From The Zombie Syndrome: Dead in the Water

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Zombie adventures come to life with app created by SFU alumni

October 27, 2016
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By Diane Luckow

A monstrous gang of hybrid zombie-vampires has been terrorizing theatre-goers on Granville Island this month—with a little help from a new product created by SFU alumni and incubated with SFU’s Venture Connection.  

TerraTap Technologies, co-founded by SFU alumnus D’Arcy Smith and Judy Hamilton, has helped The Virtual Stage create a theatrical “adventure”, The Zombie Syndrome: Dead In The Water, playing until Oct. 31 on Granville Island.

The roving adventure performance takes place throughout Granville Island and requires audience members to use TerraTap’s neartuit mobile app on their smartphone, which detects their location and gives them clues about the adventure so they can save the world from zombie-vampires.

neartuit uses iBeacons—small Bluetooth transmitters hidden around the island and in actors’ pockets—to make the app work. And, in a new technology twist, TerraTap worked with another local company to develop iBeacons that can switch on and off, allowing the actors to use the iBeacons in their pockets to change the adventure’s direction based on audience decisions.

“I can say with confidence this is the first time iBeacons have been used in live, interactive theatre in Canada,” says Hamilton.

“At each of the Zombie adventure stops there are iBeacons that give the audience members information to understand what their next task is and help them make decisions.”

Andy Thompson, artistic director, The Virtual Stage, says: “The neartuit app provided theatrical storytelling tools unlike anything I have ever come across. It was a delight to work with TerraTap to figure out how the "fixed" and "switch" beacons would most effectively propel the narrative in an engaging way for our audiences. The future looks bright for interactive theatre."

neartuit got its start as a student-business “pitch project” during Smith’s master’s program with the SFU Centre for Digital Media. The project required students to both pitch their technology idea and join SFU’s Venture Connection student business incubator program.

In the two years since impressing the pitch judges with their product idea, TerraTap has used Venture Connection’s training and mentorship to help commercialize neartuit and refine its market niche in the arts and culture sector. Several of TerraTap’s employees are graduates of the CDM master’s program.

“The future of iBeacon technology and its ability to connect audiences of all types with stories is only now being realized,” says Hamilton.

 “The possibilities that technologies like ours can add to interactive theatre will take it to a brand new level. We’re really excited about this new direction for theatre in Canada.”