As Virtual Reality (VR) continues to make strides in the gaming industry, Cove Incubator startup BluAtomVR is striving to be at the forefront with their technology.
Whereas VR headsets can visually immerse a user, BluAtomVR’s concept enhances the experience further through their body tracking VR vest and hand-motion VR gun controller. Their product enables more immersive and engaging VR gaming, turning any player’s body into a game controller. BluAtomVR is based in Orange County, and its origins date back to 2006 when one of its co-founders; now CEO, Steve Kearsley, saw potential in the future of VR.
At the time that Kearsley was exploring a body motion control platform as part of his Multimedia Masters virtual reality thesis project, VR products and games were not yet being developed en masse to push the technology further. A decade later, VR has grown significantly, with the market projected to hit over $40B within the next five years. Currently, over 150 companies are now producing games for the VR market including industry leaders such as Capcom, Sony, and Electronic Arts.
BluAtomVR has also received prominent media attention indicating potential market interest in their technology after debuting the world’s first immersive wireless VR vest and gun controller at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show (CES). The design of these core offerings is credited to Carl TenBrink, an investor in BlueAtomVR and President of Sonos Product Development. Before CES, Mark Thimmig, another investor in BluAtomVR, considered a ‘media powerhouse,’ helped prepare the team for their CES debut. At the event, BlueAtomVR also garnered attention from organizations such as the U.S. Navy, U.S. Customs, LAPD and others from global law enforcement for a variety of applications.
In the competitive landscape of VR, BlueAtomVR’s body-tracking vest and hand motion gun controller differentiates themselves by utilizing sophisticated engineering to create a more wholly immersive gaming experience. The wireless-enabled system allows for total freedom of a player’s movements, while the lightweight vest is designed utilizing breathable materials. BlueAtomVR’s system is fully compatible with HTC VIVE™, and can be used with first-person shooters (FPS) PC games or with games published on the Steam digital distribution platform.
An Orange County startup in every aspect, BluAtomVR is headquartered in Irvine and incorporated last year in February 2016. In 2015, the three founders, Steve Kearsley, Dean Shipley, and Farzad Ahmadkhanlou, Ph.D. expanded on the idea of creating the world’s first wireless motion control body system for VR. Ahmadkhanlou, CTO, also serves as an EDI faculty advisor and visiting project scientist for the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at UCI. The team effort began as a small, self-funded effort, with the team working out of one of the founder’s homes. After months of hard work, the first prototype was created and attracted the company’s first private investor, Sean Sharifian. According to Kearsley, the first investor’s faith in their product is what “jump started BluAtomVR as a company.”
Shortly afterward, BluAtomVR applied and was accepted into the Cove Share incubator program at Applied Innovation. Through their participation in the incubator, they met Bill Waldo among other Experts-in-Residence who helped shape their initial business plan, raise capital, and overcome other obstacles. BluAtomVR also credits Matt Bailey, director of Communications and Ecosystem Development at Applied Innovation, as a key supporter, mentoring the team in a variety of areas. Regarding their experience as an incubator team working at the Cove, the team shared, “[we] couldn’t have had a better incubator experience,” giving special thanks also to John Pratt, director of Facilities and IT Operations, for providing support to the team.
Recently, BlueAtomVR was invited by the Small Business Administration to demo their technology in Washington, D.C. at the Rayburn Building Congressional building. While at the Capitol, the team spoke with congressional members, staff, and other officials about the potential for VR to enhance current military training efforts.
Hai contributes to the Cove as a content writer for both the Currents newsletter and blog. As an alumnus of UCI with a degree in English and a co-founder of a local creative agency, Hai's focus is centered on spotlighting events, stories, and startups within the Orange County community. He is passionate about entrepreneurship and has participated in fast-pitch competitions through the UCI Antrepreneur Center and has co-organized local business and startup groups such as 1 Million Cups and Orange County Young Entrepreneurs.