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Nick Smith: Snapping at a trillion-dollar door

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Camera inventors now have their eyes firmly fixed on the big picture.

Chris Rodley and the 360-degree camera which, he says, has 'a ridiculous amount of potential'. Photo / Supplied
Chris Rodley and the 360-degree camera which, he says, has 'a ridiculous amount of potential'. Photo / Supplied

Animal lovers be warned: the following column contains admissions of puppy-killing. Most of us have had good ideas and some of us take those ideas and nurture them, like puppies, so they become money-making good ideas.

But in the hard-boiled novel called Good Business Practice, a floppy-eared cutie doesn't stand a snowball's chance in hell if it stands in the way of a toehold in the US$1.36 trillion tourism market.

"We like to say, killed puppies," Chris Rodley, chief executive of Snap Information Technologies, says of burying the once much-loved family business [something about software development]. "We've killed a bunch of puppies and now we're in a position where the cameras are our 100 per cent focus."

The cameras were the focus of an earlier Success column: high definition real-time images from fixed cameras. Tourism operators were early adopters, as was the construction industry and city councils keen to keep an eye on sites.

At that early stage the SnapitHD camera was still a sideline to the software company. But the sideline is now the headline business because the Rodleys have developed a new generation of a solar-powered, time-lapse camera that provides 360-degree panoramic pictures.

"It's almost like the user is standing there looking left and looking right," Rodley says. "The key point of difference is the 360 deg - no one's ever done that before. It's similar to Google street view, except the image is live, it's real, it's not Photoshopped, and one of the cool things we've added to this is the ability to go back in time with a little slider. You can go back to 9am this morning and, if you're logging in from America, when its night-time in New Zealand, you don't just see a black shot."

One of the new generation cameras is set up at Hanmer Springs, and the first serious snowfall last week provided evidence of the device's popularity: "We did 74,000 impressions on our player on that day alone - and almost 12,000 people interacted directly with the player on that day." Traditional video provides 25 still shots a second; the SnapitHD3 does two frames in high definition. "It's essentially video."

Such is the quality of the picture that the cameras could soon be providing the images for a documentary on the loathsome but very popular noise merchants Linkin Park. The opportunity came through Rodley's presentation at the Consumer Electronics Show [CES] in Las Vegas in January.

"A guy [from Linkin Park] comes along and I give him the pitch ... and now they're talking to their producers in LA about doing a documentary, in 360deg, [and] filming it in LA, an application we just never, ever considered for the camera." Other interested parties included executives from Nasa, Twitter, and Google: "I've spoken to Google a couple of times; we met Google execs in January."

Readers need to remember that the cameras were developed by the family themselves, initially in a garage, albeit with considerable assistance from the Ministry of Science and Innovation, which provided funding on a dollar-for-dollar basis.

"When you're building in the garage in Nelson, you don't have the key aesthetic designer of the iPad walk past and give you feedback; you don't have exposure to Linkin Park," says Rodley. "Everything is done in-house; all the software, the hardware, the whole shebang. We haven't taken in any investment - we're completely self-funded out of cashflow."

And now, from Nelson the family intend to take on the world, although Rodley says New Zealand remains a key focus. "Our goal is to have a camera in every town in New Zealand. We're very focused on this market and promoting New Zealand as a tourism destination but there is only so much you can do here.

"The [international] tourism industry is our primary push. We're knocking on the door of the US tourism industry, [and] the US industry is worth about US$1.36 trillion, with 6 per cent growth expected over the next four years."

Revenue is generated not so much by the hardware, per se, but by charging fees for the management of content on the Snapit media servers. "That's where most of the heavy lifting is done. We provide the content as a service and charge a weekly fee. For this initial camera launch we're charging $49 per week." In the US their competitors charge around US$350 per week.

SnapitHD is still a start-up business but "we think we have a product that has a ridiculous amount of potential - clearly from our experience and validation at CES."

- NZ Herald

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