Caitlin Sykes

Caitlin Sykes is the NZ Herald's Your Business editor

App turns colouring books into 3D

The technology is based on research carried out by Puteko's Adrian Clark.
The technology is based on research carried out by Puteko's Adrian Clark.

A Kiwi invention is taking the beloved pastime of colouring-in to a whole new, high-tech level, allowing kids' colouring creations to come to life.

New Zealand company Puteko's colAR Mix app allows users to print, colour-in and then see the image they've created come alive in a 3D animated world thanks to some seriously clever augmented reality technology.

Augmented reality (AR) allows users to see 3D computer graphics hovering over 2D coloured images on your mobile phone or iPad.

The technology is based on research carried out by Puteko's head of research and development, Adrian Clark, during his PhD at Canterbury University's Human Interface Technology Laboratory (HITLab) research institute.

There are an increasing number of AR apps around, however the colAR Mix app has a key point of difference, explains Puteko's new chief executive, Edwin Darlow.

"Usually in AR what pops up for you is what pops up for me, and the user has no ability to modify or interact with that," Darlow said.

"However, Adrian's research focused on finding a way to make the marker, as it's called in AR, able to be modified. So with this app people are actually able to colour-in the images - or modify them - and those changes can then be incorporated into the AR environment that pops up."

Puteko was formed in 2012 and it released the colAR Mix app last year to much fanfare with one reviewer calling it "the colouring book of the future" and a "pretty much perfect" example of AR. It's since had more than 475,000 downloads.

The fledgling tech firm also caught the eye of the folks at angel investment and advisory firm Sparkbox Ventures leading to a $220,000 investment in Puteko last September by the Global from Day One fund (GD1), made up of investment from Sparkbox, the New Zealand Venture Investment Fund (NZVIF) and GD1 Nominees.

At that time Darlow was on the other side of the fence, heavily involved with the company as a venture associate at Sparkbox. Soon after the investment was made, however, he joined the Puteko team full time and in April this year he moved into the CEO role.

"GD1 invests at a very early stage and a lot of the things they invest in are almost ideas rather than businesses; but ideas with great potential. Those funds have allowed the Puteko team to get in-market and refine their business model, strategy and where the company is placed in the AR ecosystem."

The funding has also allowed the company to take on four full-time staff, as previously everyone in the company had been working on the venture part-time, around their day jobs. Plus it's allowed it to move its headquarters to Tokyo so it has the massive mobile markets of Japan and the US closer to hand.

"It was the ideal and the necessary place for the company to be, to be able to grow and evolve at the speed it needed to," Darlow said.

"At the moment the colouring pages we have are fun, but being able to use well-known characters that people already know from other things like movies is the next step.

"Ultimately what we're looking to do is connect the physical with the digital.

"I think the technology can really become an AR platform for content in the games, entertainment and education spaces."

Produced in conjunction with the Angel Association of New Zealand.

- NZ Herald

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