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WinePix, biometrics applied to the wine experience

WinePix logo 
ICTs are an unpredictable sector, where the development of a new technology opens up opportunities in a range of different fields. And this is exactly what has happened with WinePix, a mobile device app aimed at enriching users' wine experience by giving them information on the wine they are drinking. An interesting plus of this app is that to get the info you are looking for you don't need to type in the wine's name: all you need to do is take a snapshot of its label, and the app itself will recognise it, via a system based on a technology originally developed for the biometrics sector.

But just how does one get from biometrix to a wine app? The story is told to us by Matteo Sanna, a 31-year old electronic engineer from Palmas Arborea, who in 2010, together with his three partners founded Sane Biometrics, a spin-off of Sassari University, headquartered at the Alghero site of Sardinia’s Technology Park.

Tell us about Sane Biometrics and how it came into being
Sane Biometrics srl sprouted up in 2010; its springboard was Start Cup Sardegna, a business idea competition. I had submitted the project in the contest together with Massimo Gessa, a 33-year old fellow electronic engineer from Cagliari. The project leveraged on our professional background in image vision and biometrics and proposed the use of automatic recognition techniques relating to the new electronic passports. While engaged in Start Cup Sardegna we soon realised that our purely technical know-how was not enough and we needed to build a more complete business team. Thus, soon after our success in the 2009 Start Cup (where we placed second in the Regional round and were shortlisted for the National Prize for Innovation), we founded Sane Biometrics srl together with Fiorella Tilloca, a PhD researcher in Law and Economics of Production Systems and Enrico Grosso, professor of Informatics at the University of Sassari.

How did you come up with the idea of WinePix, and what technologies is it based on?
In recent years, we have flanked our biometric activities with operations in other fields. Specifically, we focused on web and mobile technologies which, starting from our know-how in the field of artificial vision, over time have become equally important. Leveraging on our expertise and commitment, we created ShotPix, an image-recognition engine for mobile devices, offering a tool for the marketing of products and services. This engine is designed to respond to queries from external clients (web or mobile applications) via dedicated REST web services. Once we had this technology available, we first focused on testing it and we then set to exploit its potential. As we appreciate good wine, we thought of developing an app that would help forgetful users to remember the wine they had sipped the night before at the restaurant or during a dinner at a friend's home. This was the genesis of WinePix, a mobile app for iOS and Android devices, which is a meeting place between wine buffs, winemakers and the territory. The app has since grown to be much more that a simple label reader: focusing on usability and users' needs, we have added functions such as Facebook sharing, geolocation, tasting events and more. It might seem a tad ambitious, but we hope WinePix becomes the foundation for a verticalised social network focused on wine, which allows consumers to improve their wine experience and producers to develop their brands by using it as a tool to engage with customers and boost brand loyalty.

Tell us what breaking into the mobile app world was like. And can you give us some highlights on your business plan?
Entering the mobile app world has been really exciting, but also rather complex. As we had decided to design the app for use by the leading mobile operating systems, that is Android and iOS, we had to grapple with their respective development issues and different standards. And as the entire platform was developed by two persons only, coordinating the two different development aspects was not easy. As to our business plan, we are currently receiving the winemakers' inputs about their needs and assessing the platform's potential. We released the app's first version in July, and the feedback we received on it has allowed us to improve both the server side and the app itself. Version 2.0, revised and improved, was released in early December, and so far we are quite happy with the response we are getting. Today our main goal is to maximise the number of app downloads and, most importantly, the number of active users. As to the immediate future, we are finalising a web tool (to be launched in January) allowing winemaking companies to keep tabs on the data concerning their winery and their products, manage notifications and view aggregate data on use of the app.

What's your take on the ICT sector? How important is it for a Sardinian business to carve out a space for itself in this market?
ICTs are a highly dynamic and constantly evolving sector, populated by players mastering a wide variety of skills and coming from different backgrounds: not only technical people, as one would expect, but also people from marketing, graphic design and user experience, to mention just a few. It's a world offering great opportunities to those ready to grasp them, but it is also a highly competitive environment. As technologies develop at a dizzying pace, they offer both a stimulus and a challenge. The endless push towards updating is certainly a fascinating feature of this world. The fact we are based in Sardinia enables us to appreciate the huge potential of ICTs even more. They offer a competitive edge by breaking down geographical distances, which makes them a strategic sector for an island region such as ours.

Useful links
WinePix - Official website
Sane Biometrics - Official website

Carlo Contu