Starbreeze continues to make strategic VR/AR partnerships as today it has announced a $1.65M acquisition of augmented reality and “toys to life” company ePawn, who bring them some intriguing technologies with potential applications for the immersive space.
Starbreeze seems to be popping up regularly in our headlines recently. The company that made it big with popular franchises such as The Walking Dead and Payday are using their financial clout to invest in the company’s future strategy, and that strategy is most decidedly in immersive entertainment.
In May, Starbreeze announced a partnership with experiential cinema specialist IMAX to create “premium location-based VR” experiences “worthy of the IMAX brand” and more recently, electronics firm Acer made public it’s planned $9M investment i the company. Both announcements had one thing in common, the company’s StarVR 210 degree VR headset.
Now, Starbreeze have announced an acquisition that the company’s CTO Emmanuel Marquez says will “significantly diversify our virtual reality and toys-to-life offerings”. ePawn are “next generation VR and toys-to-life company” with a focus their patented NFC (Near Field Communication) powered gaming boards and room-scale mats, which allow physical playable objects to be tracked by position, orientation and even altitude. Those game objects can be anything, including figures and other playful items – hence ” toys-to-life”.
“With ePawn, we will significantly diversify our virtual reality and toys-to-life offerings, as well as speed up the development of existing internal projects already in the works,” said Bo Andersson Klint, Starbreeze CEO. “The ePawn team has already innovated and productified their technologies and we acquire not only many good ways of applying them, but also a solid portfolio of patents that will benefit Starbreeze for many years to come.”
Starbreeze CTO Marquez says that the ePawn team, who’ll be joining the existing Starbreeze VR/AR team will “… add more talent in electronics, in software, patents and also a bright CTO, Valentin Lefèvre that would be able to drive AR technology for us.”
As mentioned, ePawn’s acquisition leaves Starbreeze with an additional set of 7 patents to add to their portfolio and one in particular seems to have direct applications for immersive, room-scale tracking. The ‘sensor carpet’ that Marquez says can be “easily silver print” and embedded in any flooring material, including concrete. Once there, the carpet will be able to sense a VR user’s position thanks to RFID modules on the user’s feet. Not only that, but any props in the physical game-space also sporting RFID units world can be location tracked too. It’s not clear how accurately this could me mapped to the virtual world though given the flat plane and limitations of the sensor carpet.
ePawn’s acquisition is another interesting move into the AR/VR space by Starbreeze and one which plays into their recent assertions that their focus is on out-of-home, destination VR experiences in the commercial sector. It’ll be interesting to see what experiences arise as a result of the combination of ePawn’s tech and the ever-evolving 210 degree StarVR headset.