DAQRI launches Elements 4D on Kickstarter, hopes to introduce augmented reality to the masses through education
For the last three years, DAQRI has been developing augmented reality (AR) technology for enterprise applications. To date, it has powered more than 1,000 media campaigns with companies like LEGO, Maxim, 20th Century Fox, Matchbox 20, and Sony, often in the form of magazine covers and billboard advertisements that contain hidden videos when viewed through an AR application on one’s smartphone. The company has also developed applications for the education, medical, and industrial manufacturing sectors. Today, the Los Angeles company is launching its first consumer-focused product by way of a Kickstarter campaign.Elements 4D is an interactive chemistry learning experience that combines a set of laser-etched wooden blocks – yes, physical wooden blocks – illustrating a different chemical element on each side with an accompanying augmented reality mobile app which utilizes smartphone and tablet cameras to view and interact with the blocks. Together, the two components allow students to combine the elements from the periodic table to create chemical reactions and new molecules in the virtual space. For example, touch a hydrogen to an oxygen and the viewer will see a chemically correct water molecule displayed on their screen.
“We think this is the first killer application for augmented reality because it’s part story, part game, part educational experience, all in one beautiful package,” DAQRI co-founder Gaia Dempsey says in the company’s product demo video.
Having played with a set of Elements 4D blocks and the accompanying app, I must admit that experience is compelling – although I do have a background in Chemistry, so I may be biased. Chemistry is a concept that can be hard to grasp within the limitations of print materials, and which lends itself to visual and hands-on instruction. Video and animation can be helpful, but don’t lend themselves to interaction or real-time customization. For years, classrooms have used styrofoam orbs in multiple colors and sizes to represent, protons, neutrons, electrons, atoms, and molecules, combining these elements with rods representing the bonds that join them. Elements 4D offer a decidedly more modern and engaging take on this method.
DAQRI’s Kickstarter begins today and extends 30 days through August 22, with the goal of raising $50,000. In addition to several basic rewards for minor contributions, those contributing $25 will receive a set of two Elements 4D blocks. A contribution of $50 will earn the donor four blocks, while $75 earns the full set of six, six-sided blocks (representing 36 commonly occurring elements). Larger donations earn limited edition wooden and brushed aluminum block sets, invites to private DAQRI parties, and personalized 4D interactivity within the Elements app. In total, the company will offer slightly more than 4,000 sets of its Elements 4D blocks under this campaign.
Like many other startups turning to Kickstarter, DAQRI doesn’t really need the money. The company recently announced a $15 million Series A funding round led by Tarsadia Investments, while adding Lady Gaga’s manager and Atom Factory Chairman and CEO Troy Carter to its advisory board. But the incentive-based crowdfunding platform will allow DAQRI to introduce the concept of 4D to consumers. The company will also have the opportunity gather valuable feedback from consumers.
This is not the first augmented reality product to hit Kickstarter in recent weeks. Earlier this month, the Poppy 3D camera module exceeded its $40,000 fundraising goal in less than nine hours and has gone on to raise a total of nearly $180,000 ahead of to its July 26 campaign deadline. If nothing else, this illustrates an appetite for products in this relatively new category.
Elements 4D may be somewhat more limited in its appeal than a general photography product like Poppy, given that chemistry education is something few people care about outside of their high school and college years. As such, the commercial appeal of the product beyond Kickstarter is hard to quantify. But this is just a single example of the near limitless applications of “4D,” augmented reality.
For example, DAQRI and other companies like India’s Point and Aurasma have already found numerous compelling applications in the advertising space, using smartphone cameras to bring otherwise two dimensional print content to life, not only through 3D but also through motion (hence the fourth dimension). Magazine covers reveal hidden videos when viewed through the app, for example, while bus-stop billboards may give way to an interactive product demo. While this can seem like magic at first encounter, consumer engagement has historically been tepid at best. As such, one of the biggest challenges facing augmented reality innovators is educating the market on the availability and value of these interactions.
Looking ahead, Google Glass and its inevitable competitors will likely offer the most compelling platform for AR applications, given their ability to layer additional layers of visual content atop the wearer's real world field of view. Ultimately, we are at the very early stages of augmented reality. Beyond Elements, DAQRI already offers an augmented reality development platform, like Photoshop or Final Cut Pro for this cutting edge medium. The idea is to make AR available to the masses, not only to well-funded companies with teams of developers and designers. As consumers get more comfortable and thus more experimental with the concept of AR, the company should be well positioned as a leader in the category.
It will be interesting to see what kind of response DAQRI's Elements 4D campaign can generate. $40,000 would seem to be an eminently achievable goal. If it can navigate Kickstarter successfully, then the next step will be to develop a commercial distribution strategy, likely combining ecommerce and eventually brick-and-mortar sales. Once consumers are comfortable with the possibilities introduced by augmented reality, expect the company to further push the envelop with additional consumer applications.