There are fish, dozens of them, poking around the sunken ship. The wreck itself is a freighter, perhaps, but it is hard to tell in the weak light. I turn to my left and there, looming out of the gloom, is a giant blue whale. Then I take off the virtual reality (VR) goggles and just as suddenly I am back where I started: a small conference room in the new CoMotion Labs@HQ, on a sunny Seattle afternoon.
I had been transported undersea courtesy of HTC VIVE, a VR system designed by Microsoft. It was one of several virtual reality/augmented reality/mixed reality (VR/AR/MR) stations available to visitors to the CoMotion Headquarters and CoMotion Labs@HQ open house, held on November 3. Just down the hall, I could creep through an enemy-infested medieval castle, weapon at the ready, thanks to Invrse Studios, a new high-end VR game shop. In a green-curtained space set up by Binomial, a company working on a texture compression product, I could hold a shield and blast away at wave after wave of airborne invaders.
Binomial and Invrse Studios are two of the fourteen VR/AR/MR startups housed in CoMotion Labs@HQ, which opened last summer. Joining existing CoMotion Lab spaces @Fluke Hall and @Startup Hall, CoMotion Labs@HQ is dedicated to VR/AR/MR, giving its startups office space and access to mixed reality tools, in addition to the usual CoMotion services of programming, mentoring and networking. All of this is done with the aim of making Seattle a hub for VR/AR/MR more generally.
“CoMotion is part of the University of Washington’s mission to engage,” UW Provost Gerald Baldasty said at the open house, which also included a tour of CoMotion Headquarters. In this, Baldasty pointed to the work of Suzie Pun, a professor of bioengineering who is developing a drug delivery system for breast cancer. Pun was one of ten winners in the National Cancer Institute’s Nanotech Startup Challenge. “Their business proposal was drafted by CoMotion,” Baldasty said. “It just shows how we’re thinking of all the ways we can innovate to solve society’s big problems.”
CoMotion’s work benefits not just society at large, but also the university. Matt McIlwain, managing director of the Madrona Venture Group, spoke of the “virtuous cycle of an innovation ecosystem.” CoMotion’s work, he said, can create positive feedbacks for the UW student community as a whole, as when an angel investor of Turi, a UW startup recently purchased by Apple for $200 million, donated $1 million for a new computer science building on campus. “That’s why we’re excited to be a part of what’s happening here,” McIlwain said.
In all, more than three hundred people attended the open house.
"CoMotion is only one-and-a-half years old, and this building is about a month old,” said Vikram Jandhyala, Executive Director of CoMotion and Vice President for Innovation Strategy at UW, at the beginning of the open house. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, and this will be a great place to do it.”