Taking over the world requires cooperation: try Collusion

Want real-time iPad collaboration across the world? Fledgling Kickstarter project Collusion might just be the solution.

Michelle Starr Science editor
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
Michelle Starr
4 min read

Want real-time iPad collaboration across the world? Fledgling Kickstarter project Collusion might just be the solution.

UTS students discovering the possibilities of Collusion. (Credit: Collusion)

If you look around on the internet, you'll find quite a few websites that act as collaborative whiteboards and scratch pads. They're usually pretty rudimentary at best, and taking a look around the iTunes store for iPad apps reveals slim pickings.

"Current solutions basically focus on trying to emulate a notepad and pen," said Robert Yearsley co-creator of the Collusion app. "Trying to use an iPad like a laptop doesn't suit its tablet form factor — it's just awkward — and trying to write on it with a stylus and a note-taking app felt like using crayons, and you can't rest your hand on the screen, either."

His solution, Collusion, takes the idea of the notepad and pen, but takes it much farther than a simple scribbling app.

It consists of three parts: the app itself; an ultrasonic transmitter; and a new kind of stylus that communicates with the transmitter to write on the iPad's screen — while letting you rest your hand on the screen, as you would while you're writing on paper.

The Collusion team, from left: software engineer Sumeet "Sumo" Patel; director Robert Yearsley; and product development engineer Navdeep "Nav" Saini. (Credit: Collusion)

But that's the very least of what it can do.

"This thing basically is real-time collaboration using the fastest cloud service in the world, largely thanks to OrionVM — home grown right here in Sydney," Yearsley said. "These were three guys from UTS who started when they were 19, 20 and 22, and they said, 'we don't like cloud services, so we're going to do it properly'."

The Collusion experience is an impressive one, although at first it takes some getting used to. The pen itself needs a bit of pressure to activate, so it's not quite like working with a Biro, but it is as close as we've felt from a stylus. And it's accurate, too, "to several decimal places of 1 pixel on the Retina display," Yearsley said.

We played around with the app on a build, and, although it is three months old, we could immediately see that it has possibilities. This was especially so when out of nowhere, a cartoon house started drawing itself on the screen. It's far from being just a toy for vandalising your friends' drawings, though.

"We took this to UTS and crashed a business lecture," said Yearsley. "We gave Collusion to a couple of students. We loaded up the lecture slides, handed it to them, and we didn't tell them anything about it; but they quickly figured out that they could draw on the iPad, and there were their lecture slides. So the first girl started writing her notes, and she was like, 'This is really cool!'

"Then her mate next to her started having a go, and they were like, "Who is it? Who's writing on my lecture slide?" And they figured it out; 30 seconds later, they'd figured it out, so one person would do slide one, the next would do slide two, the next would do slide three in a round robin; and they'd turned their workload into a third of what they'd usually do in a lecture."

Opposite sides of the world: Collusion being used simultaneously in San Francisco and Sydney. (Credit: Collusion)

Other possible applications include education, business, client communication and interaction, and even taking board minutes — all communicated live in real time across the OrionVM cloud. We're also excited about the new Optimal Character Recognition feature that converts your handwriting to text. And who says it can't be fun?

"We've done a bit of testing on a couple of six-year-old girls, and it was hilarious. They were playing noughts and crosses, and the big sister distracted the little sister and moved her mark when she wasn't looking."

Interestingly, Yearsley and his team have decided to direct the project entirely through Kickstarter, offering the product to customers at a starting pledge of AU$99 (pledging more gets you more). Even before its Kickstarter launch, Collusion received over 150 pre-orders.

Files can be exported as images to be used in PowerPoint slide presentations, and can be imported into the app for collaboration, including PPT, Keynote, PDF, image files and Word documents. (Credit: Collusion)

"With this project, we decided to not seek any funding for the concept; we've not taken one cent in capital. It probably took six, seven months' worth of development — we started thinking about it a year ago — we are now just about ready to launch on Kickstarter. That way, we can go from product to paying customer in one step, which means we can be revenue positive — we hope — within 24 hours of launching [on] Kickstarter.

"So we go from this position of: we don't owe anyone any money, we get to go directly to people with the product, we get to interact with them and they get to tell us directly what they want. We're not worrying about shareholders; we're not worrying about venture capitalists; it's just us, the customer and the product. And it's been the most fun we've ever had building tech — it's just low stress. And I think it's a lot more rewarding being able to talk to people who actually want the product, and them being able to talk to us."

Collusion launched Friday 1 June. Head on over to its Kickstarter page to check it out.