The leap from web design to robotics is a big one, but Mike Rizkalla and his company are making the transition and preparing to bring their first robotics product to the market.
Rizkalla heads Brave New World, formerly known as Raised Media, a Halifax- and New York-based web design company that is adding robotics, artificial intelligence and augmented reality to its business channels. It is now raising money to launch its first real product: a board game that features a robot that learns about the players as the game progresses.
For years, this company has showcased interesting projects, such as the game for the Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch show, and the digital edition of the Canadian Encyclopedia. Now, Rizkalla wants the company to be a hybrid of service and product companies, targeting tech trends that will become mainstream in five to 10 years,
“I wanted to basically take the company and make it a future tech company,” said Rizkalla in an interview, saying it therefore set up a robotics unit. “Our focus for the robotics division is that it involves personality robots, like the robots we were promised in movies, something like C3PO. . . . It came down to figuring out how we could go where no one has gone yet.”
Brave New World has assembled a staff of about 18 people, almost all based in Halifax, including specialists in advanced technologies attracted from such countries as Poland, India and China. The team still takes on contract work for clients, but the thing that gets Rizkalla’s blood racing is the robotics group.
Brave New World has developed a mixed-technology game called Chancellor of the Universe. At first glance, it’s just another board game, but there’s one difference – it features a robot (called the Chancellor) that uses machine learning to understand the people playing the game. The Chancellor rules the universe and players have to try to overthrow him. Players can not only interact directly with the Chancellor but can use an augmented reality feature on their phones to enhance the experience. “Nothing like this exists,” said Rizkalla said in a recorded session at the Collision 2017 trade show in New Orleans last month.
Brave New World’s grand vision is that this robot will just be the first step in a line of mixed-reality, robotics-based games. The robot will just be a platform, and the company will release new games so players can remove the Chancellor’s outer shell, replace it with another exterior. The player a whole new game with a different-looking robot.
Rizkalla is now raising money to finance the full launch of Chancellor of the Universe, and then to build out the products arm of the company. The goal is to build a team of experts who can be on the cutting edge of technology, especially in the entertainment field. He wants Brave New World to produce the next generation of things that people use for amusement as digital technology moves beyond computers and mobile devices.
“There are a lot of digital experience companies coming up, and a new segmentation of that space,” he said. “It’s really exciting. When we tried to come up with our approach, we decided that the screen will soon no longer be the screen in the coming years. What will be the screen in the future will probably no longer be a computer, it might not even be a mobile device. It’s the way things are headed, but we’re not there yet.”