January 2, 2018

Virtual reality company brings innovative tech to Marlborough

Courtesy
David O'Connor, co-founder of Mindtrek VR, poses next to the Bloomberg sign after a Bloomberg Radio interview in August.

Mindtrek VR, a virtual reality gaming company based in Woburn, in December opened its second Massachusetts location with a 4,000-square-foot space in Marlborough's Apex Center. The company claims it's the largest free-roaming virtual reality arena in the country. Co-founder David O'Connor sat down with the Worcester Business Journal to talk about the company's success and the innovative technology.

How does it work?

Individual players wear a backpack with a small computer in it, which is wired to the headset and earphones. That's how you see and hear what's going on. The space is all covered by 128 motion detection cameras, and there are sensors on the players' equipment. The cameras track your movement, and it's taking that information and giving to to everyone else within the game; and it's also taking their information and giving it to you. That's how we track you and help you see each other.

It's effectively a very ridiculous wireless system all over WiFi, sensors and motion trackers.

Whose idea was it to launch this business venture?

I am not a techy or someone who cares for video games. I don't think I've played a video game in 20 years. We're entrepreneurs, and this group of owners is made up of three friends who were all owners in the Skyzone Trampoline Park network.

I sold my trampoline parks, and I was looking for what I was going to do next. One of the others was also looking for what he could invest in next. We can across this technology from a group of guys in Australia and their company, Zero Latency.

We started talking to them and one was in the U.S. at the time, so we went to New York to pass the first level of discussion and within a week, we were on a plane to Australia to hammer out the details of a license agreement.

So you don't like video games that much, but do you enjoy playing this?

What makes this different is it's social. You can sit in your house and play someone, but that's not social. You can watch a movie in your house with friends, but that's not the same as going to the movies.

The reason it lasts: The commercial version is quite frankly more social. I've seen a 12x12-foot version that holds two people and that's kind of cool, but once you can get up to a warehouse scale and start putting 20 people in there, now you've got a social environment.

What was so appealing about the technology that brought the group to make such a quick decision?

The appealing part was it being new. We're all risk takers, I guess. We would rather take the risk of being early to something that is very new, and very cool if it turns into something significant.

We all have a pretty good background in entertainment. We did our own analysis and asked ourselves if this thing had legs or not.

Why did the group choose the Apex Center?

Because it's the Apex Center. I wouldn't do as a standalone building where people would have to come to me to play. In this case, this is a 160,000-square-foot building. I know entertainment enough; and it's going to draw people from a 30-mile radius, and they'll hang out there for hours at a time.

I also owned a Skyzone in Marlborough, so I know the market very well.

This seems like an enormous amount of technology. I'm guessing there are a lot of employees to help maintain that technology?

It's actually very thin. The full staff at each place is about 16 to 18 people. Once you install it, it's effectively turning the game on. It's just like playing a movie. Once the movie is playing, you can just sit there and play all day.

This interview was conducted and edited for length and clarity by WBJ Staff Writer Zachary Comeau.

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