Ski bunnies in Colorado and tourists in the Big Apple – these are but some of a Nelson tech firm’s potential users in the coming months.
Snap Information Technologies has designed and developed a world-first technique of capturing live images of a 360-degree panorama, and then displaying them in real time.
Additionally, because its innovative SnapItHD camera has no movable parts, multiple users can zoom, pan and tilt to their heart's content – all at the same time.
The solar-powered, immersive creation began its life, like many Kiwi creations, in the garage.
David Rodley installed a camera to keep an eye on the weather around the family holiday home in Hanmer Springs.
However, Rodley and his sons, Chris and Andrew, felt compelled to design a higher-quality webcam after being let down by several imported and retail options.
“We’ve effectively redesigned a camera from scratch. We had to come up with our own white balance algorithms, our own exposure algorithms. Everything!” says Chris Rodley, co-founder and now CEO.
The camera was initially used in conjunction with travel website takeabreak.co.nz, which made tourist operators and others sit up and take notice.
It’s now in operation online and used on the websites for Tasman District Council, Neudorf Vineyards and Port Nelson and is set to make a splash in the American tourism market later this year.
Taking SnapIt to Uncle Sam
SnapitHD is trialling the latest version at Rainbow Ski Field in the Southern Alps this year, as several ski fields in the US are also interested in the camera.
An R&D grant from the Ministry of Science and Innovation was the springboard for gaining exposure in the US, most notably at the world Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
“The Las Vegas gig just opened so many doors, all these big names from Apple, NASA and Boeing coming up to us, it was huge,” says Rodley.
“We got talking to some guys from Linkin Park. They want to use SnapIt to shoot a music video.”
Rodley eventually wants to see it used everywhere from the ski fields of Lake Tahoe to downtown New York City.
“Primarily we want to target the tourism sector. The market is worth $1.6 trillion and the US market is obviously a lot bigger than New Zealand’s."
Slow and steady
Despite the surge of interest in SnapItHD, Rodley believes the best way to expand is through organic growth, “rightly or wrongly".
Snap Information Technologies is entirely self-funded and he says they are in no rush to jump into a joint venture just to keep their American dream alive.
“It’s not a ‘control freak’ issue. We’re just hesitant to take advice from someone who has just come in off the street.
“We want to keep that IP and leverage our unique innate knowledge of the camera,” he says.
The intellectual property was developed over hundred of hours of trial and error.
“We didn’t know when we turned over the initial rock, so to speak, there would be 100 other rocks, and then 100 more under them,” says Rodley.
Their independence also provides the added bonus of ease of customisation.
“That intimate knowledge of our product and complete control means we can do new and unique things like adding 360 degree views and extended time lapses.
“We often customise for clients. Sometimes too much. We can do construction apps and security apps like adding a PIR sensor to detect movement.”
The company is now accepting applications from businesses to join the pilot launch of the new SnapitHD live network camera.
From sunshine capital to tech hub?
Snap Information Technologies may have a decidedly American focus, but the Rodleys are staunch Nelson loyalists, and are committed to developing it as a tech hub.
Rodley says local and regional councils, as well as local industry, are very receptive to the idea. Not to mention that Nelson easily outdoes current tech hub Wellington in the weather stakes.
“Stage one is Nelson seeing itself as a tech hub. We can do worldwide business and succeed from right here, we just need an ideal case study.
“We aim to be that case study."