We first came across Howard Hunt’s Dustcloud @ headset gaming concept at the Augmented Reality conference earlier this year. Howard now gives us the latest update about the ongoing evolution and iteration of the Dustcloud concept, with the possibility try it out at the Dublin Websummit in November.
The ‘Banana’ Duster 3.0: the latest Augmented Reality Headset controller from Dustcloud.
Last year, when Dustcloud, a startup specialising in competitive outdoor gaming for smart city environments, was approached by Sony Mobile, asking them to develop an Augmented Reality game for their Smart Eyeglass Headsets, the German/Irish company thought they had just hit the jackpot.
“We were working on Augmented reality apps for phones and tablets, when Sony called out of the blue to offer us the chance to demo a headset game at Sony Hall at IFA, the massive Berlin Electronics Tradeshow,” founder Howard Hunt tells me. “We couldn’t believe it.”
Dustcloud’s flagship product is the Duster, a Bluetooth enabled ‘Smart Gun’ that allows players to play pervasive games of laser tag in public places. They had been Bluetooth’s app of the month and demoed an outdoor game at CES in Las Vegas, but teaming up with Sony was a whole different ballgame.
This was hitting the big time. Or was it?
“Sony sent us two prototype SEG headsets – each worth €100,000 – to develop with, Hunt continues, “and we basically built an AR version of Counterstrike, where you could use the Duster to select targets on your headset and engage them in street games of geo combat, while tracking them via Google Maps on your cell phone. We tested the hell out of it in Berlin. The screen graphics were monochromatic green and pretty crappy, but the game itself was really engaging. We could play it all day.”
Problems arose at the event when the wearables development team from Sony Corp in Japan became involved. “There were concerns about the shape of the Duster,” Hunt tells me. “We had built a First Person Shooter Game, but the message we were getting from Japan was that it wasn’t possible to point a gun-shaped device at members of the public in Sony Hall. Which is fair enough, but they knew what there were getting when they approached us. Competitive outdoor gaming is what we do.”
The Dustcloud team built an acceptable ‘shooting galley’ demo for the event, but in the end, it was never used. Sony had been building a new headset – the full colour SEG Attach – in stealth mode, based on a completely different SDK, which they ended up launching at CES in Las Vegas in January. Suddenly, the headsets Dustcloud were developing for were old tech.
“We were ahead of the curve, but suddenly the curve whooshed past us,” says Hunt. “We found ourselves scrambling to offer something new fast.”
One of the biggest problems Dustcloud encountered at tradeshow demos was the fact that WiFi zones at big tech events tended to be patchy. At IFA and CES, the wifi always seemed to crash at crucial moments.
“We realised that we needed to develop our own IOT game zones where we could control all the elements of gameplay,” Hunt says. “The phone game we built was fine, because everyone has their own phones and tablets, but there aren’t many headsets out there. On top of which, we had to reevaluate the shape of the Dusters, because we were getting too much heat from event organisers and marketing managers. It was time to work out a new approach to the game.”
Around this time, Enterprise Ireland had come on board as a vocal champion of the company, approving Dustcloud for a €250,000 High Potential Startup loan, while privately lobbying for a shape change. Hunt is not completely sure where the idea to build banana shaped dusters came from, but he cites a due diligence meeting at EI HQ at East Point Business Park in Dublin as the probable location for a game change.
“I think Ota (Dustcloud’s VP of Engineering) might have suggested a banana after the meeting, at which point I’m pretty sure my immediate response would have been: “That’s the stupidest idea I have ever heard.” Hunt says. “But we have an awesome Solidworks designer on our team down in Prague, and he whipped up this cool banana Duster that looks are feels really great. And now we’re standing around, finding it hard to believe we didn’t think of banana-shaped dusters a couple of years ago. It would have saved us so much pain.”
The team have released a Banana-centic app on Google Play featuring a map and private messaging function, and are hard at work adding a competitive element to the game, in which players ‘shoot’ each other with bananas in order to turn rival players into virtual monkeys. They have also have partnered with three Dublin-based companies, Ultra Wideband chip manufacturers Decawave, IoT beacon designers Strasmax, and Augmented Reality Headset developer Halo AR, in order to deliver a complete gaming solution for outdoor events.
— DUSTCLOUD (@dstcld) February 25, 2015
Right now, the Dustcloud biz dev team are in talks with the Web Summit Events team to see if a city wide street game and Augmented Reality eSports game could be staged at the RDS show grounds in Dublin in November. Qualcomm, the manufacturer of Snapdragon chips and the Vuforia Eye Wear Augmented Reality SDK are in talks to be a sponsor.
“There are a lot of moving parts in this equation,” Hunt says, waving his Banana Duster in the air for emphasis. “But if it all comes together, on schedule, it will be the first AR eSports Event of its kind in the world.”