Each week, staff writer Paul Wood talks with a high-tech leader. This week, meet VIKTOR MAKARSKYY, a University of Illinois engineering physics student who founded Menu3, an augmented-reality restaurant menu app for people who tend to ask the waiter about the most recommended dishes.
Your app is meant to help us make better decisions about ordering food. When we sit down in a restaurant, the menus we see rarely show us how the food looks, or its proportions. How have you managed to improve the process?
Much of the restaurant experience is outdated. We carry around powerful computers in our pockets, yet we still are presented with uninformative paper menus. Menu3 is the menu of the future. Absolutely for free, any user can now preview items on the menu in immersive augmented reality. There are completely immersive 3-D models of food that pop up right on your table.
Why do you feel it's important to show three-dimensional food?
The fascinating reality is that our food already is three-dimensional! A 3-D product needs to have a 3-D experience. The other benefit is that beyond the menu, we can give our users the full experience of a restaurant. For example, one of the barbecue restaurants we're talking to cares a lot about their customer experience. The owner initially wanted to include their impressive meat roaster in clear view of customers to demonstrate where their food comes from, but there was not enough space, and it currently stands in the kitchen. Menu3 can include an immersive 3-D animation of this meat roaster cooking your food in the augmented-reality space within the app. This level of interaction is unprecedented.
Where can you get the app? Will you have an Android version soon?
We launched with both an IPhone and Android app! Simply search "Menu3" and you'll find it. Stay tuned for a new and improved version within a week or two.
Where did you get the idea for this?
I believe that in five to 10 years, every time you buy a physical product from a company, augmented reality will play a big role. Everyone wants to make informed purchase decisions, and the products you use should reflect that. Food is a perfect opportunity — I’ve found there are so many problems with the traditional way food is presented that we can improve. We worked closely with Armando Sandoval (owner of Maize Mexican Grill) to build a product that is meaningful and useful for both clientele and restaurants.
Who else is on the team?
I previously have done substantial research in augmented reality and virtual environments. Patryk Swietek is a College of Business junior in information systems, has three years experience in high-tech sales, and has founded a company with sales above $40,000 a year. Pongpon Tienthong is a master's student with four years experience in software engineering who is well-trained in full-stack development and data analytics.
The app works inside Maize at the Station in downtown Champaign. Where else to you plan to market it?
Our mission is to provide our users as much value as we can. Every additional restaurant we can add means exponentially increasing the value for our users at no cost to them. The more restaurants in one area we have, the more users can benefit from the app, and so the more we can benefit restaurants. We’re starting out bringing augmented reality to the Champaign-Urbana market, and then continuing on to Chicago. We are currently taking meetings with restaurants, and would recommend any interested restaurants to email firstname.lastname@example.org.
What did you decide to put your headquarters in Champaign?
At our core, we are a software company, and so can be located anywhere. Currently, Champaign has a community of top professors, incredible campus recourses like the Technology Entrepreneur Center and iVenture Accelerator, and of course, restaurants!
TECH TIDBITS ... with VIKTOR MAKARSKYY
Twitter handle, or Facebook or LinkedIn if you prefer: My personal Twitter handle is @viktorwrites; I tweet about tech, the emerging Chinese market, cryptoeconomics and my latest projects. I also publish articles weekly on emerging technology. Lately, I’ve been writing about how blockchain technologies will reshape the way humans organize.
Favorite app? If you’ve got an iPhone, I highly recommend an app named Owaves. It represents your 24-hour day as a circle, and allows you to edit your entire schedule hourly, so you know exactly what your plans are. My productivity has boosted three times with this app.
What are you reading right now? I’m reading the bestseller "Sapiens" by Yuval Noah Harari. It gives an overview of humanity’s history, and how that’s led to today’s world from an evolutionary perspective. The lessons learned in this book are phenomenal. This is one of the most recommended books by many venture capitalists, since it’s their job to predict the future and place bets on which products will succeed in the market.
Do you have any wearable electronics? I actually frequently write on a one-handed Bluetooth keyboard called a Twiddler. It's what wearables enthusiasts use to enter information into their heads-up displays (Like Google Glass). The learning curve is substantial, but today I can already write essays into my phone while it's in my pocket while walking to class — quite a revolutionary use-case. My Apple AirPods also never let me down. Instant access to Siri and real life will be an interesting combination for the future.