CEO Alex Poscente Unveils Her Plan for an Augmented Reality App

by Diana Drake

If you have played or even seen Pokemon Go, then you’re already familiar with one of the hottest high-tech concepts around, augmented reality or AR. Augmented reality mixes the physical with the virtual, superimposing a computer-generated image onto the view of the real world so that it becomes an interactive experience of a real-world environment. 

Alex Poscente, a sophomore at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania and an entrepreneur, is working on new and unique applications of AR technology. Her company, Space, Inc., is a mobile application that leverages a breakthrough, geospatial [data associated with a particular location] tracking and authentication platform with augmented reality solutions to create — in real-time — an infinite number of close-proximity interactions, facilitating in-person connectivity. It also provides a next-generation advertising platform, as well as empowering retailers by giving them more control of customer experiences within retail stores.

If this all sounds other-worldly, not to worry. KWHS interviewer Emmie Stratakis (also a U Penn soph) sat down recently with Alex to discuss her company and her entrepreneurship journey.

An edited transcript of the interview appears below.

Knowledge@Wharton High School: Hi, everyone. We’re here with Alex Poscente. She is a sophomore in the Wharton School, and her love for entrepreneurship started when she was much younger. But ever since then, she’s been working to turn her ideas into businesses. She’s most interested in businesses that will inspire change and make the world a better place. Hi, Alex. Thank you for being here.

Alex Poscente: Of course.

KWHS: Can you tell us about your most recent startup?

Poscente: Right now, I’m working on an augmented reality framework that we are going to license to companies initially, create a studio for AR, and then proceed to create a social media platform. Virtual reality is when you put the goggles on and you’re completely removed from the world around you. Augmented reality is [when] the technology that you’re using incorporates the environment that you’re in, into the framework that the world exists in.

For instance, [consider] Snapchat. You put the doggie ears on yourself, right? That’s a filter, but it’s two-dimensional. So, there are the dimensions of the phone and the person. If you were to be on your phone, you wouldn’t see the same filter that’s on my camera, correct? So what we’re doing is creating satellite signal interception, which means that it’s geospatial augmented reality. We’re integrating the third dimension, which means that if you were to have doggie ears on, I would see it from anyone’s platform, no matter what angle, no matter what device.

KWHS: Can you tell us a little bit more about how augmented reality might work?

Poscente: Sure. So, as part of our retail licensing of the [Space, Inc.] framework, say you would walk into a Starbucks [to buy some food], and we know exactly where that product is in the food section. We know exactly which food you reach for, because we’re able to track the person with their device, and the product inside of the actual physical retail location. So, we can track exactly where you reach, what you grab, and when you walk out. It charges you automatically. It eradicates the need for cashiers. Also, if you were inside the Starbucks space, you could expand your network, launching connections. You could play Connect 4. You were sitting across the table from me, I was sitting in front of you, we could literally just set up our device and play Connect 4 in front of each other. And because it is three-dimensional, it doesn’t matter where you are in the store. You can access anyone’s AR from your device. Another example would be, say someone ordered a drink and it looked really good. You could click on the drink from across the room and know exactly what they ordered, and walk up and order the same thing.

KWHS: That’s super cool.

Poscente: It’s hard to say exactly what augmented reality could be used for specifically, because there’s such a range. And of course, this is all hypothetical. Nothing’s set in stone [with our specific application].

KWHS: How did you come up with this idea? And how did you know that it would make the world a better place?

Poscente: I was interning at Microsoft this past summer, and I was connected to a couple tech-savvy entrepreneurs in Seattle, just through networking. They were really passionate about this augmented reality framework and weren’t sure about rollout or how to approach it. They came to me, and you know when you meet someone, it’s just like — immediately back and forth, hyper-connection. Just like, “Who are you, what are you doing, and how can I do it with you?” That was basically what it was. Now we’re working on it. His name is Josh Cohen. And my CTO [Chief Technology Officer], Jason Lucas, has been in the tech industry for a really long time. He’s 50 years old, so he knows what he’s doing.

KWHS: When you found this idea, how did you know that it could be successfully implemented? And then thereafter, what was your thought process in being able to implement it?

Poscente: I think the fact that it’s geospatial, and because it is three-dimensional augmented reality and that’s never happened before, nor is it physically possible except for the way that we’re approaching it. I think that was the most attractive part. And the reason why — to answer your previous question — I think it’ll make the world a better place is because it allows technical innovation to be integrated into social environments, real-time, real-space. So, if you wanted to launch a connection with someone inside of a coffee shop, right there, you could send your request and expand your network. Or you could grab and go, because we’re able to track everyone up to a decimeter of accuracy. So it could be applied to optimization, network expansion, and entertainment.

KWHS: You think you have a variety of different markets for this.

Poscente: Right.

KWHS: How do you know when it’s time to pull the plug on a project and move on to another project?

Poscente: I would say when things just don’t seem to fall into place. When you can’t find it in you to commit to a project or schedule the meetings or send the e-mails. When you’re not passionate about it- — that’s when I pull the plug. When I personally stop believing in it, just because I don’t think it’s a good idea anymore, or my perspective changes.

KWHS: This isn’t your first business. Could you tell us a little bit about your journey as an entrepreneur, and what you would advise to young entrepreneurs out there who are looking to start?

Poscente: Sure. I have basically been an entrepreneur since I was born. When I was four and my parents were at work, I would sell their stuff at weekly garage sales in my neighborhood. And I would have my older sibling help me carry out all the things I couldn’t physically carry. I got into a lot of trouble. [Those were] the early days. Then I started a camp for kids. And then I decided that I wanted to do more socially focused entrepreneurship, so I started a company called Young Artists of Dallas, where I sold student art at market price. So, 15-year-olds were making $600 on their canvasses, just because I wanted to equate passion to profit.

Then I came to Wharton, and I was working on an anti-radiation product company. Then, AR just fell into my lap. That’s the bullet-point version of my journey as an entrepreneur. If I were to give any advice to entrepreneurs, it’s to meet as many people as you can, always, any time. Always form that human connection. And it’s not even for the ulterior motive of expanding your network. It’s just, get to know people at a really fundamental level, and understand what intrinsically motivates them. And know that there’s always something to learn from everyone. That is the main thing that I’ve taken with me.

Related Links

Conversation Starters

What are your experiences with augmented reality, either through games, your phone or other ways? What intrigues you about this technology?

Alex Poscente’s best advice is to “form that human connection.” This is not always easy in today’s social media culture. Do you feel this skill has been lost in your generation? What skills do you need to make deeper connections? What advice would you give to others for getting to know people on a “fundamental level,” especially people who are new in your life?

Alex Poscente could be described as a serial entrepreneur, and she is only 19 years old. Research that concept and what qualities define serial entrepreneurs. Do you think Alex will run Space, Inc. for the rest of her life? Why or why not? What other well-known entrepreneurs fit this description?

4 comments on “CEO Alex Poscente Unveils Her Plan for an Augmented Reality App

  1. Poscente’s clear passion and string of creative business ventures strikes me as inspiring, and as a fellow student entrepreneur, I have to commend her for her dedication and perseverance to entrepreneurship – there is nothing more admirable than a clear commitment to a craft from a young age. And Poscente is almost the definition of commitment, as she continues to pursue an interest that had begun at the age of four. I also agree with many of her insights into entrepreneurship, like her assertion that it is key to “meet as many people as you can, always, any time” – this was one of the first things I learned in the LaunchX entrepreneurial program I am participating in this summer, and something I grew to understand the more interviews I conducted and the more people I reached out to. Everyone has something to teach you, and much of the time, connecting with new people gives you valuable insights into the consumer market that you are trying to appeal to with your business venture.

    However, Poscente’s augmented reality venture that is highlighted in this interview is less than perfect on some fronts. At first glance, her product strongly reminds me of the AR technologies seen in many sci-fi movies and comics – her descriptions of being able to click and see what drink someone has from across the room or play virtual Connect 4 with a stranger sound a lot like the augmented reality technology in Iron Man or Terminator. And while this technology may seem incredibly appealing on paper (or in movies), it is much less glamorous in real life. One issue would be the lack of privacy that comes with using Poscente’s AR product – she states that her technology will hypothetically be able to know exactly which food a consumer reaches for, what they bought, and their location down to a decimeter, and will then make most of this information available to everyone else using her technology. To your average everyday consumer, this sounds like it gives too much information away to too many people, and this in turn opens up more ways for stalkers and other criminals to gain information. In the same train of thought, her technology would allow companies to send out increasingly intrusive and specific advertisements – Poscente spoke about retail licensing and working with companies, and as sharing information with companies produces an incredibly large revenue stream, it is very likely that Poscente’s company will potentially divulge the information they collect about users – like what every product they bought in the last week was, or their daily schedule everyday, or even what their social habits are – to major corporations that will then use this to create extensively tailored advertisements to every customer. You and I have both dealt with those eerily accurate ads on social media, and I don’t think I would enjoy advanced versions of our current ads that are likely going to come with Poscente’s technology. Finally, her market timing might be off. One of the most essential lessons LaunchX teaches its students is that an idea for a venture must fit current market conditions, and the fact that the closest thing to Poscente’s technology on the market right now is AR gaming (which is in its early adoption phases) makes her idea seem more suited for the future than for right now. My team in LaunchX faced a similar problem in the beginning of the camp, where we hypothesized about building something like the Google Glass but with in-depth and interactive AR, but research and insights from our mentors told us that we were creating a product that was too far ahead of what the current market wants. And although there will definitely be people eager to try Poscente’s technology out, its incompatibility with the wants and needs of the market in the near future could very well lend itself to an unsuccessful company.

    However, I have to appreciate that there also are many merits to Poscente’s technology as well. It does a revolutionary job of adding a Poscente’s own twist on the most high-tech devices today, and sounds incredibly sophisticated and interesting. It may also do society a huge favor by making networking, shopping, and communication even more convenient than it already is – it’s claim of getting rid of lines may drastically improve shoppers’ experiences, and its potential to get rid of cashiers may also benefit companies. Other than it’s privacy concerns, Poscante’s concept seems like it would enhance our everyday lives and offer the market a variety of new entertainment and connectivity options.

    Poscente’s overflowing passion will likely lead her to entrepreneurial success, whether it be with this AR technology or with future ventures, and even though I feel as if this current concept has some flaws, who knows? With entrepreneurs like her, the sky is the limit.

  2. Reading this article immediately made me think of Tony Stark and J.A.R.V.I.S. They took full advantage of augmented reality when designing the next evolution of the Ironman suit. In Endgame, Tony used augmented reality to comprise materials and devices within the 3D space to map out and create the time machine. For many teenagers, including myself, an app for augmented reality would be undeniably cool. Poscente doesn’t just chase this idea because it’s unique. It was something she found passion in and something that fuels her innovation. This 3D world where you imagine is like the futuristic world that we see in movies. And yet, as I imagined playing Tic-Tac-Toe with a stranger across a Starbucks, I was filled with a sense of unease.

    Three years later, we see a world changed. The device Poscente mentions is nowhere to be seen, but for good reason. Her device feels dystopian and extremely unsettling, not to mention its irrelevancy. “You can access anyone’s AR from your device.” To me, that sounds like it violates the human right to privacy. Being able to be peered on, scanned, and followed perturbs me. Even as far as, ‘“So, we can track exactly where you reach, what you grab, and when you walk out.’” The ability to simply scan anything and see the details of it alone would breach all security measures and cause a significant amount of data invasion. Poscente would need to get her hands on data from so many different companies, that I don’t think the companies nor the people would appreciate. Even so, the problems that this innovation solves aren’t anything. It was an invention Poscete had a passion for, which is not enough to become the next big thing. Poscente’s invention failed due to its irrelevancy, ambitious scale, and dystopian nature, however, we can see her vision of augmented reality in our current society.

    A current innovation that uses augmented reality, one that might just break the market, is the new Apple Car. It not only uses AR but LiDAR, 3D simulation devices, etc. Augmented reality has now found a place in healthcare, where nurses can use 3D models to practice surgeries; education, where students get virtual hands-on learning opportunities from 3D visual models; and engineering, where 3D visualizations of the construct are used in planning. Playing around with models in a 3D space is certainly revolutionary, but Poscentens idea is far too unrealistic. Nonetheless, this level of data invasion could be used for the CIA agents when there is a world-bending event where they need to be able to identify everything and everyone to save the world.

    A more realistic approach would be retail. Using AR to identify certain clothing or shoes in the store, or even if you’re at home and you want to try it on. “72% of customers purchased products they hadn’t planned on after using augmented reality while shopping according to the study, ‘The Impact of Augmented Reality on Retail’.” You could even use AR to place certain furniture around your brand new house to see if it appealed to your tastes. Today, certain companies are already taking this approach. Speqs Eyewear uses AR that lets you try on eyewear. We can see certain companies are developing what Poscente brings in mind but on a far more private and realistic level. One that feels less unsettling and invasive to our right to privacy.

    Nevertheless, Poscente embodies the entrepreneurial spirit for me: she pursued something she genuinely believed and chased a product that was arguably ahead of its time. Even though it was ambitious, she admitted that she would put her time and passion into the project, but if it was something too difficult to handle, she would drop it. She sends out a powerful message, but with just the wrong product. Poscente reminds me of myself. A spitting image of doing what I want with confidence and pride. A message all present and future entrepreneurs should be following: an innovation that you create without passion isn’t innovation at all – it’s a profit project.

  3. Human connection and interaction are essential parts of the development of humans and also their well-being. Therefore, I strongly connect with Alex, who has not only emphasized the importance of human connection, but also improved upon the idea of 2-dimensional AR to innovate the 3-dimensional AR technology and the ways of human interactions. I was inspired when Alex mentioned the Starbucks example, that would enable me to just click on the product and see the description of it. There were a lot of times when I wanted to ask strangers “Where did you buy that?” or “what is that?” However, as an introverted person, it was difficult for me to directly ask strangers about my curiosities. So, I believe that an innovative 3D AR technology platform could make the lives of individuals like me much more convenient.

    Furthermore, the importance of technology and virtual interactions have grown since the start of the COVID pandemic. When the usage of virtual technology has expanded in different industries, face-to-face interaction among individuals has decreased tremendously. This includes the education sector, where many students suffer from the lack of ‘real’ connection or friendship among students, loss of academic productivity, and most importantly, lack of opportunity to build good memories with close friends, like going to the prom. As mentioned in the article, the “social environment, real-time, real-space” is essential in our daily lives.

    I too, had a similar experience during my last three years of school life in China. Living in China during the pandemic was a huge challenge since China has very strict covid protocols, and they held frequent lockdowns and quarantines. Therefore, there were repetitions of changing from offline to online learning, including one semester, when I spent the whole semester asynchronously through Zoom. For me, during the first few days when I was doing online learning, I was struggling to rearrange my daily routine and my study routine.

    Furthermore, I heard from my friend Rachel that she was being less productive and easily lost attention during classes. According to the experience of spending a whole semester online, as time went by I easily felt that I was experiencing a repetition of a learning process that lacked resources and lost opportunities to try things out. I also faced challenges in communicating my ideas, taking tests, and fully enjoying group activities. I remember the time when William, who dreams of becoming a vet to save the lives of dying abandoned pets in the street, told me that he could not learn about necessary biology knowledge because of the limitations of distance learning.

    Having gone through this terrible experience, like Alex and her innovative idea of using AR in real life, I also improve our fellow classmates’ online learning experience through innovative technologies. For us, this project started after the teacher collected anonymous surveys from the students and teachers who have been doing online learning. Although there were a few good opinions about online learning, most of the students and teachers have shared different negative impacts of it. Delving into different technological solutions on how to make distance learning better for students, I learned that interaction is essential for any form of education. To instill the more interaction in our school’s distance learning system, I started a planning ideas and solutions with a group of my friends, including Jenny, Minchan, Kate, Rachel, and Yujin, with the support from close faculty members including Mr. Tylin and a few others from the technology department.

    First, we started with a very small and basic idea which was everyone having the zoom background set in the setting where that certain subject would happen. For instance, when it is science class then students could have an image of a laboratory in the background that could provide students a feeling that they are in that certain setting. As a school we have tried this idea, however, after doing it for 1-2 days the students have given feedback which said it did not provide any changes in their studying routine nor fix the problems about the learning environment.

    Then suddenly, out of nowhere, an idea popped inside my head and I said, “why not provide students a mandatory school like environment?” Since our school provides students a “study period” and lunch time, each advisory group could have a zoom link to allow students to come in during study period to study and lunch period to interact and talk to the peers. This idea was agreed upon by the staff and our project group members, and we have gotten a chance to try this out to see if this has solved problems in creating more liveliness and interaction among the peers and the faculties. After trying it for 1 week, we have gotten feedback, and the majority of students have responded that it promoted greater interaction among each other which also improved their academic productivity during online classes. Furthermore, students really liked the idea of “zoom lunch” because they get to see and talk with their friends during the time where they were not able to leave their house and have a conversation with each other. After this successful project, we thought about a solution that could help our classmates who were having a hard time maintaining their study routine. So, we created a website for students that provided features like class check-in and a To-Do list for each class that pops up automatically whenever a teacher assigns the students homework or announces upcoming tests. Similar to the prior project, students have given positive feedback that their academic performance has gone up and the majority had less difficulties going to class on time.

    After looking at Alex’s ideas and her idea of 3D AR, I was inspired, as a future entrepreneur, to come up with an innovative idea that I could improve the ‘realness’ of the virtual world. The solution that I came up with is to design an AR app “Learning Line” that could not only provide a better learning environment, but also could be used for the teachers to provide students with a variety of resources for them to be able to proceed during online classes. The way how it works is simple:
    1. Open the “Learning Line” app on the computer
    2. Create a profile by putting the name and grade
    3. Same as Zoom, students need to enter the class code
    4. The app would lead the student to the class
    5. The class would have a classroom setting that is connected to their class subject
    6. The student would view a class (not themselves) that has other students and teacher(s) in it
    7. Every student’s face would be shown in the class that is connected to a body (plain white color)

    If this idea is possible for me to proceed in the future, then it would not only benefit the students during online learning, but for other fields as well such as workplaces.

    After reading this article, I also thought of how I could connect ideas from the article to the application that I would like to create in the near future. I believe that 3D AR could expand the online class network and allow students to feel as if they are in the same place, which allows interactions and communications to be more real. Also, implementing 3D AR technology to our application allows students to have better learning experiences and also implement different types of resources that would allow students to stimulate it the same as when they are in a school environment. For instance, students who are in a biology course, they would need to dissect the pig hearts. However, when they are in online learning, they would not be able to dissect the pigs hearts, and rather watch the video or listen to the process of it. By using this 3D AR, the students would be able to dissect the pigs heart virtually and be able to have the same experience of learning as if they were doing it in real life. In addition, when a student proceeds to a lab in a 3D AR platform, they could not only view the different steps of the experiment but also connect and discuss the different results and steps that fellow peers have produced in their lab. This could not improve the quality of the learning environment, but also enhance and provide students better understanding and knowledge of a topic.

    Technology is advancing every day, and now the traditional fields are enhancing and incorporating the technology. However, as technology gets more and more advanced, people tend to have less face to face interaction. But the idea that Alex has provided would definitely make the world better and also could be used to solve our global pressing issues but also provide some small convenience to individuals.

    As a person who dreams to become an entrepreneur, I believe my experiences of providing solutions to problems associated with new technologies would be a valuable asset that I could harness to realize my dream of creating my application in the future. Also, incorporating the 3-dimensional AR technology to my application would enable our daily life to become more convenient. After experiencing Covid-19, I believe that in the future there may be a chance that another pandemic might affect our life again. Therefore, I hope my application could combat these problems in distance learning to improve the learning experience of the future generations.

  4. The only time I have used AR was when I first downloaded Pokemon Go. It was exciting seeing some of my favorite childhood characters show up in the real world around me, but within a couple of minutes, a friend told me it’s much easier to actually catch the Pokemon if AR is turned off. And since then, I have not used AR – there was never quite a reason or way to.
    But Alex Poscente and Space Inc. open up a new world of possibilities. Alex mentions in her interview that AR can be used in retail to make purchasing items more efficient and make it easier to form connections with people. Although the idea is quite interesting, there are a couple of issues that I see coming out of the retail use of AR. The first is that people don’t find such an invention essential yet. While the technology is certainly futuristic and exciting, I can’t see knowing exactly what drink someone has purchased or playing Connect 4 with some stranger in a Starbucks being a priority.
    I also think Claire and Leo in their comments do an excellent job of pointing out some of the privacy concerns potential users would have with Poscente’s product. I agree with them as far as they take it – but I do wonder if this technology could be used in an environment devoid of privacy concerns.
    This is why I suggest utilizing Space Inc.’s AR technology in classrooms. By using AR in a sanctioned area, the school, privacy issues could be reduced, if not eliminated. Implementing this, of course, would be a challenge. Perhaps Space Inc. could design the platform so it only worked on devices connected to the school’s WiFi. They might also give each school a unique code to ensure only students and staff have access. While this might make it cumbersome, it would also avoid the problem of turning this product into a sci-fi nightmare in which big brother tracks your every move.
    Once implemented, Space Inc, by introducing AR into the classroom, would revolutionize the way the next generation is taught. This would have countless benefits, including increasing the amount of information that is readily available, being more appealing to students, and being cheaper. For example, instead of schools constantly purchasing marine animal textbooks, students could use AR to examine a model of a blue whale right there in the classroom. Not only would the anatomy of the whales become easier for students to grasp, but it would allow for a more in-depth study than a general textbook would, since a marine biology textbook can only spend so much time talking about one animal.
    Using AR in the classroom would make the learning experience a lot more exciting and engaging. It is fair to say that many students would agree with me when I say examining an AR model would be far more appealing than sitting at a desk reading. I can only imagine how much more interesting class would become if instead of just talking about the strategic decisions made by generals during the Battle of Gettysburg, we got to see how they played out in a miniature model.
    Additionally, implementation of AR in the classroom would ultimately save money. The cost of constantly replacing textbooks is becoming more and more prohibitive as new research makes it necessary to do so on an almost annual basis. In fact, over the past 35 years, the cost of textbooks has increased by 812%, and in 2018 alone, public elementary and secondary schools in the U.S. spent about 2.76 billion dollars on textbooks. While the initial costs of buying or producing such an AR platform might be high, the amount of money saved on books would be material. Universalizing one platform across the country or even just a state would make it even cheaper. The development of such a platform can cost as low as 2,000 dollars, based on the features that would be required. Finally, updating a software platform that multiple schools use to include more information as science evolves is far cheaper and easier than regularly replacing every single textbook.
    So, perhaps while AR in retail isn’t quite what people are looking for right now, AR in classrooms would be, and Space Inc. can capitalize on that.

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