“Working in a start-up going through that kind of development period was invaluable,” Wolken said. “It gave Mel and I an excellent grounding in the issues facing a start up in growth mode.”
Langlotz has long had an interest in technology, in virtual and augmented reality. While working at Auckland post houses Digipost and Images & Sound for over a decade, she completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Business Enterprise via Southern Institute of Technology, and then went on to further business-focused qualifications.
While her time at Augview didn’t end as she’d planned, it did bring Langlotz and Wolken together.
There’s certainly plenty of buy-in to the idea of what Langlotz and Wolken are trying to achieve – to get children off the couch and active outside. There’s a general acceptance that the kids of today spend too much time glued to screens of varying shapes and sizes and not enough time in the real world.
Geo AR Games isn’t trying to strip kids of their devices and make them exercise, it’s offering a carrot instead – a fun experience employing tech that’s at the cutting edge of what kids experience. It’s enough fun to make the little bastards want to run around for half an hour at a time which, as any teacher and many parents will tell you, is something not many kids do willingly these days.
Buy-in is not the same as buy, so Geo AR Games has spent time doing what start-ups do, not making money except for occasional grants while developing, testing, and creating a working app. Langlotz took the project to a women-only incubator S-Factory in Santiago in Chile.
“It was around our time at S-Factory that I really started work on the product,” Wolken said. “I was able to really get stuck in and build some prototypes to test out. There were fundamental components which the product relies on which had to be done first – the sensor fusion and GPS positioning which form the backbone of our product.”
S-Factory gave them $20,000 to validate the business idea which is now Geo AR Games. The cash gave Langlotz and Wolken the time to write their own new geospatial augmented reality prototype.
When Wolken started at Augview, she’d only just graduated. “I’d never worked through a structured development cycle in a professional environment,” she said. “I was used to completing tasks assigned and in isolation.
Geo AR Games’ Sharks in the Park was the first app that she made all by herself and she described the early stages as “a bit like the wild west”.
“Ironically,” she noted, “my lack of experience in game development helped me out. I just got stuck in creating what I thought was the most basic functional prototype I could manage.”
Earlier this year they joined another women-only incubator here, Wellington’s Lightning Lab XX, to validate their business idea and to begin to get some market traction. They also ran a small Kickstarter campaign this year, raising over $10,000.
Often with new and developing tech like AR, there’s enough jargon and bullshit to sink a ship. So what, in plainish English, is it?
Geo AR Games have two products now in use, Sharks in the Park and Magical Park.
Both are for children (and anyone else interested) to play with phone or tablet in hand, outdoors. The app catches the environment where it’s being played and augments it with creatures to interact with. So far, so Pokemon Go?
No, says Langlotz. Pokemon Go is old tech. Geo AR’s games use the device’s camera to show the actual environment where someone’s playing, and then super-imposes its creatures on top of that environment, onscreen in real time. Players can explore the virtual world by walking around in it. That’s a key difference no one else has cracked yet.
So it’s like VR – Oculus Rift or the Playstation VR?
Not that either. “We don’t use headsets,” Langlotz said. “That’s not really a cost issue, more a safety one. If people are moving around in a virtual environment they need their peripheral vision, which is restricted in headsets, to be able to avoid real world hazards – including other players.”