The story of AISpotter
Start-up from Finland that brings advanced video analysis to streaming companies and sports teams of any level
An interview with Anri Kivimäki (CEO), Sami Huttunen (CTO), and Timo Rousti (Sales) of AISpotter
Could you please introduce yourselves?
Anri: I’m the CEO of AISpotter.
I have extensive background in Business and Research Development and Funding. Previously I worked for the Finnish national funding agency, private organizations, and the University of Oulu. In 2000 I was participating in setting up a start-up in telecommunications in Germany. Before AISpotter, I completed my PhD studies in Information Processing Science at the University of Oulu.
When I’m not at work, I spend time with my family, enjoy doing winter sports, and playing padel and tennis.
Sami: I’m a CTO of AISpotter.
I did my university studies at the University of Oulu. During my Master’s degree studies, I was focusing on Computer Science. The PhD thesis I defended in 2011 was about Intelligent Systems and Computer Vision. In total, I spent 15 years at the university, so I have a strong academic background.
In my free-time, I play floorball and football. In winter, I enjoy cross-country skiing. In the summertime, I like roller skating.
Timo: Here at AISpotter I work in Sales.
My previous work experience was in corporate IT, account and client management. A few years back, I studied robotics. Before I joined AISpotter, I had completed several university courses in Sales and Marketing. My experience in coaching, mainly floorball but also football of the local women’s team in Oulu, has been a great plus, as AISpotter does video analytics for sports teams.
I like doing forest work like chopping wood, mountain biking, and photography.
How was AISpotter created?
Sami: In 2016 I was participating in a project, which aimed to find out how to utilize computer vision technology in team sports. As I have a strong technical background, in the project I was focusing on the development of the service and its demonstration to the audience. Through common friends I got to know Anri. She joined the project and was the one taking care of the business side of it. She did market research, analysed potential competitors, etc.
Anri: I conducted the market research, and it was clear that there was indeed a need for automated video analysis in sports. The business idea was so successful that we got an opportunity to present it at the TechCrunch Battlefield in Berlin in 2017.
Now in 2020 we can say that AISpotter is one of the 2 Finnish companies that has had a chance to present their ideas at the Main stage of the Battlefield.
In spring 2017 Sami and I created a name for our company – AISpotter. We wanted the name to tell what the company was about. AI stands for artificial intelligence; our services are based on AI. Spotter describes what we do – spot key events in videos.
How was the company evolving after that?
Anri: Since the very beginning Sami and I were working in a small office, which was in one of the buildings of the University of Oulu. We were working hard trying to further advance the technology and grow our business.
Soon we realized that we needed somebody who could take care of sales. Through common friends, we got to know Timo. He had a different expertise than Sami and I, so he was a great addition to the team. Timo officially joined AISpotter in summer 2018.
During that time we also received our first funding to further develop and grow our company.
The office at the University of Oulu was getting too small for the three of us. For that reason in December 2018 we moved to our current location – an office in the centre of Oulu.
What makes AISpotter unique?
Sami: Machine Vision Group at the University of Oulu has conducted research work on computer vision over the period of 30 years. Based on that knowledge, I had tools to develop a unique technology. Having the technology is not enough, a real challenge is to make it possible for others to benefit from it. For me, being part of AISpotter is a great opportunity to further develop a business application out of my work.
Timo: At AISpotter we run automated video analysis without our clients having to install any applications. Our AI models make it possible for streaming companies to scale their streaming production capabilities using their current resources.
As for sports video analytics, other companies are dependent on certain camera setups or metadata and we aren’t. Service is amazingly fast, and that’s especially valuable when running post analysis. Usually companies provide results 24 hours after the match in the best-case scenario. We can analyse for example an entire football game in less than an hour.
Thanks to automation of the processes, AISpotter offers advanced video analysis to sports clubs and teams of any level. So, we make it possible for non-top tier football teams to gain great insights into their performances, training processes, and competition.
Anri: In 2018 we worked with Oulun Kärpät, a professional ice hockey team based in Oulu, in the semi-finals. Our task was to conduct analysis of the Power plays from 8 opponent matches. The task could not be completed manually in 2 full days, we did it in 15 minutes. That was one of the first real-life cases when we again saw that the technology had a great potential. The ice hockey team was really impressed by the accuracy and the speed of the analysis.
What challenges have you faced? What have you learnt on the way?
Anri: We’ve learnt that the concept of AI is not entirely clear to everyone. The development stage in AI is long, it requires substantial amounts of time and resources, – a lot more if we compare it to creating an app or software coding. However, once the cycle is running, certain processes are automated, AI business becomes very profitable.
Another thing we learnt is that in Finland streaming and sports businesses are generally smaller if we compare it to other European countries.
Timo: Indeed. In other European countries there is a lot more business around sports compared to Finland.
Anri: Since the early stage of business, it has been quite challenging to enter foreign markets, i.e. look for potential clients, build relations outside Finland.
When AISpotter was created, our focus was on sports analytics. This year has been quite challenging because most sports matches had to be cancelled. Because of that we had to look for new business opportunities. Sports analytics is still our main product, but we’ve expanded our services to the streaming side, as there is also a need for automated video analysis.
What are the current goals that the company is focused on?
Sami: From the tech side, the goal is development and further advancement of the technology. There are always things that need to be done. Possibilities for development are endless. So, we focus on the customers’ needs, and then we figure out how to develop a product that can make lives easier. Our customers don’t need to worry about the technology behind the service – we take care of that. As their needs change, we change too.
Timo: From the sales and marketing perspective, our goal is to increase awareness and build new business connections. In the beginning some people wondered, how could people living so far north amongst polar bears know about video analytics in football? [Oulu is only 220km away from the Arctic Circle].
What are your plans for growth? Where do you see this company in the next few years?
Anri: We all know that now people enjoy watching short videos more and more. The need for automated video analysis is increasing in many sectors. So, our plan is to help other companies efficiently produce high-quality video content for their customers.
Our ultimate goal is to become the go-to partner and a strong player on the market of automated video analysis. We want to further grow our company and help our customers from all over the world achieve greater results with the help of AI.
Sami: As CTO, in the future we want to be able to analyse any video any time.
What do you think about AI, its potential?
Sami: AI is a great tool. I think in the coming years people will be able to better understand what AI is, how it can benefit everyone, and what potential it has.
Anri: The services we offer are based on our own AI models. The purpose is to release manual work with AI. In streaming for example, we automatically analyse videos and prepare short video clips. That enables producers to focus on creating better content for their viewers instead of manually analysing video material.
Now we all are at the very beginning of the AI era. As the years will pass, we’ll be able to see how to utilize AI more and reach its full potential.
AISpotter is a cloud-based video analysis and intelligent highlight production service. It uses its own AI models to analyse video content from any camera, locate desired events, generate intelligent highlights, and combine them with data streams, statistics, and sensor data.
The technology enables streaming companies and sports clubs to scale up their video production capabilities using the existing resources. AISpotter can analyse large numbers of simultaneous matches saving hours of production time. It automatically generates highlights for corner kicks, goals, and other game events.
Contact me for further information: Anri Kivimäki