Interview with Robert Pepperell, Co-founder FOVOTEC.
Sat in a studio of the School Art & Design at Cardiff Met a decade ago, lost in the concentration of painting a still-life scene, Robert Pepperell was suddenly struck by a fundamental life-changing thought. Why did the subject directly in front of him appear larger than those objects in the periphery of his vision?
“That was the moment I started to ask two big questions” explains Robert ‘How do we see?’ and ‘How do we represent what we see?’”
Fast-forward 10 years and that deep curiosity has evolved through a succession of Eureka moments, working with experts across many different disciplines, to become the cutting-edge FOVOTEC company, creators of the FOVO-NR software that is changing the way we represent reality.
‘How do we see?’ and ‘How do we represent what we see?’
FOVO-NR is a unique fusion of art, science, philosophy and engineering that’s revolutionising imaging and the way we see the world around us; creating technology that represents space as you would expect it to appear if you were actually in that space. FOVO-NR was created through the painstaking integration of many different specialisms, wisdoms and perspectives – understanding the way artists picture the world and translating that into imaging technology that better represents that reality.
“Our imaging technology, based on human vision, is the only one of its kind in the world.”
How did asking those initial Big Questions progress to become a phenomena that’s about to radically change sectors as diverse as Architectural Visualisation, the Automotive industry, CGI, 3D Design, Gaming, Retail and Training – enabling people to see the space represented through a screen in a way that is much closer to they would observe it through the naked eye? Robert takes up the story:
“I’d been working as an artist and art teacher for many years, as well as collaborating on projects with scientists and neuroscientists, and the deeper and more systematically I studied the subject, the more I realised that no-one, not even the earlier pioneers of perspective, had tackled this issue in a systematic way. Even modern-day visual scientists hadn’t fully understood why cameras and computers are so poor at representing how humans actually view the world. As an example, why is it that when you see a beautiful full moon, or a jaw-dropping mountain, or an eye-catching building, it simply never looks remotely like that when you have taken a photograph of it?”
One famous philosopher who thought about this problem said “Cameras are apt to make a molehill out of a mountain.”
“Both artists and visual scientists have long struggled to understand how we ‘see psychologically’.”
FOVOTEC is changing this. Having spent five years in the lab perfecting the process, Robert and his team – which includes fellow artist and co-founder Alistair Burleigh – have proven that the FOVO-NR software can measurably improve the visual experience of the end user in many ways, for example by increasing the accuracy of size and distance estimates by 500%.
“We realised that the potential applications of Fovo are practically endless, even prior to the acceleration to a more virtual world caused by COVID” says Robert.
“For example, endoscopic surgeons tell us that lives are lost and mistakes are made because they sometimes struggle to interpret the unnatural-looking images currently used to carry out complex procedures. They are highly enthusiastic about our approach, which promises to improve their imaging techniques.”
“We are part of a general trend in new technology that’s redefining what images are and how we use them. The coming years will see artificially intelligent imagery emerging that responds to human behaviour – we can already see that with eye-tracking and face-tracking being introduced in mobile ‘phones. Our journey as a company that contributes to these trends by generating world-leading IP is really only just beginning.”
“FOVO-NR is unique and the applications are virtually endless – part of a new era that’s redefining what images are and how we use them.”
Given the technical and multi-disciplinary challenges that Robert and his colleagues have had to overcome, it’s little wonder that FOVO-NR has no other direct competitor in the art of the visual perspective. Having just signed a partnership agreement with one of the world’s largest technology companies, what element of the achievements to date gives him most satisfaction? Robert’s answer is immediate:
“The fact that artists are at the very centre of making this happen. This is a true meeting of art and science, with art being able to capture the experience of life. And we’re proud that all this began in an art studio in Cardiff.”