Shawn Hardin is a true believer in augmented reality.
After two decades as an Internet executive at companies such as NBC, AOL, Yahoo and Flock, he is placing his bets on Mind Pirate, a 13-person startup he founded to redefine games for what he described as the "day when eyePhones replace iPhones."
For Hardin, the eyePhone is a proxy for the successors to the iPhone, a head-mounted, hands-free device, such as Google Glass and the emerging class of wearables, enabling an immersive, augmented reality experience that integrates virtual and physical space. He predicts that within five years "eyephones" will replace iPhones as the dominant digital device.
Mind Pirate's strategy is to bring its technology to a mass audience this fall via a game for iOS and Android. Hardin wasn't forthcoming on any specifics about the game but said it will take advantage of the multiple sensors embedded in smartphones and tablets. "Most devices have more than a dozen sensors, including compass, gyroscope, proximity, GPS, Wi-Fi, accelerometer and imaging, but more than 90 percent of mobile developers are building games centered on just one sensor -- the touch screen," he said. "It's a big inflection point in market, and it requires a different form factor." He shared that Mind Pirate is building a game for Google Glass.
More generally, Hardin envisions a new class of games using location data with a wearable device. "The way you move in the world and the people you interact with is interesting fodder for some kinds of game experiences," he said, with teams of real and virtual entities interacting. Instead of looking at a smartphone or tablet screen, you see the things that have been left only for you via our smart eyewear. "The new use case is a middle space, integrating together a set of virtual objects, characters, sounds and things you can hallucinate in real world....It becomes part of real life," he said.
In addition, Mind Pirate will open its proprietary development platform, Callisto, to third-party developers next year. Callisto provides tools to integrate the full ranges of mobile sensors into games, Hardin said. The startup is looking for partners to build games for smartphones and tablet, as well as wearable devices like Google Glass.
Hardin jump-started the company during his tenure as an enterpreneur-in-residence at Bessemer Venture Partner with the acquisition in October 2012 of Twyngo, developer of the popular iOS game Amazing Ants. In December 2012, Mind Pirate received $2.5 million in funding from Bessemer and Signia Venture Partners.
Mind Pirate isn't alone in pioneering augmented reality games. Dekko, for instance, has already produced a 3D, multiplayer augmented-reality game for iOS in which players hold their iPads over a table that become a virtual racetrack for racing cars. Like Mind Pirate, Dekko is creating a developer platform for the wearable revolution that merges the virtual and real worlds. The company is working with more than 40 content partners, including game developers, entertainment companies, toy manufacturers, special effects companies, said CEO Matt Miesnieks. Dekko has raised $3.2 million in venture capital firms, including Bessemer.
"Wearable devices, for your wrist, arm, eyes, in your clothes, is growing fast and there is so much opportunity," Hardin said. Mobile analyst Tomi Ahonen expects augmented reality to be adopted by a billion users by 2020.
Mind Pirate hopes to be one of the enablers of augmented reality as it tries to break out of the cool technology demo phase and in to the mainstream over the next five years.
"I don't think we know every way the technology will be used," Hardin said. But he believes that harnessing sensors, 3D tracking, wearable devices, and games with a wow factor will be transformative.
"It's tantamount to a sixth sense," Hardin said, "and we will literally be able to perceive the world differently."