Podcast: Business Is Boring #11 – Danushka Abeysuriya of Rush Digital on VR and trumping Pokémon GO.

‘Business is Boring’ is a weekly podcast series presented by The Spinoff in association with Callaghan Innovation. Host Simon Pound speaks with innovators and commentators focused on the future of New Zealand, with the interview available as both audio and text. 

At the recent Hi-Tech awards one of the first awards of the night was the Hi-Tech young achiever award, won by Danushka Abesuriya.

rush digital

Danushka and the team at Rush Digital

Danushka is CEO of Rush Digital, a company that is at the pointy end of VR, augmented reality, 360 video and solving interesting problems for brands and businesses. He started the company pretty much out of Uni, and now has offices and clients around the world, major awards under his belt and a dynamic fast growing business to look after. Young achiever is a fitting award for someone that’s also involved in social enterprise while turning out work with Microsoft, Nestlé, Samsung and the BBC.

Either download or have a listen below, subscribe through iTunes or read on for a transcribed excerpt.

I saw that you’d done an augmented reality app ‘Finding Animals’ that’s pretty topical in the world of Pokémon Go taking over the entire universe over the last couple of days, how long ago was that? And is that a pretty typical thing for you to do to create an augmented reality app? What kind of technology are you guys playing with?

That was quite hilarious because when I saw that I was like ‘oh, look at that, three years later,’

Well it’s pretty similar isn’t it?

I mean, we were doing it on a marketing budget, I think Pokémon Go added nine billion to Nintendo’s market cap so we definitely didn’t see any of those returns with the Meat Pack Hunt game, but yeah the idea was generally similar. I think this is something that our company’s been really good at picking is technology trends, we sort of had our first AR toolkit available since 2011 actually, and the company was founded on a trend of mobile gaming. I worked with a really good friend of mine at university, we built a wee sort of developers source control system that was very comparable to sort of the baseline of Google Docs, so the technologies that we try and work with actually are a couple of years ahead actually. Right now we’re spending a lot of time in VR. We’re a very very early stage of virtual reality and 360 video, there’s millions of problems to solve, but the promise is pretty rewarding.

We’re doing a lot in sort of 360 video specifically on the gear, we’ve started to look at VR gaming as well as a pretty important asset because it’s an incremental improvement or incremental iteration of the skills that we have in our games team. So that’s an area of specific interest.

We’re really interested in computer vision. AR is actually a specialisation computer vision and the reasoning behind that is really simple; the whole world needs computers to understand real life better so vision systems are always gonna be a pretty important part of that, but you know there’s also the fact that we have to keep the doors open so we do a bit of web work, we do app development and things like that as well, quite happily, but it is a bit of a melting pot.

That sounds like a tricky challenge there. It must take quite a bit of investment to push the boundaries of something like 360 video or VR where the audiences are currently small. I imagine you don’t have brands lining up around the corner to fund that work, so you’re doing a lot of research and development, how do you split your kind of company focus like that?

That’s a great question, we have more recently, as the company scales, we’ve had the ability to start doing a little bit of R&D and that kind of stuff. I think what it comes down to is our process again, we’re selling an idea, we don’t just say it’s gonna cost a million bucks and that’s the price and that’s what you have to pay. We take quite a staged approach so deciding how a problem should be solved, whether it’s feasible or not, and making sure that the client understands that we’ll start working on this and you have to trust us when we say we can do it. Equally you have to trust us when we say we can’t do it. I guess that’s how you tackle new technology; people come up with the idea and we say OK we might be able to pull this together using these three pieces and the things we’re worried about are these things.

Those are the first things we’re gonna check and we’re gonna do it in a lean kind of quick way, and that process has been sort of developed over the last four, five years and it’s really finding its feet now.

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