Startup Thinks Its Visual Search Can Top GPS; Hires Scott Rafer as CEO

Omniar, a soon-to-launch startup company that offers computer vision as a service to mobile app creators, has hired serial startup leader Scott Rafer as its new CEO. A member of the Techstars family of startups, Omniar provides mobile application developers with technology that lets them identify real-world objects from mobile photographs. A little like augmented reality, a little like Google Goggles, a little like the bar-code scanner RedLaser – Omniar aims to get its technology into apps built by a wide variety of businesses, from retailers to real-estate companies to museums.

“Location must reflect human experience, and GPS comes up very short,” writes new CEO Rafer on his personal blog. “Omniar has the tech to upstage GPS in a huge fraction of mobile apps. We’ve got an app of our own to build in order to prove it and we’ll scale it up for every urban environment on Earth.”

Asking customers to populate visual databases, then searching those based on context instead of GPS-determined location alone sounds like an intriguing strategy. It could help solve indoor GPS signal issues, for one thing. While many augmented reality companies debate whether pre-determined markers or markerless AR is the future, Omniar appears to be taking a strategy of building up a large database of three dimensional markers.

The company’s API has been in private beta since the end of October. The team is largely made up of young optics and computer science geeks. Their new leader brings a wealth of experience in the data space. As we wrote about Rafer when covering his last startup Handroll.tv (some things work out, that one seems like it didn’t):

Scott Rafer is a startup machine. He was one of 5 people at MyBloglog, the portable social network that caught fire in months and flipped to Yahoo, he was a co-founder of API management service to the stars Mashery and has held top executive positions at 6 other startups since leaving Kodak in the late 90’s

Rafer’s other work has included leading or helping services like Involver, Dogster, Lending Club, Lookery and Polar Rose. His experience at Polar Rose may be particularly relevant. That company offered facial recognition technology that took the world by storm with its demos, then was reportedly acquired by Apple at the end of last year.

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