I’ve been fascinated with augmented reality technology (AR) for a while now, because I think it will become the standard of mobile. It feels a bit like wearing 3D glasses through your mobile, allowing you to see things you can’t see normally. As Allen Lu, of Senscape puts it, “[AR] becomes an extension of yourself.

I last wrote about Mobile Bus, a Korean company developing mobile marker based AR games. But while in Seoul, I also took the opportunity to drop by another Korean based AR company, Olaworks.

Established in 2006 by Jung-hee Ryu, the progressive technology company attracted US$4m investment from Intel Capital and SKYLAKE Incuvest. The company has 60+ patents and has two main technologies. One is ScanSearch, a Computer vision and sensor based mobile search. The second is Olaface, a facial recognition engine to detect, track and identify people in real time in photos and videos. The company now has around 60 employees.

Here’s a quick overview of what Olaworks technology can do:

Face detection/face tracking – automatically detects and tracks one’s face from the images or videos. It’s what you commonly see in digital cameras nowadays.

Smile detector – can detect not only when you are smiling but how much you are smiling! Some cameras have used this technology to automatically trigger the shutter when you are smiling the best.

Blink detector – can detect the level of how much you blink in each eye. Like the smile detector, a camera shutter can also be triggered based on how much you blink. The technology can be applied in Driving Safely Management System to alert you when you’re driving when drowsy.

Face feature detection – can detect and extract many different facial features such as the nose, mouth, and jaw.

Face recognition – similar to how Facebook is able to know who is in the photos, Olaface can also identify and tag names to faces.    Next time you awkwardly forget someone’s name, just use your phone to find out!

Face similarity search – analyzes face photos searches a large scale database for the most similar person. I remember doing something similar on a Facebook app a while ago, but wasn’t convinced by the results because it returned a picture of a Korean female pop star.

Age/Gender Classification – amazingly the technology can detect what gender and age you are based on your facial structure, such as how far apart your eyes are. I really want to know how accurate this feature is! No more having to ask embarrassing questions of how old someone is, or more awkwardly wondering if someone is male or female.

Head tracking – this detects and tracks the 3-dimensional direction of the face! This is super cool for using your mobile to detect someone you just met and add them to your social network. Olaworks has also released a fun mobile app that allows you to hold your mobile phone up to a face and augment a pirate face on top.

Object tracking – can track or detect a moving object and auto-focus on it. One obvious application for this is when taking moving shots with your digital camera. One cool future application is to be able to instantly detect something like a moving car and being able to find out the brand, make and how much it is.

Image matching – is able to recognize objects automatically by matching them to a database. This is useful for matching a logo on the street or a book on a shelf. I see this as a huge market for mobile commerce, where consumers can point to products around them with their mobile and then automatically get directed to an online shop to find the best price. This technology will also give rise to the next wave of daily deals start-ups, whereby a customer on the street who is hungry and wants a place to eat, can simply flash his phone in front of the restaurants in front of him, see a coupon augmented on his phone and choose one best on the best deal.

ScanSearch currently supports the Korean version of iPhone and Android as well as the US and European version of Windows 7. It will also be installed in Optimus 7, the first LG Windows smart phone from 11th October.

I believe the possibilities are endless with augmented reality and will only be constrained by your imagination. There are arguments both for and against AR. People that doubt it say, it is cool but gimmicky. Those who support it (like me) believe it will be the next evolution of mobile, providing somewhat of a blue ocean of opportunity.  None the less, Olaworks is working on awesome technology.