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App created by Lancaster start-up company wins a Google Play Award

Tarun Salnani

24 May 2016

An App developed by a LUMS alumnus has won the ‘Early Adopter’ category at the first Google Play Awards.

The Award recognises an App that leads the way in “a nascent technology or platform, providing a delightful user experience”.

The World Around Me (WAM) App enables people to find out what amenities - such as restaurants, museums and sporting facilities - are near them. It uses augmented reality, which superimposes computer generated information onto the local environment viewed via a smart phone camera. The user chooses what they want to know, turns on their smart phone camera and, wherever it points, information appears saying what amenities are nearby in that direction.

WAM is the brainchild of Tarun Sainani, who graduated with a Masters in E-Business & Innovation in 2010 and a Masters in research in Digital Innovation in 2011, both from Lancaster University. He decided to stay on to create WT InfoTech, a company specialising in augmented reality.  While his business partner worked from New Delhi, Tarun found office space in the Lancaster Environment Centre, which offers companies the benefits of locating in an academic environment where they can mix with world leading researchers.

“Innovation happens across boundaries where you are with people who are completely different to you,” said Tarun. “There is a strong environmental aspect to the App. I’ve made presentations to the team here and got feedback.”

Tarun tested his ideas early in 2012, in Lancaster City and on campus with students, and realised early on that he was onto something.

“I set up a small stall and showed it to students and they said ‘we didn’t know there was a bar there’. The campus, which is not so big, is still big for a lot of people. When info is put into people’s spacial field it helps them.”

The first WAM prototype was launched in 2012 and started getting downloaded worldwide.  They were using Google data and, in 2014, developed a partnership with Google. Today the App is translated into 23 languages and is being used around the world.

“World Around Me is a great app for both locals and travellers,” said Tarun. “Next time you are looking for a bank, atm, cafe, pub, book store, grocery store, museum, bus stop, metro station, pharmacy, gym, spa, a place to pray or any place, then ‘just WAM it’”.

The Google Play Early Adopter award is a huge accolade for such a new, and small, business.

“It’s absolutely brilliant that we have been selected from millions of Apps by a panel of experts from Google, people right at the top of our industry.

“Collaborating remotely to create a world class app from Lancaster is a huge achievement which makes me proud of my team, who have always been supportive in challenging the status quo,” said Tarun.

“Google is currently featuring our advert worldwide, which has given us a spike in downloads. It also gives us huge credibility, having a name like Google next to you, it make it easier to talk to people.

“We will continue with our efforts to augment cities and connect people better with their immediate environment.

Tarun and his colleagues are now focussing on how to develop WAM further, looking at how it could be used to encourage consumption of local food, or use of the local circular economy, He’s talking to the City of Paris about how they could use it to support their ambitions to be a sustainable city.