Step into the future of AR and VR technology

As the world embraces rapid technological advancements, augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) have emerged as transformative tools with the potential to revolutionize industries and enhance human experiences. 

Whether for art, education, healthcare, entertainment or engineering, AR and VR will play a foundational role in the next phase of technology. That’s why across the world, initiatives are launching that aim to incubate and nurture innovative ideas in transformative technology.

One such program is the Creative Solutions program by the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) in Saudi Arabia. From this, two innovative projects – MemoARable and Virtually There – have arisen, aiming to leverage AR and VR to add value to Saudi Arabia’s cultural and creative industries (CCI).

New horizons

MemoARable, spearheaded by Maryam Alfadhli and Lina Alismail, seeks to reimagine the customer-store relationship through an AR-powered app. 

By transforming memories into personalized gifts incorporating images, messages, and voice notes, MemoARable transcends traditional marketing strategies, opening doors for immersive ticketing and gift card possibilities, and expanding its application beyond initial expectations.

On the other hand, Maram Alghamdi and Ali AlEid's Virtually There aims to revolutionise the tourism industry by offering users a full 3D, 360-degree access to Saudi Arabia's top destinations. Kicking off with AlUla, this immersive experience takes audiences on a journey through iconic tourist attractions. 

The roadmap also includes virtual visits to Riyadh, Jeddah, and a pilgrimage-focused tour of Makkah and Madinah, creating an exciting blend of culture and technology.

The prototypes of these projects were presented to a team of international tech experts, including inventor and tech consultant Simon Benson, as part of the Creative Solutions program. 

This program empowers digital content creation in immersive technologies and grants each of the five selected projects financial support of up to $ 20,000 to bring their ideas to fruition.

Room to grow

This year marks the third edition of the Creative Solutions showcase, welcoming participants to pitch their ideas once again. Successful applicants will develop their prototypes from September to December before presenting them to investors and the public in Q4.

The Creative Solutions program goes beyond mere financial support, as participants embark on a transformative journey featuring technical, creative, and entrepreneurial training and mentorship. 

Their prototypes are showcased in events attended by potential collaborators, incubators, accelerators, and other stakeholders, further promoting innovation and collaboration in the immersive tech space.

As the world embraces immersive technologies, projects like these will pave the way to unleashing the limitless potential of AR and VR. With MemoARable and Virtually There leading the way, the future is indeed bright for the intersection of creativity, technology, and human innovation.

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Microsoft Teams is going to use green screen technology to make your video calls better

Scratchy, low quality virtual backgrounds have been a staple of video conferences at work since the Covid-19 pandemic began, but, from April 2023, Microsoft Teams will have a solution, in the form of green screen support.

Artificial intelligence is at the point where software such as NVIDIA Broadcast and Google Meet can support virtual backgrounds and blur effects without any additional software or hardware, but for maximum quality, a green screen works wonders.

How? In the Microsoft 365 roadmap listing for the planned feature, Microsoft says that “Green screen improves the sharpness and definition of the virtual background effect around your face, head, ears, and hair. It also allows you to show a prop or other object in your hand to be more visible to other participants in a call.” 

Teams green screen

Having a real, physical green screen behind you during your 9-5 is slightly more embarrassing than pretending you’re at the beach or a revolting strawberry, but there’s a good reason you might want to invest in one when the feature rolls out.

“The virtual background with a green screen,” Microsoft goes on to say, “provides the best virtual background effect, consuming fewer system resources, allowing your Teams to run smoother.”

If your mobile workstation or business laptop is low-spec, and you’ve been having trouble getting virtual backgrounds on Teams to work well, a green screen could be the best way to get in on this often strange and terrifying feature.

And if you’re really looking to terrify (and terrorize) your colleagues on Teams, you could go one worse and set up a metaverse-style avatar.

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How technology advancements are disrupting the business of photography

Technology innovations in the camera began disrupting the photography industry 20 years ago with the advent of digital sensors replacing film. 

Advanced post-production software brought even more innovation over the past decade. 

Today, sophisticated workflow automation technology powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning is disrupting the way photographers run their business, enabling greater productivity behind the scenes.

The photography business in a time of instant expectations

While many technology advancements in photography have been about camera, editing and printing improvements, there is a new emphasis on the business side of the industry. In the same way that digital images delivered instantaneous results bypassing film processing, new business solutions for discovery, scheduling and payment are now available right in the palm of their hand to help photographers succeed.

Photography pros and clients alike are smartphone-equipped, mobile-optimized, and social-media enabled. The photography business ecosystem must be able to deliver sleek, easy-to-use business experiences to stay ahead of clients’ rapidly evolving expectations for instant gratification.

As a business partner (and SaaS developer) for photographers, it is imperative to help customers deal with the challenges of today and plan for the needs of tomorrow. Photographers need and expect a comprehensive technology platform that helps them stay ahead of the curve. 

A photography business suite of tools should deliver technology solutions for:

– Elegant portfolio presentation
– Effective discovery methods to attract clients
– Streamlined, automated scheduling and payment
– Easy post-shoot client proofing and image selection
– Hands-off print/product sales and delivery to clients
– Ongoing, automated marketing and sales incentives

Technology to help clients find and hire a photographer

Traditionally, a client seeking professional photography services relied on recommendations by friends or was forced to choose between photographers who had hired a professional website coder/builder and those using rather inflexible “vanilla” site templates.

Now, drag-and-drop website building technology empowers photographers to present their work by creating unlimited online portfolio variations, branded in their own style to set them apart from others – without writing a single line of code. 

Using extremely intuitive starter templates, a photographer can design a beautiful portfolio site in minutes by simply dragging and dropping content blocks into place, uploading their images and writing the stories they want prospective customers to read. 

An animated image of a woman looking at a photo file

(Image credit: Zenfolio)

A good business technology partner will take it steps further by providing tools to optimize the site content for maximum exposure to search-engines to help their website get discovered, optimize image upload and download speeds, and ensure the security of images from the nefarious threats of the web-based world.

It’s Business 101 – attracting clients, doing the work, collecting revenue. By listening to clients and working to understand their challenges, we realized that while many other industries had moved to an online back-end business environment, photographers were still managing bookings and payments manually. Or at the very least, they were using multiple online tools from multiple companies to make it all happen. 

The required back-and-forth calls and emails with clients took time away from completing more photoshoots and selling images. 

Photographer portfolio availability

Completely automated scheduling disrupts this experience by evolving from a pen and paper calendar, beyond Excel and Google calendar entries, to an end-to-end suite of tools automating an entire client experience prior to the shoot. 

Consider how a resource like a fully automated booking tool takes over the process after a client finds a photographer, not only automating the entire scheduling, invoicing and payment process, but also enabling a photographer to fulfil pre-orders that they might have sold as part of the service at the time of booking.

An animated image of a man looking at a calendar

(Image credit: Zenfolio)

BookMe is auto-synced with a photographer’s calendar enabling a client to instantly see their availability and get immediate transparent pricing. Once booked, a new private client gallery is auto-generated, ready to accept uploaded images after the shoot for clients to review, comment on, and select. 

Print and photo gift orders can be placed by the client right in the user interface, right on the spot. Orders go directly to the lab, get processed and shipped directly to the client. 

Automated booking, scheduling and direct payment saves photographers an average of more than 40 hours every month by streamlining the client on-boarding experience. Better yet, it increases bookings and revenue. Photographers are able to reallocate time usually spent on administrative tasks to ones that bring in more revenue.

Technology to support the post-shoot process

Technology advancements beyond the automated booking and payment process expedite the post-shoot experience by not taxing a photographer’s online resources.

Uploading that doesn’t result in downtime

If the image uploading process ties up a photographer’s online bandwidth, it can cripple their ability to do other things during the time they are waiting around for photos to upload. 

Zenfolio, for example, engineered a multi-threaded, non-blocking uploader enabling photographers to upload multiple galleries simultaneously as they work on their website or refine the price list for their online shop. 

An animated image of a woman sitting on a cloud with an arrow pointing up with three images below

(Image credit: Zenfolio)

Eliminating the need for a photographer to configure each client gallery individually is another way to save time and get images to clients faster. Zenfolio's gallery preset feature lets a photographer define presets while uploading a new gallery. The preset automatically applies layouts, prices, privacy and access settings, and many other configurations.

Facial recognition technology to easily find a face in a crowd

A good photography business technology partner  – and SaaS provider – pays close attention to business trends and emerging genre specializations. Event photography is growing in popularity to join established wedding and sports genres. 

A photographer or client can spend giant chunks of time inspecting a gallery full of people to find specific faces and manually tag or share those photos. Why not apply the latest facial recognition technology used in other industries to expedite this process?

A simple and effective facial filter tool enables a photographer to locate faces and organize hundreds of images in a matter of seconds. Originally intended as a photographer-only tool, the Facial Filter can be enabled for client use. 

Let’s face it – most brides are probably more interested in looking at photos of themselves and their new spouse than browsing pictures of their uncle “getting low” on the dance floor. 

Technology that improves the proofing process

Proofing typically requires quite a bit of back and forth between a photographer and their client, and this is often complicated by the fact that you and your client might not be referring to the same photo. 

The best way to automate your workflow is to enable your clients to interact with you directly on the specific image they’re looking at.

A suite of technology tools should enable a client to select an image as a “favorite” and add a comment or editing direction right on the image. Photographers see every comment as they edit the galleries and photos. 

The comments even flow through to their favorite editing tool, and edited photos can be replaced without losing the metadata or original comments.

Technology to automate marketing to clients

The pandemic brought the photography industry to its knees for months. Unable to rely on income from upcoming work, photographers had to earn passive income from past shoots.  

Automated ecommerce campaigns that reintroduced past images to clients with an incentive to make a purchase helped photographers bring in revenue and survive the challenging period.  The pandemic also revealed an interesting fact – clients stuck at home enjoyed reliving photo memories and ordering prints on their devices. 

Automated client campaigns

Zenfolio created and launched the only automated Client Campaigns feature in the photography industry. 

A photographer can opt into predefined seasonal marketing campaigns designed for Mother’s/Father’s Day, July 4th, and other secular and religious holidays. 

Select galleries can be attached to each campaign and the rest just happens on auto-pilot – clients order, the lab processes and ships directly to the clients. 

An email coming out of an evelope

(Image credit: Zenfolio)

And more revenue opportunities are available from coupon-based campaigns that are implemented on gallery banners and emails to clients. 

These cool marketing features leverage both the workflow automation platform and relationships with leading print labs to help photographers sell thousands of products on their websites and client galleries – all without lifting a finger.

Technology to analyze business data

Any smart business platform should provide actionable data, which means it exists to help photographers learn and run their business. Key insights about how photos are getting viewed, favorited and downloaded should be available at the gallery level. 

Apps to maximize success

The widget dashboard must be an easy-to-use user interface that offers a quick way to see how many visitors a photographer is driving to their site, to see upcoming bookings and how print and digital sales are working. 

The app also guides them on what they should focus on next to become more successful. Like every aspect of a photography business platform, the technology must be built with a razor-sharp focus on usability, simplicity and efficiency.

What's next for photography innovation

By automating key workflows, photographers can spend more time behind the lens, interacting with their customers and working their unique brand of magic on creating photos – and less time doing administrative and marketing work.

Technology advancements will continue to disrupt the photography business in the best of ways on both sides of the camera. Photography customers experience automation, streamlining and convenience from other industries in their everyday lives. 

They expect it from their favorite photographer as well. And the photographer’s business technology partner is here to help them meet those expectations, along with a few new tricks.

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Here’s a technology that could make laptops and smartphones last longer

When you think about the parts of our electronic devices that consume the most power, the screen and processor usually spring to mind. However, data transfer – either within the device or over the waves (i.e. to cloud storage providers) – is consuming more and more power.

Scientists at the National University of Singapore (NUS) have come up with an innovative technique that promises to reduce the amount of energy consumed during memory-intensive processes by up to 80%. In other words, a fivefold improvement in efficiency over current solutions when bits travel on silicon.

They came up with a new type of network-on-chip that decreases quality a little bit, but also reduces power consumption significantly. This is achieved by adjusting the amplitude of the transmitted signal dynamically; using conventional values for mission-critical tasks to ensure maximum accuracy and lower values for greater power reductions.

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Smarter than usual

The example provided by the team was that of imperceptible video quality degradation when full quality is unnecessary, for example when the user looks away from the screen, when ambient light is low or when battery life is short.

Similar scenarios are also applicable to more powerful (and power hungry) platforms such as desktop PCs, NAS boxes, laptops or even servers, but the key opportunity is to enable a full computer vision system – one that can replicate the human vision system while being viable from a power perspective.

The stated goal of the research is to build “a new breed of low-power smart cameras that could operate almost perpetually under the tight power budget extracted from the environment such as via a centimeter-sized solar cell”.

It's unclear when the technology will be rolled out for more practical use cases, but given TSMC – which manufactures chips for AMD, Nvidia and Qualcomm – supports the project for chip fabrication, we wouldn’t be surprised if it was sooner rather than later.

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