Tech start-up of the week: Fixational

30 Sep 2012

Ronan O'Malley and Diarmaid Ó Cualain, co-founders of Fixational

Our start-up to watch this week is Fixational, a new Galway-based company that is developing eye controls for apps. Its first app, Wink Camera, is a wink-triggered camera that works with the iPhone and iPad so people can take self-portraits.

Ronan O’Malley and Diarmaid Ó Cualain set up Fixational in 2011, after they finished their PhDs in computer vision at NUI Galway. The company is now based in the Business Innovation Centre at the university.

“We got started through an Enterprise Ireland development programme and are graduates of the LaunchPad start-up accelerator at the NDRC,” explains O’Malley.

Fixational’s debut app, Wink Camera, has been available on the App Store for just over a month now.

So how does this wink-controlled camera app for iOS devices operate? Well, simply by winking, the wink-detection engine works by processing the video from the iPhone’s front-facing camera, according to O’Malley.

“After finding faces and eyes, the app analyses various features in the image that tell it if the person is winking or not.”

And the response to the app so far would seem to be very positive. O’Malley says that in the ‘Photo & Video’ category of the App Store, Wink Camera has made the top 10 paid apps in China, India, Indonesia, Israel, Norway, Poland and Bulgaria.

“Nearly 10,000 wink-triggered photos have been captured in the first month,” he says.

Wink Camera

“At the moment, it is a showcase of the technology. The app is also useful for group shots and for hands-free situations. We are going to sell this technology to developers, plus we are looking at applications in gaming,” explains O’Malley.

The duo is currently building an e-book reader app, with the aim of enabling the reader to change page using only their eye movements.

“We’re working on features for users with impaired physical or motor skills. We’re also working on packaging our gesture control engine as a software development kit for developers, so they can add it to any iOS or Android app,” explains O’Malley.

Fixational will be pitching to investors at the Spark of Genius competition during the upcoming Dublin Web Summit, while it will also be participating in the Startup Challenge at the Pioneers Festival in Vienna, Austria, at the end of October.

Their advice for other start-ups is to get out there to talk to people and network.

“When we started we were inclined to keep things to ourselves, and not look for feedback. Now we’ll talk to anyone who will listen!” says O’Malley.

He also recommends applying to be on a start-up accelerator programme. “The support you get and the people you meet are just phenomenal.”

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic