Posts

Startups in Athens: Innovation made with ROKOKO

Petros Stone Soup Athens Coworker

Have you ever wondered how your favorite animation or video game is so life-like and realistic? Well, it’s probably because the developers used motion capture hardware and software, like the ones designed by Rokoko, our latest members!

We had a chance to speak with Petros, the Administrative Director of the Greek tech hub of Rokoko in Athens. He shared with us how it’s like to work with Rokoko, the competitive advantages of their tech products, and how online platforms help to build a digital community of creators.

The mocap technology 

Motion capture is the process of making human (and sometimes animal) motion digital. With the help of optical sensors or in Rokoko’s case, small sensors, an actor transmits the motion data to a computer. The captured data is then used for animating 2D or 3D models. In-game development and filmmaking, motion capture is an unparalleled method for making animated characters move more realistically. Rokoko has developed the Smartsuit Pro and the Studio software in order to deliver a complete service.

A Danish Startup in Athens

The Rokoko headquarters and the company’s supply chain are based in Copenhagen, while in Athens there is a tech hub focusing on tech support and software. Petros explained how the Greek branch sprang in Athens back in 2015. It all happened by chance! Some members of the Danish team visited Greece for a private event and met a Greek developer. At first, they started a loose freelance collaboration. As the time passed, the team grew organically from five to twenty people! The Greek company was officially set up in 2020 and has been expanding since then. 

So what’s it like to work for a tech startup in Athens? Petros noted that Rokoko is a startup in a scale-up process. Growing “from 5 people to a village” means that things are constantly in flux. A tech-oriented and relaxed work environment in the center of Athens proves truly exciting, especially for young professionals. Another appealing asset is that working in a creative tech position means that one must take ownership of the projects. It’s also really interesting that Danish and Greek cultures clash so it’s kind of a shock for Greeks who are used to a hierarchical system in the workplace. Adapting to a horizontal work culture means that team members can go with the creative flow and enjoy a relaxed environment. 

Some ongoing research projects might be used for commercial reasons or might be thrown away. That’s how innovation works and this is one of the most exciting aspects of working for a tech startup like Rokoko, according to Petros.

Making technology accessible to all creators

But how is innovation transferred into the market? Rokoko’s main competitive advantages are accessibility, affordability, and the way it offers a full-body tracking solution, covering body, fingers, and face. Big studios use point systems of reference that a camera has to detect for motion capture. Rokoko, on the contrary, developed hardware that uses sensors on the  Smartsuit Pro and the Smartgloves, which do not require a camera. As a result, the whole operation is much more affordable. This is the reason why Rokoko equipment is accessible to small and independent creators who make up more than 80% of the company’s customers. In addition, using their Studio software to gather all the data, you can get hyperreal results straight into your screen! Petros also revealed to us that we should expect much more to come in the future.

One such upgraded product is the Smart Suit Pro II that will be out in early 2022 and anyone can pre-order already! 

Can you imagine being able to impersonate your favourite video game character? Well, Shutter Authority’s VFX videos are #madewithrokoko!

Are you a fan of Lil Nas X? His video clips are #madewithrokoko!

Building a community

How to bring creators together? Petros underlined the importance of scaling up the digital community that Rokoko has been building. Users share stories on Instagram adding the hashtag #madewithrokoko while all creators can interact and share tips through a Discord channel. Rokoko’s customer base consists mainly of independent creators so bringing them together in an active and sharing digital community is crucial for strengthening their voices. Apart from learning more about possible ways to create content, another incentive for creators is the chance to win hardware and software prizes (last year the company awarded one of the biggest bundles ever)! In a digital world, there is no need for a formal submission so #madewithrokoko is all that it takes to register! 

What’s coming up?

Rokoko established a tech hub in Athens just before the pandemic. Because of that, they didn’t have the chance to host any networking events. Open innovation is one of their values, so Petros highlighted their effort to cooperate with universities. They try to approach educational institutions so that students can do their academic projects while getting professional experience in Rokoko. The buzz expected from the launch of the Smartsuit Pro II is going to be huge so more events are coming both in Athens and abroad! We are beyond lucky to have them in our workspace and we can’t wait to see what realities they’ll take us next!

Empowering women in tech and advocating for ethical AI

Can AI create poetry? Will driverless cars navigate through Athens anytime soon? Will Facial Recognition Technologies be deployed in public places? One of our latest members can suggest many potential answers to these intriguing questions. Sacha analyses ethical guidelines and suggests policy frameworks on artificial intelligence (AI). She works for the nonprofit think-tank The Future Society that focuses on AI policy and ethics. We had the chance to speak with her about her research on AI and the role of women in tech, a field that she is motivated to promote. 

Sacha on the coworking rooftop

Getting into the tech industry and AI policy

Sacha is Franco-Chilean. She was raised in Paris and studied politics, philosophy, and economics in the UK, France, and the US.  During her Master’s studies in International Affairs in Paris, she participated in an exchange program in Boston. This decision was a turning point for her career in AI policy. It is during this exchange program that she met the co-founder and president of The Future Society, Nicolas Miailhe. While in Boston she became accustomed to AI and digital innovation, but also to the lack of women and minorities present in this field. 

She is an inspiring example to everyone who loves traveling and experiencing new ways of working with others. Furthermore, she did research about the lack of women in the tech sector: the gap is huge for reasons that are both social and economic. Her studies led her to argue that diversity (ethnic, gender, socio-economic, political) is an important factor to boost productivity and creativity in the workplace. 

Sacha on the rooftop

From theory to practice: working on responsible AI adoption  

Once back in Paris, Sacha was able to reconnect with The Future Society’s co-founder and evolve in an innovative, rapidly changing field. The Future Society specializes in the ethics and governance of AI while advancing its responsible adoption for the benefit of humanity. At the same time, they support the empowerment and active voice of women in tech. In the upcoming month, Sacha will work on Tunisia’s AI National Strategy.

She has also conducted research on different relative topics. These include the ethical challenges for the adoption of contact tracing apps, and the use of AI to fight against the pandemic (with the Global Partnership for AI). As a side project, she built a whole digital community of Affiliates, coming from 20 countries, to advance responsible AI adoption globally and support the organization’s workstreams. They share their views and experiences through a Slack group while using the Signal app for chatting.

Sacha and colleagues

Digital innovation & AI policy for a sustainable society

Sacha’s research on AI policy is about finding the right balance between capturing the upsides of AI and limiting its risks.

AI development can lead to curated educational programs and healthcare self-diagnosis on one hand, and online surveillance and political disinformation on the other. 
For example, Sacha notes that digital contact tracing apps used during the pandemic may be very helpful to identify clusters and limit the spread of the virus. But on the other hand, citizens may not use these apps, even when the design achieves high levels of data privacy, as they have lost trust in governmental authorities and are suspicious of technology using sensitive data! 
Moreover, Sacha underlined the example of automatization of work. Automatization done correctly can bring work-life balance with less working hours, more free time, and same or higher salary. We must change the way we think about labor values and measurements of productivity, she adds. Lifelong learning can help prepare workers for upskilling and repurposing of work goals and practices. 

Sacha and colleagues in Athens

“It is important to remember  that we are still at the dawn of AI adoption, so many paths are possible. We tend to think that the course of technology is linear, when actually we can collectively decide upon its trajectory.”

How does AI relate to remote work?

Digital innovation and AI policy are definitely related to coworking practices! So we asked Sacha to suggest tips and apps we can use while working remotely to keep our private data safe:

  • Using a Protonmail
  • Trying the Signal app
  • Connecting to a VPN
  • Installing an Adblocker is such a relief!
  • Checking the cookies on a website is truly crucial too! Let’s learn to avoid the “accept all” option!

The EU currently has one of the most regulated frameworks in the world (GDPR) so it takes two seconds to check your cookies!

The pandemic is an awakening call that teaches us to be able to organize ourselves in distance and work remotely. This can happen on a personal level. We learned from Sacha that Greece kickstarted the process to draft its AI strategy last summer. This builds on other local ongoing initiatives, such as the “AI and Rule of Law” Roundtable, which happens every October. According to the Chair Of the AI and Rule Law initiative, Nicolas Economou, who organized the second annual Athens Roundtable on  “AI and the rule of law” last October, this is a very promising initiative that will also help Greece digitize its public sector. 

Sacha in AI civic forum

Advocating for more women in tech

During her exchange in Boston, Sacha researched the reasons behind the lack of women and minorities in the tech sector. She shared some shocking numbers! According to a report published in 2019, there are only 18% of women researchers in the field of AI.  This inspired her to build curriculums and mentorship programs in AI policy and ethics to train more women in this field. And we might get a taste because we discussed planning an AI policy and ethics discussion group at Stone Soup too (of course we’ll let you know)!

Sacha coworker on rooftop

Working on digital innovation from Athens

Do you know what else boosts Sacha’s creativity? Athens itself! She ended up here during the pandemic when she realized that she doesn’t have to stay in a specific place to work. She admits that the sun makes her more productive. Athens is an underrated city in her opinion, still unnoticed by many apart on their way to the Cyclades, and she characterized it as the Berlin of the Mediterranean! She loves how the city flourishes artistically while conserving its original vibes. Because of her work,  Sacha is often thinking about the future, and in Athens, she finds the perfect balance to live in the present as well. And we are happy to add her ingredients to our pot!