Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning , Internet of Things, Mixed Realities, Virtual Realities, and the list goes on. It is the era of ‘Hearables’ & ‘Wearables’. In the last 4-5 years, Technology has been going through a lightning fast transformation.
One such Technology that is touted to have lot of possibilities, but hardly utilized to its full potential, is Augmented Reality (AR). In the midst of numerous Augmented Reality Apps & development kits available now including the likes of ARCore & ARKit, here comes a ‘game’ changing AR offering : “Tilt Five”.
Jeri Ellsworth, Founder & CEO of Tilt Five (based out of Santa Clara, California), has always believed in the prowess of AR & had started getting her hands ‘dirty’ working on varied prototypes since 2011. During a midnight one hour call (courtesy the time zone difference), Jeri took me through her interesting life story of how a high school dropout, dirt car racer is now the most looked up to person in the Augmented Reality spectrum.
The game mode type interview of Jeri Ellsworth:-
First before starting a game we need to know about the characters in the game and the expertise / skillsets attached to each character.
VJCV : Who is Jeri Ellsworth ?
JE : I am a ‘Curious Engineer’ & always worked on anything & everything related to Computer & Electronics.
VJCV : From the articles I read about you, I thought that you dropped out of high school ?
JE : Oh Yes. During my high school days, I was busy building race cars & taking part in dirt track racing. I was making so much money from it, that I eventually dropped out of high school.
VJCV : Interesting. So how did you get introduced to the world of cars ?
JE : My dad had a car repair shop. I used to help him and got to learn a lot about ‘what went inside a car’. My Dad & mentors helped me turn metal in to beautiful cars. I started designing & building my own race cars, for dirt track racing and I sold them as well. I was the only female ‘dirt track race’ car chassis builder in my area during early 1990s. There used to be 1-5 Challenger Circuit races and one season I finished 2nd out of 100 participants.
VJCV : From Race Cars to Computers, how did this transition take place ?
JE : My friend showed me a computer in 1995 & that was the time when everyone talked about computers & huge margins were involved in that business. So we agreed to open a store and started selling assembled computers. This later on became my own venture and I ended up opening 5 computer stores from 1995 – 2000. In the 2000, the margins in computers dropped drastically, so it no longer seemed like a viable business. Some of my employees wanted to continue running the stores, so I offered to give away the stores to them.
VJCV: You said bye bye to computers when it was capturing every household ?
JE : Not exactly. This was the period in which i moved to Silicon Valley & got to work on electronics. I met entrepreneurs , startup founders, investors and learned a lot about electronics. I earned myself the tag of the go to person for designs & project completions. I was doing this on a contracting basis.
VJCV : Did you get to work on any interesting projects during this phase ?
JE: One of the toy companies approached me in 2004. They wanted to use the old Commodore 64 computer, reverse engineer it & put that in to a video game. I managed to do this in less than 8 months and received a lot of accolades & eventually became the “Product Designer” specialist.
VJCV : You must have learned a lot working on all these areas, so was there a thought of sharing this knowledge with others as well ?
JE: I started a YouTube Channel and started posting videos. My intention was to help people understand technology in the simplest possible way.
VJCV : When did you get to lay your hands on Augmented Reality ?
JE: I was hired by Valve Corporation to form their R&D team. My task was to bring the family around the table playing games together. Here I even got to work on the earliest prototypes of HTC Vive. The time spent at Valve made me realize the possibilities of Augmented Reality. But it was difficult for me to make the company understand about the actual power of AR. I ended up parting ways with Valve. But I was fortunate enough to take my work with me. Valve agreed to sell the design, prototype, etc. that I had worked on for a small amount.
VJCV : This is how you started CastAR ? One of the earliest Augmented Reality focused company ?
JE: It was around 2013 & CastAR was one of the early entrants in to this side of the tech world. We had lot of work happening around AR and were trying to provide the best possible experience to the customers. We received venture capital, and the VCs took the company in a different direction than the original plans. They brought in executives to run the company, and those executives weren’t familiar with how to operate a start-up. They ended up going through all of the funding we had within eight months and weren’t able to secure additional funding. Because of this, CastAR went under in mid-2017.
VJCV: What kept you going after all these and how did you end up starting TiltFive ?
JE : I always believed that AR as a technology is still in a very nascent stage but with great utilities. I wanted to recreate the thought processes and ideas that were laid out during my stint with Valve. So I did not want to give up on this and put my efforts into building a new company – Tilt Five. Myself & some others, were able to buy back the assets of CastAR, and we used that as a basis for the new company.
VJCV: AR is making an impact in lot of sectors but you chose to come out with a game board. Can you share your thoughts on that & what is special about Tilt Five ?
JE: Gaming is one of the best ways to get in to the market and can be scaled up easily. The receptiveness will be great and then tech geeks will be able to understand the ‘real power’ of Tilt Five. There are games already in the market which use Virtual Reality but then you are completely cut off from the real world. With Tilt Five players can have a more social experience, and they will still be able to see the real objects around them. They’ll be able to see their friends sitting around them, as well as enjoy their pizza, chips or coke. Tilt Five also blends objects, such as playing cards, tokens, and minis, as well as hand gestures, and that’s what makes it mixed reality.
VJCV: One of the features I liked personally is the option of playing the games with your family / friends who are at different parts of the world. So does everyone need a Tilt Five game to get connected ?
JE: We wanted to bring people together. Tilt Five can be played online with anyone connected to the game. Each player will be able to see things ‘virtually’ & can experience playing the game in a similar way you would have enjoyed sitting & playing in the same room. Even players can connect their PC or any other supported gaming platform & start playing with Tilt Five gamers.
VJCV: You are providing the SDK & giving an option for developers to design their own games. What is the thought behind that ?
JE: We want developers to explore Tilt Five & come out with their own versions of games. We are focusing on building the hardware and welcoming users to be innovative with their designs. We are also in the process of working together with major Game Developer brands & we want to help more people enjoy this special immersive experience.
VJCV: Is Tilt Five restricted to Gaming ? What are the future plans for Tilt Five ?
JE: Though we are focusing on gaming, this has a great potential in other areas. It can be used in healthcare, sports, education & lot of other industries. We will be happy to see our Users working with the SDK to create various applications. This can even be used for conference calls & will be a great way to showcase presentations – the ideas which normally get discussed using powerpoint & excel will get a 360 degree look & feel.
VJCV: How can I buy Tilt Five & what is the cost?
JE: You can order it online. The first set of kits are going out to the market in early Feb 2020. If you place an order now then mostly you will get your own Tilt Five by July / Aug 2020. The cost starts at $299.
VJCV: You have chosen KickStarter platform to sell Tilt Five ? Any specific reason behind that ?
JE: KickStarter is a great platform to raise funds & also to get a feel for the market response and demand. We have already crossed our KickStarter threshold & hope to see more people placing orders.
VJCV: What are your thoughts about the Augmented Reality technology ?
JE: I strongly feel that in the 4-5 years, Augmented Reality will be the new ‘computing’ platform. It used to be the Commodore 64 & other computers in the 70s, then the transition happened in early 2000. It has been evolving faster in the last decade & we can see lot of changes happening in the way we are using technology & computers. AR is still at a very nascent state & I foresee Augmented Reality to be the center point of the next major tech revolution.
VJCV: Thank you Jeri for taking out time and taking me through you life story of racing cars, selling computers, video games, experiences of running a startup & showcasing the upcoming gaming revolution – ‘Tilt Five’. All the best to this venture which i am sure will scale to multiple sectors in the coming years. Hope you are also managing to do your own ‘crazy’ things as well in the midst of all these tech stuffs.
JE: Thank you Vijay. It was a great conversation.
It was a great conversation with Jeri Ellsworth, the ‘inspirational’ person who is always surrounded by computers & electronics, the real Augmented Reality specialist.
I already have some ideas in my mind that can be tried using Tilt Five platform. Tilt Five along with Artificial Intelligence will surely be a game changer. Now I know the power of the ‘avatar’ of this game & eagerly waiting to start my Tilt Five Tabletop gaming with my friends. I am equally excited to see the ways in which gamers & other tech developers make use of this awesome Augmented Reality offering.
This is part of the VJCV PAC Talk Series. Great Conversations with people who believe in – “Passion Attitude Curiosity”.