Immersive Media pushing 360 degrees of innovation

Kelowna-based company that developed Google’s Street View puts the world in a bubble

The IM360 technology developed by Immersive Media uses video cameras to capture a 360-degree view of events like skydiving and music concerts

If you’re an American football fan and happened to be on the NFL’s website for the Superbowl game last month, you might have seen some 360-degree video footage of the post-game celebrations.

It’s the same bubble-view technology used by the Black Eyed Peas for the inaugural 360-degree footage of a live concert, by NBC for the 2010 Winter Olympics, and for the Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival.

The IM360 technology was developed by Immersive Media, the Kelowna-based company that created Street View for Google (Nasdaq:GOOG) – an association that didn’t end well.

More recently, the company has focused on developing 360-degree “second screen” experiences for smartphones.

The company recently struck a partnership with Streamworks International, a London-based company that specializes in video streaming, to provide the robust back end needed for streaming large video files.

“We have live integration, which is why we are partnering with Streamworks, which allows us to stream on the fly,” said Immersive Media CEO Myles McGovern. “They have the live streaming capabilities; we have the 360 capabilities. We add those two together, now we’ve got 360-degree live streaming capability.

Immersive Media is also working with Intel Corp. (Nasdaq:INTC) to develop an IM360 app that will be optimized for Intel’s new line of smartphones and tablets.

“You will have three to four times the performance on the Intel device,” McGovern said. “We’re going to be introducing live streaming.”

The technology uses video cameras to capture a 360-degree view of an event, like a concert or snowboarding competition. The footage is then stitched together using Immersive Media’s software to allow viewers to control the view on their computers using their mouse or – more recently – their smartphones. As the phone moves, so does the view.

“It’s as if you were just standing there and your head’s on a swivel,” McGovern said. “We’re creating a complete sphere – a ball – and you get to see into it.”

Footage can also be extracted for broadcast on television, although on TV it’s limited because viewers can’t control what they see.

The technology is part of the “second screen” or augmented reality trend of adding additional layers of media – using devices like smartphones and tablets – to traditional media, like TV and movies.

“It’s not to replace television,” McGovern said. “It’s merely to supplement and give you insight into emotional insights.”

Although Street View has been around since 2007, using 360- degree footage for other purposes is still something of a novelty. When the Black Eyed Peas augmented concert coverage with IM360, McGovern said the 360-degree footage had 10 times the number of downloads as 2-D footage of the same concert. •

Immersive’s Google saga

Founded in the mid-1990s in Calgary, Immersive Media developed what was to become Google Street View.

Video cameras mounted on cars would film streetscapes, then the company would stitch the footage together using a proprietary algorithm into a 360-degree view, which could be controlled by the viewer using a computer mouse.

McGovern, who invested in the company in 2004, said Immersive eventually realized that the 360-degree footage could be embedded with GPS to complement digital mapping.

“I brought it to Google, and said, ‘Hey guys, this is like a cheap satellite. Imagine this with Google Earth,’” McGovern said. “To be honest, they didn’t really get it.”

Immersive Media filmed 25 American cities, synched it with Google Maps and presented it to Google.

But the relationship with Google soon soured. According to letters from Immersive Media that were leaked on WikiLeaks, Google decided it would do its own mapping in North America and asked the company to start mapping European cities – something Immersive argued was not part of the agreement.

In 2010, Immersive Media – a publicly traded company – shut down the camera business to focus on clean coal technology under a new name – EmberClear Corp. (TSX-V:EMB).

McGovern, who lives in the Okanagan, acquired the camera assets and restarted Immersive Media as a private company.

The company is headquartered in Kelowna and has offices in Portland and Dallas.