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Three startups to watch from MIT’s Play Labs accelerator

Can't adopt a real dog? Now you can get a virtual one.

By Kara Baskin  |  August 16, 2017

2017-PlayLabs-2

Users tested virtual and augmented reality systems at MIT’s Play Labs demo day.

Virtual canines powered by artificial intelligence. Virtual role-playing that combats sexism in the workplace. Even a way to cut down on nausea caused by playing intense, locomotive video games. These ideas and more were presented at the Aug. 15 inaugural demo day for MIT’s new summertime accelerator, Play Labs.

The accelerator, which focuses on playful technologies in a variety of industries, was hosted at the MIT Game Lab and run by Bayview Labs executive director and investor Rizwan Virk, SB ’92, in conjunction with the Seraph Group, a seed stage venture capital firm. The MIT Game Lab is part of the MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. Each company received an initial investment of $20,000 upon acceptance to the lab, along with mentoring and introductions to industry experts. The groups also have the potential to receive up to $80,000 more as part of their seed round after graduating. The demo session was open to investors and the MIT community, and followed by time for networking with investors and audience members.

This inaugural theme was “Play Labs: It’s an Incredible Adventure.” Thirteen startups presented their ideas in five-minute pitches, with music from “Indiana Jones” playing between presentations. Ideas encompassed virtual reality, augmented reality, gamification, and AI, spanning industries from health care to video games.

Minda
Co-founded by an MIT Game Labs alumnus, Minda aims to use virtual reality to create inclusive workplaces. It offers instruction, practice, feedback, and analytics through virtual role-playing. Simulations spotlight common workplace scenarios that touch on issues like sexism, with a focus on boosting empathy through better communication. Each session lasts about 15 minutes, and users get instant expert feedback backed by psychological research. Minda is scalable — 10,000 people can do it — and an alternative to finding a corporate coach who works with a mere handful of employees.

Ridgeline Labs
Ridgeline Labs turns busy people into pet owners through a VR dog simulator. “This is what happens when your parents don’t let you have a dog growing up,” joked co-founder Henry Zhou. His team launched what he called “the first high-quality VR dog simulator,” allowing users to have a dog ownership experience without the mess. Users can adopt “RoVR,” a virtual canine, and feed, pet, and teach him tricks — maybe even take a scenic stroll or host virtual play dates with friends’ dogs. Using AI, the cuddly pet changes his behavior based on his owner’s behavior. While most gaming focuses on sci-fi or shooting, Zhou said, he thinks that casual gaming is an “untapped market” based on the success of platforms like Nintendo’s Nintendogs.

VRemedy Labs
VRemedy Labs wants to revolutionize locomotion by helping users play intense superhero games without getting motion sick. An MIT-designed adjustable comfort-level system mitigates nausea through designed locomotion systems and customized training sequences, leading to smoother gaming, mainly on Oculus, Vive, and PSVR platforms. Right now, the group is working on “I Hate Heroes,” a VR game with flying, swinging, and other classic movement that uses the proprietary system. Gamers can experiment without getting sick and adjust the intensity to their specifications.