undertaking ‘R&D’ as such.
It is a common misconception in the marketplace that companies have to be either employing scientists, undertaking highbrow scientific research, or somehow be involved in futuristic technological development in order to qualify for this very generous relief.
A further misconception was that this relief was somehow arbitrary, in a similar way to applying for business grants for example; hence the senior management was sceptical and wary about spending too much time chasing something that they saw as being speculative at best.
Following an initial meeting and some high level analysis however, it was decided that a claim should be submitted and within 6 weeks the company had received in excess of £100K from HMRC.
As the company continues to innovate, it is fully aware of the contribution made by the HMRC R&D Tax Credit scheme and will continue to work with the team at Easy R&D to secure further lucrative payments into the future.
After a number of years under development the SpinMe product suite has been fully operational for some time and is leading the way in its field; all that remains is the continual and never-ending refinement and re-engineering processes that will inevitably follow as technology continues to advance!