May 17, 2012 in ATDC News

Startup Chronicles: Merlin Mobility

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When it comes to product instructions and owner’s manuals, many consumers painstakingly pore over them during assembly, only to stuff them into drawers or in the trash when no longer needed. If Margaret Martin has her way, those print booklets will soon be a thing of the past, replaced by a more portable, visual application that makes following instructions painless.

“It wasn’t so long ago that people kept maps in their cars and pulled one out to figure out their location. Now everything is on a device that’s carried around,” said Martin, the President and CEO of Merlin Mobility. “Right now, you probably have a zillion owner’s manuals that are in a box and you have to hunt around for them. Merlin would allow you to have all of that at your fingertips whenever you need it. We hope Merlin Mobility helps serve a role much like GPS does.”

How does it work? The ATDC Select company utilizes a SaaS platform that enables companies to create, host and deliver step-by-step instructions to iPhone and Android devices. Equipment, devices and parts are viewed “live” through the camera of a mobile device courtesy of Merlin Mobility’s patented Augmented Reality (AR) – also known as the technology that helps create the “yellow first down line” in football broadcasts. According to Martin, studies reveal that more than 80 percent of people struggle making the mental jump from traditional instructions to a physical object they are working on. The startup helps to eliminate this hurdle by presenting a transparent layer that displays instructions directly over the product, enabling tasks to be successfully accomplished up to 56 percent faster than with traditional instructional methods.

Even more important, Martin says, is that Merlin Mobility provides an interactive way for consumers to “try out” a product before purchasing it. Research shows that 88 percent of people log online to research an item before buying. And that’s where Merlin steps in to engage them. When visiting a particular client website, the consumer simply downloads an app to access a life-size, AR version of the product. Prospective customers can test functionality, play with controls, compare items and even interact with a product as if it was in their own house. The objective? To help drive retail for client companies.

The idea for Merlin came about a few years ago, when Martin – a seasoned entrepreneur – decided to offer learning content via mobile device. After joining forces with Maribeth Gandy, a Senior Research Scientist at Georgia Tech with significant AR experience, Martin applied for and received a grant, hired some programmers and began to bring the concept to life in fall 2010.

These days, the buzz over Merlin is building. A successful presentation at Venture Atlanta last fall opened a number of potential doors, while an ATDC networking event resulted in Merlin’s first big client win – Whirlpool. They’ve since signed on Sortimo, the German-based developer and manufacturer of in-vehicle equipment and, more recently, won Harvard Business School’s Alumni Club New Venture Competition for the Southeast.

As the now nine-person startup looks to the future, they plan to continue utilizing ATDC’s resources and guidance as they move into their next phase of growth and seek out more Fortune 500 clients.

“We’re raising our Series A round and we now have a lot of potential customers, advisors and VCs interested in working with us,” said Martin. “We provide a solution for the entire lifecycle of a product, so I really see Merlin becoming a standard in the industry.”

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