Ascanio: The educational programs of the future go through mixed reality

Ascanio develops innovative technology solutions, utilizing the capabilities of mixed reality (XR), virtual (VR) and augmented reality (AR), while the company's network of partners includes some of the biggest names in the field of tech, such as Microsoft, Playfab and Epic Games.

The last two years, in the midst of the ongoing pandemic crisis and the new challenges that are constantly arising, there has been an international rise in the development and adoption of new technologies. Blockchain, machine learning, big data, metaverse are just a few of the terms that have entered our lives for good. At the same time, technologies that made their theoretical appearance much earlier are beginning to become a reality. Formerly abstract concepts such as virtual reality are taking shape while more and more Startups are turning to new technologies to meet the growing needs of the new era.

One of the strong names in the deep tech industry is Ascanio. Ascanio develops innovative technology solutions, leveraging the capabilities of the mixed (XR), virtual (VR) and augmented reality (AR), while the company’s partner network includes some of the biggest names in the tech sector, such as Microsoft, Playfab and Epic Games.

More specifically, Ascanio is a Cypriot augmented reality software development company, which focuses on creating more secure, real-time training programs based on data addressed to public and private sector organizations. The Nicosia-based Startup wants to develop the next generation of technological solutions for the training of professionals who are active in sensitive areas that require special training, such as military, police, security forces, rescuers, etc. To design and develop training programs, the Ascanio team leverages the innovative capabilities of augmented reality and other cutting-edge technologies combined with innovative peripheral tools.

The co-founder and CEO of Ascanio, George Tziazas, talks to about the pioneering venture and the development prospects of the Cypriot Startup.

Startupper : How did Ascanio get started and who are the people behind the project?

G. Tziazas: Ascanio started with our love for technology and our passion for creation. Always as a company, we liked to be at the cutting edge of technology. Since 2018, after the acquisition of the first mixed reality device, Minas Kyriakou and George Tziazas, owners of the company, began to envision tomorrow in relation to the possibilities that this technology introduces in our lives. When in 2020, using mixed reality devices, we were able to completely blur the line between digital reality and the physical world, commitment in this area was the only way for us. Each of us has a very important role to play. From the juniors to the management team, everyone makes a key contribution to the development of the training platform through mixed reality.The contribution of Kinisis Ventures is also important, who from the first moment believed in our vision and since then help us in its realization.

Startupper: How was Ascanio’s project initially funded and supported?

G. Tziazas: The augmented reality training platform, as well as the programs, were funded entirely by private funds of the Ascanio board of directors.

Startupper: What challenges does a new company that wants to “enter” the global software development market face? What problems did Ascanio face?

G. Tziazas: The challenges for a new company are many and varied in nature. We consider the most important to be the visibility in the global market, as there is usually no portfolio with previous jobs. Ascanio was very active in the field, attending many networking events in order to increase its visibility and we succeeded!

Another big challenge for new companies is the ability to respond to unexpected negative events. Unexpected things happen, and by definition we can not predict them. At a time when resources in both human resources and money are limited, every move on the world chessboard may well be the last. At Ascanio, the working environment and the culture developed between the people of the company, is one of the most important pillars that support the company.

Startupper: What advantages (or disadvantages) does the Cyprus ecosystem offer for Startups in the field of software development?

G. Tziazas: The ecosystem of Cyprus is small and specific in its mode of operation. In recent years it is in a constant development and fortunately the structures are slowly being created and the right pieces are being put in place so that a Startup can thrive. In addition, it is a breeding ground for the development of a Startup, since as a place, Cyprus is a very small island and gives the opportunity to new businesses, to take the pulse of a small and special ecosystem so that based on it to move and open in foreign markets. To sum up, the ecosystem of Cyprus is a very nice place for conducting technological experiments that allows immediate movements and corrections. A relationship with someone like Kinisis Ventures, accelerates the achievement of our great goals and opens the doors to us in the wider world market and especially in the United States.

Startupper: Microsoft, Xbox, Epic Games, PlayFab: How did the partnerships with some of the biggest names in technology come about?

G. Tziazas: Our first contact with Microsoft was our victory at the Imagine Cup Nationals 2016. From there we went through the Microsoft Innovation Center and very soon our ideas put us in the game of working with Microsoft. We’ve been working on PlayFab since 2015, long before Microsoft got it. We also have some of our own code snippets in their source code. Mainly pieces that have to do with their plugin for Unreal Engine 4. Many of our collaborations came from hard work and dedication. When you love what you do, and you do it well, it does not go unnoticed. COVID-19 was a big blow to many, including us. But at the same time, it gave us a unique opportunity to further immerse ourselves in our knowledge and get some certifications for this knowledge, which opened the door for us to collaborate with some of the biggest names in the field.

Startupper: The vast majority of consumers are familiar with VR and more recently with AR. What is the XR, in which Ascanio operates and what are the comparative advantages?

G. Tziazas: In order to fully understand the mixed / augmented reality, let us make sure that we are all in common denominator with the rest.

VR – device, the user wears on his head and is completely cut off from the physical world (complete immersion in the digital world).
AR – extension of digital images and / or objects in the real world via telephone / tablet without substantial interaction with them.

Augmented reality is an amalgam of the real and digital world. The devices are small, light and portable, with see-through glasses, which allow without having to cut the user from the environment, to have a digital interaction with him. As an example, a natural weapon can shoot a digital bullet and strike a digital or real opponent.

The advantages are many, so we will mention only the most important. The cost of VR emulators in both training devices and tools / levers / rooms to be used for training is very high compared to the cost in mixed reality. Indicatively to mention that a training simulator for commercial airlines costs from 3-10 million euros depending on the model. Not to mention the energy needed to operate or the airline tickets and the accommodation of the trainees (as long as the simulators are immobile).

Also, portability and team communication are key in training, and VR training systems are static and often communication between learners is limited. Training a soldier, for example, to occupy a home can not be static. No matter how good the simulator is, it can not get close to the real feeling of the wall you lean on before you break down the door or the door when you knock it down to enter. With mixed reality, in real space, we can set up a scenario with digital enemies / terrorists / hostages, where learners can interact with everything.

Finally, how realistic a scenario is and looks helps the trainee to take it more seriously and want to work even better himself. No matter how well-made a digital environment is and the rest of your team’s trainees, it can never accurately represent reality. The same goes for the moves and interactions with the team.

As you can understand in real-life training scenarios for critical missions such as first aid, the military and heavy industry in general, the ability to provide realistic training in real-life environments combined with digital guidance and real-time feedback is vital and plays a critical role in increasing success rates in carrying out these missions.

Startupper: How does Ascanio utilize new technologies (XR, machine learning, AI) for the innovative training programs it designs?

G. Tziazas: The training programs we design are entirely made in XR. The software can export to different augmented reality devices depending on the needs of the situation and the individual customer. In each training we find the key points that help / improve the performance of the trainee, and we intensify the focus on those points with algorithms specially designed for the improvement of each trainee and the team as a whole. For example, we can calculate that a trainee always shoots further to the left of his target and help him adjust his shooting range. Or we can see that a trainee when an opponent appears from the left 6 out of 10 times can not neutralize him. By proposing his assignment to the team’s alert from the right the performance of the whole team increases by 22-25%. They are small and simple examples that show how much the trainee benefits and consequently the organization / company.

Startupper: Indicatively which industries can benefit from Ascanio training programs?

G. Tziazas:  The sectors that can benefit from the training platform we develop are those that are called to cope with environments with various challenges and the success of their mission is crucial. Some examples are the fire brigade, the police, the army, the first responders, the shipping industry and the airlines. We are already developing training software for pioneering companies and organizations in areas that directly benefit from augmented reality training and the results are tangible. Innovation in the education we offer is not an innovation for the sake of innovation, it solves substantial problems, it regenerates systems and processes that were at a standstill.

Startupper: The corporate training market is a big market like the competition, who do you consider the biggest competitor?

G. Tziazas: The market is really big, and the competition is very intense. However, the fact that most of the competition does not have the flexibility to evolve with the latest technologies and experiment with mixed reality gives us a unique advantage. Even those who claim to use mixed reality do not delve into all the possibilities and stay on the surface. The biggest mistake when it comes to new innovative, subversive technologies is to try to mold them into existing structures. The best thing is to level these structures and rebuild them based on new technologies. Obviously we are still small in the field, especially in relation to some of the competitors, but the difference in contact with technology, the ability to evolve and the entrepreneurial way of thinking, will always bring us forward.

Startupper: What are the short-term and long-term goals for Ascanio? 

G. Tziazas: Our immediate goals are to maximize our clientele and complete the introduction of a new innovation in the field of mixed reality. Shortly after we want to develop our training platform and to introduce new training topics / courses as well as to develop the training data analysis platform with machine learning. At a later stage we hope to make our platform “the standard training solution”.

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