Some startups want to make a yacht-load of money. Others want to be a technology gamechanger.
At Austin’s VR/AR startup FarBridge Inc., one of the main goals has been a little more modest, says CEO Patrick Curry.
“The litmus test for our projects has been if the mayor showed up, we’d want to be able to put him in VR and get him to experience it and say, ‘Wow, I get it!’ That was our guiding light,” Curry said.
As impressive as it might be to wow Mayor Steve Adler, FarBridge has been keeping busy since it was founded early last year. Curry, a co-organizer of the VR Austin trade group and a veteran of game-related companies including Disney Interactive Studios and Unity Technologies, still loves games. But his new company, FarBridge, is using virtual reality and augmented reality to educate and to give a “Magic window” on historical sites and tourism destinations.
“Tourism is a good application for virtual reality because it’s good at taking you places. It’s fascinating and gives you a sense of wonder. And we can incorporate interviews with site experts on why these sites are important and what we can learn from them,” Curry said.
WHAT THEY DO: FarBridge partnered with CyArk, an Oakland, Calif.-based nonprofit that specializes in digitizing locations and creating 3-D scans for preservationists and historians. With that data, FarBridge is creating VR and AR applications, both for devices such as Oculus headsets (”MasterWorks”) or for smartphones (”My Virtual Armenia,” for the Smithsonian’s 2018 Folklife Festival). It is also keeping a foot in gaming with a separate part of the company, the FarCade. A multiplayer VR game it created, “Jar Wars” was shown off at the big RTX convention at the Austin Convention Center this month. Curry said the company has found ways to create on-the-go multiplayer VR experiences for events such as gaming conventions and meetups.
WHO THEY ARE: Curry has worked in the Austin gaming industry for years in both electronic and tabletop games. He was lead designer of the beloved and underappreciated game “Stubbs the Zombie” for Wideload Games. The rest of the team of about 10 includes VR Austin Jam producer Melissa Swanepoel, and advisors include Bungie co-founder Alex Seropian.
INVESTMENT: Funding so far is from friends and family with some projects grants from groups including the Smithsonian, SXSW and Accenture.
BIGGEST CHALLENGE: Hardware. Projects built for dedicated VR hardware might have an audience of a few million, while projects built for smartphones have billions of potential users. FarBridge is working on projects for several kinds of platforms, Curry said, as with “My Virtual Armenia,” which works with or without headgear. New devices such as Oculus Go, on which “MasterWorks” is a launch title, are also making it easier for people to find and download VR apps and require a lot less setup, he said.
The company is working to get its free projects into schools, museums and other educational avenues.
The Statesman's Startup Spotlight series highlights Central Texas startups that might otherwise be overlooked. To nominate a startup for the series, email Lori Hawkins at firstname.lastname@example.org, Nicole Cobler at email@example.com, Omar L. Gallaga at firstname.lastname@example.org or Sebastian Herrera at email@example.com.