The Rise of Hong Kong as the Global Hub of Spatial Computing

December 13, 2023


Hong Kong's skyline pulsates with a unique energy, a blend of towering glass giants and ancient temples whisper-telling tales of a city in constant flux. In this dynamic atmosphere, nestled amongst the fintech scene, a quieter revolution is brewing – one fueled by pixels and augmented reality. This is the world of spatial computing, and according to Nils Pihl, founder of Auki Labs, Hong Kong is poised to become its epicenter.

In a recent episode of the "Hong Kong Business Owners" podcast hosted by Carmen Salameh, Pihl paints a thrilling picture of this emerging landscape. He argues that Hong Kong possesses a unique blend of factors that make it prime real estate for spatial computing success:

  • World-class Talent: The city boasts a concentration of computer vision and hardware expertise, thanks to its strong academic institutions and proximity to manufacturing powerhouses like Shenzhen.
  • Urban Playground: Hong Kong's densely packed, dynamic environment is the perfect testing ground for spatial computing applications, offering a complexity not found in most cities.
  • Government Support: Initiatives like Invest Hong Kong demonstrate the city's commitment to nurturing its tech future, providing valuable resources and infrastructure for startups.

The conversation sheds light on the intricate blend of cultures and business practices in Hong Kong, providing a glimpse into the city's tech landscape and its growing significance in the global tech arena.

For anyone interested in technology, entrepreneurship, or the future of spatial computing, this podcast episode offers a blend of personal insights and professional foresight, making it a must-listen.

Full Episode of the Hong Kong Business Owners Podcast Available On:

1. Youtube

2. Spotify

3. Apple Podcast

While Nils Pihl's interview focuses on Hong Kong, the implications of spatial computing reach far and wide. Here's a chance to revisit some of the conversation from the episode.

Journey to Asia and Entrepreneurial Beginnings

“In 2009, I quit my job and took a sabbatical.” - Nils Pihl

Nils's journey to Asia wasn't a map-charted career move but a serendipitous stumble into an adventure.  A 2009 sabbatical, fueled by love and a thirst for linguistic conquest, landed him in Beijing.

However, it was the vibrancy and potential of Beijing that captivated him.

“So what happened was, I came to China and already in the cab ride from the airport, I fell in love with the city. I found it so fun and exciting to try to learn new Chinese characters. See, like, how many can I figure out just from reading road signs? And I grew up reading science fiction and playing computer games. And there was something about the vibe of Beijing that just felt so familiar with the fantasy worlds that I grew up with. And as I started being involved with the startup ecosystem there, and I realized how many people from all over China and all over the world had come to Beijing to make something of themselves and to build something that could have an impact on history.” -Nils Pihl

Nils quickly recognized that Asian cities like Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong would play pivotal roles in shaping the 21st century. This realization cemented his decision to stay in Asia, marking the beginning of his entrepreneurial path.

A crowded Hong Kong Street scene
“Hong Kong is a busy city. Spatial computing is a busy industry.”

From Warhammer to the Posemesh: The Genesis of Auki Labs

Auki Labs wasn't Nils's first venture.

TrainTracks, a Beijing-born project, paved the way. But the true spark of Auki Labs emerged when a Warhammer app pivoted into a revolutionary concept – a universal spatial computing protocol.

“And I realized after two years working on this Warhammer thing that if you can crack digital positioning and make that really work, then you can have shared augmented reality. ” -Nils Pihl

While working on a Warhammer app, Nils identified significant shortcomings in GPS and device positioning.  He noted, "GPS is a very imprecise positioning technology... digital devices struggle to comprehend the physical world."

Recognizing these issues, Nils envisioned a transformative solution, which ultimately led to the development of the posemesh.  

The posemesh is a decentralized, open-source protocol that promises to revolutionize how digital devices interact with the physical world, laying the groundwork for shared augmented reality experiences that could fundamentally reshape human communication.

The Vision and Technology Behind The Posemesh

The posemesh is more than just technology; it's a vision for the future.

Nils and the team at Auki Labs are building a positioning service and enabling digital devices to interact with the real world in unprecedented ways.  

Imagine museums where artifacts leap to life with context-rich narratives or collaborative workspaces where virtual objects seamlessly blend with the physical, sparking creativity and innovation.

This is the world Nils envisions, one where shared AR - powered by technologies like the posemesh - will revolutionize human communication, allowing us to express ourselves more powerfully and connect with each other in entirely new ways.

Overcoming Challenges and the Importance of Clear Communication

“Your need for management is a function of how poorly you've onboarded your staff.  The better you onboard your staff, the less management you need... Startups don't need management. They need a lot of hands-on doing.” - Nils Pihl

As Auki Labs grew, maintaining its culture and ensuring transparent communication became paramount.

Nils noticed a crucial link: employees who couldn't confidently articulate the company's mission struggled with productivity.

This led to a strategic decision – a temporary downsizing to refine the company's narrative and onboarding processes. The goal? To ensure every team member, from developer to designer, was aligned and driven by a shared vision.

Hong Kong's Rise: From Fintech to Spatial Computing

Nils is optimistic about Hong Kong's role in the future of spatial computing. He notes the shift in the city's tech focus from fintech to more diverse fields like spatial computing and computer vision.

With its densely packed urban environment and proximity to Shenzhen's hardware expertise, Hong Kong boasts a unique advantage: it's a laboratory for spatial computing applications, offering complexity and chaos that breeds innovation.

"New York, the greatest city in the West, has over 900 buildings taller than 100 meters. That's a lot," Nils declares. "But here in Hong Kong, we have over 4,000! By the standards of this century, there are no big cities in the West."

This density isn't just about aesthetics; it's a testing ground for innovation.

Think about the intricate dance of data points available in Hong Kong. Every tram, every noodle stall, and every flickering neon sign contributes to a symphony of location and interaction. This real-world complexity is the ultimate training ground for spatial computing – a constant feedback loop to push the boundaries of this technology.

Imagine navigating labyrinthine alleyways with AR guides or holographic advertisements seamlessly blending with bustling street markets. Shenzhen's hardware prowess next door provides the tools, while Hong Kong's human tapestry – from tech wizards to street vendors – offers real-world challenges to refining and testing these spatial solutions.

“So I think the combination of having some of the world's best computer vision people, having the most complex urban environment in the world, and the most proficient hardware capabilities in the world is a perfect recipe for why Hong Kong will be the epicenter of spatial computing.” - Nils Pihl

Hong Kong as viewed through Augmented Reality Smart City
Hong Kong Future: has the next trillion-dollar company already begun building in Hong Kong?

Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs

For aspiring Hong Kong entrepreneurs, Nils's advice is clear: venture beyond the comfort zone of Hong Kong Island. The Kowloon side and the Greater Bay Area are untapped reservoirs of talent, investment, and opportunity. He also emphasizes the power of networking and leveraging resources to navigate the entrepreneurial journey.

"In Hong Kong, very few people will judge you if you say you're still at the office at 10:30," Nils shares. "There's a lot of hustle here. And in a way, the city has just been optimized for work."

This hustle, this relentless drive, is Hong Kong's fuel. It's the engine that propels companies like Auki Labs toward ambitious goals.

Hong Kong skyline looking at bay from Victoria Peak

Wrapping Up

So, is Hong Kong truly the next Silicon Valley for spatial computing?

While only time will tell, the city's unique combination of talent, resources, and entrepreneurial spirit certainly puts it on the map.

With companies like Auki Labs and projects like the posemesh fueling the fire, Hong Kong is poised to play a major role in shaping the future of how we interact with the world around us.

Stay connected with the Hong Kong Business Owners podcast for more Hong Kong-centric business stories.  If you're inspired by Nils's story and curious about the future of spatial computing, explore more about Auki Labs and the posemesh, details are below.

About Auki Labs

Auki Labs is at the forefront of spatial computing, pioneering the convergence of the digital and physical to give people and their devices a shared understanding of space for seamless collaboration.

With a focus on user-centric design and privacy, Auki Labs empowers industries and individuals to embrace the transformative potential of spatial computing, enhancing productivity, engagement, and human connection.

Auki Labs is building the posemesh, a decentralized spatial computing protocol for AR, the metaverse, and smart cities.

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About The Posemesh Foundation

The posemesh is an open-source protocol that powers a decentralized, blockchain-based spatial computing network.

The posemesh is designed for a future where spatial computing is both collaborative and privacy-preserving. It limits the surveillance capabilities of any organization and encourages sovereign ownership of private space maps.

The decentralization also offers a competitive advantage, especially in shared AR sessions where low latency is crucial. The posemesh is the next step in the decentralization movement, responding to the growing power of big tech.

The Posemesh Foundation has tasked Auki Labs with developing the software infrastructure of the posemesh.

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