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Developing for AR: interview with Asteroid founder Sakunthala

Developing for AR: interview with Asteroid founder Sakunthala

As we recently discussed, both VR and AR could greatly benefit from more independent developers creating for the platforms. Now, Asteroid wants to enable them to do so with ease. Founded by Sakunthala Panditharatne, who has been coding since the age of 14, the company's goal is to help people shape the future of 3D human-machine interfaces and make developing augmented reality applications easier than ever before.

Asteroid is a MacOS interaction design software tool created to help devs build apps around AR, ML, voice, gesture, and eye-tracking. In an Indiegogo campaign launching soon the company will offer it alongside a hardware bundle, which includes an eye tracker, a 9-DOF controller, a gesture sensor, a linear scrubber, and a brain-computer interface. We discussed both the hardware and software with Sakunthala, talked about her favorite games and apps and her vision for the future of AR.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What got you into tech and augmented reality in particular?

Saku: Growing up I was really into video games like Final Fantasy 7. I started learning computer graphics programming as a teenager originally so I could be a game developer, but have long suspected that graphics technology could be used for something more.

Are there challenges you've faced as a woman in the tech industry?

Saku: I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to start my own company in the AR/VR space. I was able to do so because of the many women out here in Silicon Valley who I have seen lead companies who were role models for me.

You've interned at Oculus. What was your experience there like? In what way did it inspire your current projects?

Saku: Yes, I noticed a big challenge for headset makers is getting developers to create applications for their platform. 

What should our readers know about Asteroid and what can someone like me who has little experience in coding create with it?

Saku: Asteroid is a visual tool, so designing a human-machine interface is about as technical as editing HTML or CSS on a website.

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Asteroid is easy to use even if you have little to no prior experience in development. / © Asteroid

Asteroid is geared toward making the next generation of 'assisted creativity' apps. What inspired you to go in this direction?

Saku: What’s interesting about 3D human-machine interface is the hope that the user may be able to “upload” as much as they can “download” today. The process of putting your thoughts into a computer may be 10x or even 100x faster than with just a mouse - which lends itself quite well to assisted creativity.

Your Indiegogo bundle will include five pieces of hardware: an eye tracker, a 9-DOF controller, a gesture sensor, a linear scrubber, and a brain-computer interface. How do they work in conjunction with the Asteroid software? What do they allow developers to achieve?

Saku: Our software will support out-of-the-box use with mobile AR on iOS. The eye tracker can notice where in a 3D scene the user is looking. The Asteroid software can be used to, for example, make a 3D object change color when the user is looking at it. The BCI can infer a user's emotional state, guessing if a user is happy or frustrated, which can be used in application design. The other controllers can be used to manipulate 3D objects.

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Reactions are a function in Asteroid, which notice something happening via the camera, and trigger something happening in 3D. For example Yoga poses triggering 3D text to display. / © Asteroid

How does the brain-computer interface work?

Saku: The sensors pick up on electrical signals from outside the head, and use a machine learning model to match those signals to known mental states.

One of the Asteroid's goals is to allow for new ways of interacting with legacy apps with emerging tech. What classic games or apps would you like to see transformed for the AR/VR platforms?

Saku: I'd love to see professional software like Photoshop or Blender adapted to a HMI interface and made 100x easier to use. 

What is your favourite current AR/VR app or game?

Saku: I think the problem with AR/VR is a lack of applications!

Many big names in the tech industry, including Tim Cook, think that AR has the potential to transform our lives. Do you agree? In what ways?

I think AR/VR human-machine interfaces will it 100x easier to get your thoughts into a computer. That could transform our lives by making powerful professional software accessible to many more people.

We also agree that augmented reality has the potential to change the future for the better and we hope to see more indie developers hopping on board with the help of Asteroid. What do you think of AR? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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  • Great interview, had learned many goods and bads I used to do. Thank You for this wonderful post.

  • Independent developers show much more creativity compared to giant corporations in the field of e-gaming but lack sufficient funding, unfortunately. As a result, their products do not always get the deserved popularity and promotion. This interview is a very good idea and deserves admirations! The best of luck to Asteroid!