A total immersion in Digital Catapults Machine Intelligence Garage, Future Networks Lab and 5G Testbed Accelerator Programme led to influential business connections, that advanced the sales, manufacture and exposure of the AI-driven Alice Camera.
The founders met on the Entrepreneur First Programme, which supports individuals to build technology companies. At the time, Vishal Kumar worked for Sotheby’s Auction House as one of the company’s first data scientists, a niche role in the art market. Meanwhile, Liam Donovan is a PhD electrical engineer who did a fellowship at the Royal Academy of Engineering specifically around commercialising AI-embedded hardware systems for creatives.
Vishal built a large following on social media, creating video and blog content exploring how machine learning and data science could be applied to the creative industries. As a content creator, he recognised the limited capabilities of professional cameras. Despite their exceptional quality, the user interface was antiquated and hard to navigate, creating a cumbersome workflow.
Liam also had a passion for photography, so their interests and frustration with the existing technology soon collided. As they brainstormed ideas, Liam approached from a hardware and photography angle, while Vishal focused on content creation and social media. Together, with their skills perfectly matched, they developed the Alice Camera concept.
Made by creatives, for creatives.
For day-to-day images, a smartphone can easily snap a photo at a party or capture a beautiful view, but content creators need more. A professional in the film or creative industries could not arrive on set with just a smartphone in hand, nor can these devices meet the demands of social media influencers, often with followers reaching hundreds of thousands.
The Alice Camera offers all the quality of a professional DSLR camera without the excessive cost or bulk. Its solid aluminium frame attaches to a smartphone, advancing its photographic capabilities with added usability and control.
The Alice Camera’s high-quality optical system features a 4/3 inch sensor to capture crystal clear 4K photos and footage, which can instantly be edited, streamed and shared on social media. Powered by Google’s Edge TPU (Tensor Processing Unit) Alice Camera combines deep learning and artificial intelligence with all the advantages of smartphone technology.
Alice Camera joins Machine Intelligence Garage to grow the business and develop its product.
In the early stages of the business, Alice Camera joined Digital Catapult’s Machine Intelligence Garage programme, recognising the support it provided to the creative and manufacturing industries.
“We were quite surprised to find an institution that supported both machine learning startups and machine intelligence startups, with a crossover with IoT,” said Vishal Kumar, co-founder and CEO of Alice Camera.
“One of the immediate benefits was the access to the talent and resources the programme has in terms of the technical team. Another big benefit was the cloud computing credits, which we’ve been making the most of to train our models in the cloud. Once we train them in the cloud, we wrap them up, compress them, and deploy them on Alice. So those cloud credits have come in really handy to allow us to train at scale.”
Building influential contacts to go to market.
During an event in the early stages of the programme, Alice Camera was introduced to Arrow Electronics, one of Digital Catapult’s technical partners. This connection proved valuable by helping Alice Camera source the components needed for its AI-driven camera. Another useful contact was SMS Electronics, a manufacturer based in Nottingham and fellow cohort on the programme, now tasked to manufacture the first Alice Camera units.
Alice Camera also met a representative from the crowdfunding platform Indiegogo, which later became the primary sales channel for Alice Camera pre-orders. Launched in February 2021, the Indiegogo campaign far exceeded its £20,000 goal, raising £144,170: 720% of its target.
After completing the Machine Intelligence Garage programme, Alice Camera joined the 5G Testbed Accelerator Programme.
“The 5G Testbed Accelerator Programme has been helpful for us,” explained Vishal Kumar. “Alice Camera attaches to the back of a smartphone, which today are 5G enabled, not only allowing the data to be downloaded at incredible speeds but also uploaded at incredible speeds. This will allow us to take really high-quality professional footage shot by Alice and stream that online to places like YouTube and Instagram Live.”
British people are known for telling excellent stories.
The Alice Camera will be manufactured in Britain, as the team recognise a greater demand in the UK.
“British people are known for telling excellent stories and we’re known worldwide for our film and creative industries,” said Vishal Kumar.
“The Alice Camera could be really helpful for broadcasters, like the BBC or ITV, who are massively cut for budgets but don’t necessarily need to take a massive film crew to a remote news location. Instead, they could just take something like an Alice Camera, which will give them the quality that they want, but also the ability to stream content online,” he added.
With pre-orders sold out and 269 backers signed up, the Indiegogo funds will go towards manufacturing 300 units of the Alice Camera.
In addition, Alice Camera was granted £175,000 from the UK’s innovation agency Innovate UK, which will go towards salaries and hardware testing. The team credit their close association with Digital Catapult in helping the application.
For the future, Alice Camera is planning another sales campaign later in the year – potentially abroad – to include Japan or Taiwan, realising there are content creators worldwide who deserve a more suitable tool for the direction content creation is going, into the future and the next decade.
£144,170 raised on Indiegogo - 720% of its £20,000 target.
50 million income-generating content creators globally in a market growing 15% annually.