Geo AR Games

Get your kids off the couch and physically active outside with augmented reality (AR) games.

Geo AR GamesIf your kids are anything like mine, they love to play games on their handheld devices. So much so, that it can be difficult to get them outside, even on a fine day. Geo AR Games lets them do both at the same time, augmenting public open spaces into exciting “mixed reality” play areas with a combination of real-world, virtual, and social features.

Let 12 year old Chris show you how it works:

Geo AR Games have two games out now: Sharks in the Park, and Magical Park. Sharks in the Park can be played in any open space in the world that’s at least 60m x 60m. They’re going to release a “world builder” next year which will enable kids to build their own games using a library of 3D models and animations. Think “Minecraft outdoors”.

Magical Park works only in specific locations selected by a local council, and has a specific set of council-selected experiences.

The games have built-in safety features, for example content disappears as the player approaches the edge of the play area, and the player will see a big stop sign on the screen when they get within 15m of a road or other hazard.

The games deliver on the promise to get kids running around outside. Initial data show that the average game session is 30 minutes, and kids run an average of 500m to 2km during a session. Kids don’t notice how much running they’ve done, as they’re too immersed in the game. And the games are social – even though each kid has their own device, they are playing in real life with each other, talking to and yelling at each other.

Both games are attracting a high level of interest from local governments, who want to see increased use of public spaces, and provide healthy, fun activities on them. Councils have been trying to find a way to use technology as a hook to get families out-of-doors for years, and this is potentially the solution they’ve been looking for. Auckland and Wellington Councils have launched trials, and other councils are queued up. Initial feedback is very positive.

Councils also see value in the game for marketing their other services, so for example winning a game of Magical Park could potentially get you free entry into the nearby public swimming pool.

Mel Langlotz and Amie Wolken

CEO Mel Langlotz has a career in visual effects and post production. She met CTO Amie Wolken when they were working together at Augview, a company that specialises in Geospatial Augmented Reality visualisation of infrastructure asset data. Amie has a unique combination of degrees in Law, Animal Biology/Psychology, and Computer Science. Amie quickly rose through the ranks at Augview from programmer to manager and ultimately director. The two had a vision of commercialising AR technology so that users could be fully immersed in an outdoor interactive experience, and be part of the storytelling. While infrastructure payed the bills, Mel and Amie knew that a far more exciting world lay ahead.

During this period, Mel was having huge difficulty in convincing her stepdaughter to get off the couch and play outside. And so the idea for Geo AR games was born.

In late 2015, Mel and Amie formed their new company, and immediately applied, and were accepted into Chile’s women-only S-Factory pre-accelerator incubator, which gave them a USD 20,000 grant. During S-Factory, they applied for and were accepted into the women founder led Lightning Lab XX accelerator programme. Mel arrived back from Chile literally the same day that the XX programme began. And they’ve just heard that they’ve been accepted into Te Papa’s Mahuki incubator programme, which begins in August. The team will be delivering outdoor AR exhibitions for Te Papa, which marks the beginning of developing a platform for AR cultural gaming experiences.

They’re a top team in a new, fast-moving field. They’ve been working together in the geospatial AR environment for three years now, which is more experience than most others can claim – they’re early adopters and first movers. They have complementary skills and really enjoy working with each other.

The game is based on the Unity platform, which provides the ability to deploy on both Android and iOS using a single code base. The game is fully contained in the download, so it doesn’t need to use mobile data during play. There are a number of difficulties in making a good geospatial AR game. The really hard part is understanding and dealing with the nuances of GPS – there are lots of environmental and device variables that affect accuracy and smoothness. On the AR side, it’s really hard to create content that looks realistic in the real world. It’s challenging to integrate data from the device’s sensors to keep the objects stable and look like they are part of that world rather than just overlaid. There’s a constant tradeoff between stability and accuracy.

They’re currently raising $300K to further develop the games and world builder, to sell to more local governments in New Zealand, and to begin exploring the overseas opportunities. They’ve already raised a successful NZD 10K Kickstarter, so you could say they’re out of the starting blocks.

They’re also looking to hire devs, with any combination of the following skills: C#, Unity, modular programming, game development, mobile app development (iOS, Android native plugins), AR or VR, computer vision and image processing, GNSS.

Contact the team if you’re interested.

If you want to give it a go yourself, you can download Magical Park (iOS or Android) and head down to any of the following parks –

In Wellington:

  • Kainui Reserve, Hataitai
  • Adventure Park, Whitby
  • Avalon Park (cycle circuit), Lower Hutt

And in Auckland:

  • Domain – museum
  • Domain – duck pond
  • Victoria Park
  • Pukekohe Hill
  • Roberta Ave
  • Onepoto A
  • Onepoto B
  • Okahu Bay
  • Harbourview
  • Long Bay

I’ll leave you with a lightly edited version of Melanie’s pitch on Demo Day – the investment parameters have been removed.

Disclosure: I’m a trustee in a trust that invested in the Lightning Lab XX Limited Partnership, which owns a very small stake in Geo AR Games.

KotahiNet

NZ’s first commercial Internet of Things platform.

kotahiKotahiNet is building the first real commercial platform for the Internet of Things (IoT) in New Zealand, which is set to disrupt our daily lives in ways we haven’t even started to imagine. Just look at the predictions:

Gartner: 6.4 billion “things” will be in use by 2016, 20.8 billion by 2020
IDC: The worldwide market for IoT solutions will grow from $1.9 trillion in 2013 to $7.1 trillion in 2020
McKinsey: The IoT market will be between $3.9 and $11.1 trillion by 2025, 11% of the world’s economy

There’s a broad perception in consumerland that IoT means home automation like refrigerators and central heating, but in fact many of the transformational high-value impact will be in business and government applications.

KotahiNet have deployed a carrier-grade IoT network in Wellington, and are planning to build that out nationally. They’re using Low Power Long Range (LoRa) open-standard equipment, which is already interoperable with countless different devices types. The Wellington deployment is provisioned with 5 gateways, each of which can cover 7,000 devices, with an aggregate maximum bandwidth of about 5Mb/s. While this kind of network can’t handle video, it’s great for IoT devices which are very efficient in their bandwidth usage.

LoRa is a really interesting technology which provides highly reliable transceivers that operate at low bandwidth over long distances, and don’t require battery changes for 5-10 years. That means that you can put them in awkward-to-reach places that don’t require power or local Internet connectivity. They can live happily in the bush, on the farm, on an animal, in a lake, or at the top of a tower – perfect for building wireless sensor networks.

KotahiNet aim to expand their LoRa deployment to Auckland, Hamilton, Taranaki, Christchurch, and rural Canterbury over the next year, and go nationwide after that.

But the network is only a means to an end. According to founder Vikram Kumar, the real value in what KotahiNet are building is in the data layer and application layer that sit on top of the network connectivity layer. They’re building the network because they have to – they can’t do any of the cool stuff they have planned without a basic network in place.

Once that network is in place, they’ll provide “data-as-a-service” derived from IoT devices. Most people won’t want to manage and maintain devices, they just want the data that they generate in an easily digestible form. This is especially important when you take security into consideration – you want to make sure that all of the Things are secure, protected, and behaving themselves. If that’s not core business for you, it’s likely to become a problem, a problem that KotahiNet prevents by worrying about that for you.  An example of a data-as-a-service network would be a dog tracker network – KotahiNet would provide the GPS sensors and data feeds, you just consume the data that you need and do what you want with it.

Further up the value stack, they also want to provide end-to-end solutions via an application layer for business and government using industry standard components. They are implementing a system for olive growers in the Wairarapa which slurps data feeds from private remote weather stations, and notifies the growers if they need to bring out the choppers to protect the trees from frost.  The growers aren’t interested in owning or managing the equipment, network or even the data, they just want the alerts.

Local governments are a big potential area of development. One local council is looking at installing a smart network of over 20,000 streetlamps. This would enable significantly lower power consumption as well as maintenance costs. When you consider the number of such Things a council has to look after in the public interest, it’s not hard to imagine thousands of other applications. And that’s just the start.

Conservation is another interesting area. KotahiNet are working with EcoNode on Great Barrier Island, whose TrapMinder system notifies HQ whenever a pest species such as rat or possum has been trapped, so that the trap can be cleared and reset. They are planning to roll this out to Zealandia in Wellington, and then across the country.

KotahiNet monetises through connection charges (listed as $1 / node / month), data-as-a-service charges ($3-5/month), and custom application provision charges.

Vikram believes that New Zealand could become a world leader in IoT deployments in primary industry, and they’re seeking partnerships with significant agricultural players to build the next wave of applications that will not only help boost our agricultural exports, they’ll also provide the basis for technology exports too – KotahiNet’s internationalisation strategy depends on this. IoT will bring a new level of precision to agriculture previously unobtainable in NZ, and these novel applications can be sold to the rest of the world. Vikram is also passionate about Blockchain technology, which when applied in the application layer, could provide security and verification around the provenance and authenticity of agricultural produce.

NIck Gerritsen
NIck Gerritsen
Vikram Kumar
Vikram Kumar

Vikram is joined by fellow director Nick Gerritsen. They have an advisory board that includes Jon BrewerAntony Royal, Nick RowneyRichard MacManus and Ian Cassels.

As an aside, Vikram has had a very interesting career path, from working in the merchant navy to being a public servant, then working as the CEO of InternetNZ before moving to be CEO of Kim Dotcom’s MEGA (not to be confused with Mega Upload), and very briefly serving as the Chief Executive of the Internet Party.

KotahiNet are currently raising NZD 1m in an angel round to expand that team with execution capability, and provide capital to build out the next phase of the network. If you’re interested in the opportunity, contact Nick Gerritsen.

Once that round is closed they’ll be hiring sales people, solution architects, and network ops people. And of course they’re interested in talking to anyone who wants to do IoT deployments that require carrier grade low-power networks. For those, contact Vikram.

I’ll leave you with Vikram’s recent interview with Kim Hill on RNZ National.  Enjoy.