Arti CEO Yaron Zakai-Or: Democratizing the Use of AR for Engaging Video Storytelling
How Arti is changing the world of traditional AR by making it accessible and easy to use for anyone.
Yaron Zakai-Or is the Co-founder and CEO of Arti.tv, a cloud-based augmented reality (AR) platform that lets professional and amateur broadcasters deliver engaging AR videos using just a camera, a laptop and an internet connection.
2019, the company has raised
USD 4M in Seed funding from Axon Ventures and other investors. Based in
Tel Aviv, Israel, Arti has a team of circa
20 that is currently working on enhancing the Arti AR experience with new templates and 3D graphic display options and enabling more realistic, real-time interactions between a live presenter and a graphic character or data stream.
How and why did you found Arti?
My co-founders and I come from the worlds of broadcasting, SaaS, and video production. We saw how the virtual and real worlds are converging and wanted to help video creators become native in mixed reality by eliminating some of the typical barriers to AR: costly studio hardware, long production set-ups, big graphics teams...that's why we founded Arti.tv. We want to democratize the use of AR and make it more flexible so that independent video producers can use it as easily as big broadcasters.
We want to democratize the use of AR and make it more flexible so that independent video producers can use it as easily as big broadcasters.
You are a product manager turned investor turned entrepreneur. How did your journey help you with founding and leading Arti?
I think my background brings a well-rounded vision for Arti, especially in combination with my co-founders. We are a technology company, specifically a SaaS company, which requires a specific approach to customer acquisition, customer success and customer retention that goes beyond just creating a technically exceptional product. Having successfully built other SaaS companies and having worked on both the product and business sides, I see great opportunities ahead for Arti and our customers.
The technology behind Arti rests on augmented reality and real-time graphics, which makes it possible to create incredible AR videos with embedded 2D and 3D objects, web pages & social feeds. Can you tell us more about how your technology works?
Our goal is to make the Arti platform as easy to use as PowerPoint. You can use pre-built templates to add 3D graphics and charts to your video, integrate live data feeds and web pages, as you mention, and you can also import your own 3D objects.
To create the AR effect, you need the Arti marker, which is a small flat square that you place in your scene where you want your objects to appear. The marker is used to “understand” how to map the 3D graphics to the real scene. If you don’t plan to move the camera throughout the video, then you can remove the marker, as Arti remembers its location. If you are moving the camera during the video, or performing zoom in/out, the marker needs to stay in the scene, but will be covered by a virtual mat, which you can choose and customize.
Our platform is built on Unreal Engine and I’m proud to say that we recently received an Epic MegaGrant in recognition of our innovation using Unreal.
Congratulations on receiving an Epic MegaGrant! I am curious, how has AI helped you to deliver an incredibly easy to use technology that requires only a camera and internet connection?
AI is what creates and maintains that connection between the 3D graphics and the real world that is captured in the video and AI enables the platform to create realistic images of 3D objects moving in a space that doesn’t exist. We use a combination of “traditional” computer vision and deep learning to understand the real scene and enable our users to avoid using expensive tracking hardware, which is how the incumbents in this space work.
Arti is the first company that has developed a software-only AR solution that is up and running within less than a minute.
What has been the biggest challenge for your technical team while building Arti?
Arti is the first company that has developed a software-only AR solution that is up and running within less than a minute. This is a huge challenge, as it needs to work both in-studio, outside the studio, in your home office, and in various lighting conditions. Developing a dataset and automated testing that support this development effort is a huge challenge.
What has been your approach to data necessary to train your algorithms?
Our data is mostly videos: with graphics and without graphics. These are used to understand what “good” tracking looks like and what “bad” tracking looks like. These videos have been shot in various setups and with various cameras, lenses, and lighting conditions, so that we get a large set of examples. We split the data: some is used for learning and the other part is used for automated regression testing.
Congrats on closing a solid Seed round in April 2020 and on a recent partnership with Mediability, Scandinavia’s largest provider of solutions, services, and products for video production. What are your plans going forward in terms of product, team, and sales strategy?
We’re executing on our product development and go-to-market plans and working to expand our market presence. Mediability, as you mentioned, is a great partner, and we are expanding our global reseller network to other regions, including a new partnership with wtv. in the UK and got it in Colombia. We have also partnered with organizations that serve particular broadcast niches, such as StormGeo, which delivers AR weather content with Arti.
I can imagine that Arti’s product can be used by various clients from influencers to professional news presenters. Who do you target as clients now?
Just as broadcasting itself has become democratized with the rise of YouTube, Tik Tok, and other platforms that let individuals become video content producers, we’re finding that more individuals are becoming interested in engaging their audiences with AR. So we’re working with large global broadcasters (including some household names that I cannot mention) and major sports organizations, as well as video production teams, and business users who are looking to enhance their videos and make web meetings more engaging with AR.
For example, we worked with the WRC team this year, to help them with getting 3D graphics used for the race studio, which is shot in multiple locations in every race. Their biggest challenge is lack of live in-person audience, which makes the video quite empty. With Arti, they were able to get engaging graphics that partially compensated for the lack of audience.
Soon, video without AR will feel like old-fashioned black & white TV.
Huge transformations are taking place in the way we consume media content and new technologies such as AR have been powering that change. What do you think is next for the AR + Media industry?
It is exciting, because the mixed reality, immersive AR future we imagined is already here in many ways. If you think back to something like the movie Minority Report, where Tom Cruise’s character is swiping virtual computer screens in front of him, we can do that today. Or even further back, to Sharon Stone’s character in the 1990 film Total Recall, where she’s practicing her tennis serve with an AR image and getting feedback: Mirror is doing that kind of thing today.
In both our consumer and business lives, we’re getting used to immersive media that provides enhanced information to aid decision making, as well as just visually thrilling experiences. Soon, video without AR will feel like old-fashioned black & white TV.
What was the impact of COVID-19 on your business?
Our sales plan assumed that we would close our first deals using face-to-face meetings. We started this in February and had to stop flying to meet with customers in March. Of course, our whole process changed to rely on Zoom meetings. That forced us to innovate and enable Arti to work in a live Zoom call. This is how we closed all of our customers in the last 3 months. It’s a whole new presentation approach: enabling you to present engaging graphics while being seen on a large screen. One can’t compare this experience to full-screen slides or to picture-in-picture. It’s like comparing a TV set from the 50s to an 8K TV.