The RIoT Your Reality AR Challenge wrapped up this week with a high energy pitch event at Raleigh Founded.  RIoT, a local economic development nonprofit, worked in close collaboration with Facebook Reality Labs, US. Ignite, Google Fiber, and a number of other partners to crowdsource innovative Augmented Reality (AR) solutions to problem statements posed by the City of Raleigh and the Town of Cary.

Over the past 6 months, more than 35 proposals were submitted by entrepreneurs, who through a series of activities, narrowed to a group of 6 that each received $1,000 to build a proof of concept prototype of their solution.  This week, the finalists pitched their demos to a panel of judges and a live audience, competing for $40,000.  The goal – create innovative solutions to municipal needs, while also launching a new small business with our communities as the first pilot customers.

Raleigh Mayor, Mary-Ann Baldwin opened the event describing her own vision of Raleigh as a top 5 global city for innovation.  The creativity that the Mayor, City Council, and other stakeholders have enabled, and the resulting response in the community, authentically shows the progress that has been made.  Attendees came from across the region and surrounding states to participate.  AR proposals came from across the US and Canada.

Town of Cary Councilmember, Lori Bush, described how Cary built an IoT living lab several years ago to source cutting-edge technologies from the startup community into local government.  It is important for municipalities and entrepreneurs to collaborate.  This attracts talent, capital and global recognition as a Center of Excellence in the Data Economy.

The solutions spanned several areas of need identified by Raleigh and Cary, including tourism, city services, accessibility and workforce development.  Kate Jensen, the National Sales Manager for the Raleigh Convention Center, and one of the evening’s judges described how difficult it was to select a winner among such high quality presentations.

Showing their own entrepreneurial spirit, the judging panel surprised participants by breaking the prize into parts, awarding three winners and maximizing the potential for multiple solutions to carry forward.  The cash prize was split, awarding $20,000 each to Lira and NatureXR, both startups based in the Triangle.  Our Town was awarded a slot in a future RIoT Accelerator Program.

Lira solves the “voicelessness challenge” that is often present in hospitals and emergency response situations where people cannot physically speak loudly and clearly to medical professionals.  Through innovative use of technology, they create AR closed-captioning to augment lip reading and improve communication.  The tech has analogous applications for city services.

NatureXR seeks to solve flash flooding and stormwater challenges associated with urbanization.  Their AR tool visualizes development of water gardens that help absorb, filter, clean and slow the rush of water after rainfall.  These visualizations can connect residents and businesses to landscapers or other resources to make the gardens reality.  This solves the water problem while also beautifying our downtowns and neighborhoods.

The crowd favorite, as measured by audience engagement and applause, was clearly Olivia Cleveland, a current Wake Tech Community College student.  She developed Our Town: Raleigh, a platform to bring the history of Raleigh forward through AR experiences around stops of the popular R-line downtown circulator bus.  Olivia was awarded a slot in a future RIoT Accelerator Program to help her develop a business model and go to market strategy to launch her vision.

It remains to be seen how far each of these creative solutions will go.  Those that succeed will create local jobs and help authenticate that our region is a Top 5 Center of Excellence for Innovation.  It is extremely cool to see our local government is engaging entrepreneurs and willing to be that first pilot customer to try something new and to explore the “what if” of emerging technology.