Open Source // Open Society

Making open source culture more accessible to governments, established businesses, startups, and the public.

[See below for a special limited offer]

os//osIf you know me at all well, you’ll know that I’m a huge fan of Open Source. I run Linux on my laptop (OK, it actually runs in a VirtualBox on Windows), and I believe that I negotiated the first Open Source software development contract with the New Zealand Government in 2003. This week’s Startup of the Week is not your traditional two-hackers-in-a-garage startup, but rather a conference and community that has the potential to turn New Zealand into a world leader.

Open Source // Open Society ran its first conference ran last year, and the organisers and participants were so thrilled with the results that they’ve committed to making it an ongoing annual event. The main purpose is to celebrate open source culture and its potential impact on wider culture and society. There are four basic principles: Participation, Collaboration, Transparency, and Freedom to innovate, and they can disruptively transform the way we interact with each other, the way we do business, and the way we govern ourselves as a society.

This conference is not only for beardy Richard Stallman wannabes. The speaker lineup includes some serious firepower from government agencies like Statistics New Zealand and the US Department of Homeland Security, businesses like Catalyst IT, Enspiral, and Silverstripe, and civil society organisations like Action Station and Figure.NZ. Personalities like Mark Jennings, Evan Henshaw-Plath, Bernard Hickey, Max Rashbrooke, and former prime minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer will also be taking part. And the people backing the conference are equally diverse, including MBIE, Victoria University, Flick Electric, iWantMyName, Te Papa, and others.

Anthony Cabraal
Anthony Cabraal

According to cofounder Anthony (Ants) Cabraal, New Zealand is the perfect place to have this discussion. “We have a really progressive public sector, we’re ambitious, and we’re ready to lead the world in designing new ways of collaborating to bring about more open government and more democratic engagement.” And Kiwis have a knack for contributing – I don’t have any stats to hand, but I’d venture to guess that New Zealand is near the top of the table for highest number of open source contributions per capita of any country.

Silvia Zuur
Silvia Zuur
Linc Gasking
Linc Gasking

Ants says that the idea for OS//OS started in 2014 when Github planned to come to New Zealand to hold their first user conference outside of the United States. Linc Gasking had a vision to take advantage of this and turn it into something much bigger, just before leaving the country to focus on 8i. With not much time left before the conference was scheduled to take place, Ants and cofounder Silvia Zuur managed to “catch the grenade just before it hit the ground” and turn the conference into a resounding success, with 380 people attending.

Ants says that scaling from year one to year two has been really interesting, building the brand, and establishing a trajectory and direction. Everything about the conference will be bigger and better this year – more sessions, more speakers, more workshops. This year, in addition to the conference, there are three additional associated events. The first one was Open Data Day which took place on 7 July. There will also be a Collaboration Café on 18 August, and an Open Source Hackathon at Enspiral Dev Academy on 20 August.

For a conference like this to work, it needs a really strong voice from innovators, people willing to think outside the box, and startup entrepreneurs. In other words, people like you. It will be a rare chance to learn from and connect with global leaders in open source thinking for technology businesses, and extend your networks across the tech, business and government sectors.

SPECIAL OFFER

To that end, we can give you a special offer of half-price tickets to OS//OS for subscribers to this blog. In order to qualify, you need to be a registered subscriber – just fill in the form on the subscribe page, and respond to the confirmation email. We’ll send out the promo code and instructions to subscribers only on Thursday 4 August. But be in quick – we only have 15 tickets to give away.

If you miss out for some reason, you can get full-price tickets from the OS//OS site.

Hopefully this year’s OS//OS will be a hit, and we’ll look forward to many more years of conference like this that bring together the government, tech, and innovation communities. I’ll see you there.

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.