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Fuffr's Smartphone Case

This infrared invention tears down social barriers for multi-player gaming

by Richard Prime
on 20 November 2014

Two days after the intimate gathering to show its forthcoming Kickstarter film, the Fuffr studio in Stockholm is still full of empty beer cases and helium balloons slowly slinking down the windows. Yet, while many might be fretting at the thought of the launch that might make or break this new startup, Fuffr's founder Stefan Östergårde and co-partner Oscar Ritzén Praglowski seem relaxed and composed as they talk us through their remarkable product: a smartphone case that could revolutionize gaming.

"Fuffr's the aggregation of my experiences in tech," begins Östergårde, a man who is the kind of steady hand all start-ups need at the helm. "Infrared tech is nothing new, but Fuffr explores how to implement it and use it in a new way and context," he continues.

A year ago, Östergårde started thinking about infrared proximity technology and its relationship with gaming and, in particular, mobile gaming and use. "If you play games, chances are you play on your own for a few minutes. Even if you're playing with someone sat next to you, you're still isolated."

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Östergårde is certainly on to something. One of the main criticisms of the mobile generation is the stripping of personal interaction, contact and empathy. Parents in the park swipe idly while their kids play. Meals are continually interrupted by incoming messages and notifications. Such observations hit Östergårde and brought forth Fuffr: an inconspicuous yet tech-laden phone case that, when switched on, turns the surface around Fuffr into an extended active control area up to about nine centimeters from your phone in all four directions. All the standard touchscreen finger gestures are supported and more can be programmed in without any trouble by a developer. Plus it's not limited to just one person at a time, encouraging social usage.

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Indeed, a couple of stabs at his phone later and Östergårde's fingers are pulling and manipulating colorful circles on his phone from the tabletop beside it—on all four sides. It's at this point first time Fuffr users feel the mixture of technical bamboozlement, nostalgic glee and pure potential that this phone case holds. Seconds later we're all slapping the table top simultaneously; engrossed in a simple reaction game. "It's a modern deck of cards," quips Ritzén Praglowski. And he's right.

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The Fuffr's simplicity holds promise for everyone and, unlike many hardware start-ups, actually works—even in its prototype iteration. According to Östergårde and Ritzén Praglowski, they've already sent out a couple of hundred developer kits so when things go live, every Fuffr backer will soon be able to download a host of games; both new and existing, reconfigured for the Fuffr controller. Östergårde notes that its API (supporting iOS and additional ports for JavaScript and Unity) makes it easy to reconfigure an existing game, and that any programmer can get Fuffr'ed without any trouble.

Asked about the tech specs, Östergårde grabs the PCB board and states that the battery has a standby time of about two months, is charged with a USB and uses low energy Bluetooth to connect. Initially, Fuffr will come in iPhone 5 and 6 versions. The team is also keen to underline its commitment to making sure the best studios and developers have the chance to work with the format. In due course, they hope to not only see games but utilities using the enhanced gesture space Fuffr allows and nurture a vibrant, harmonious and welcoming community of users.

Tear down the social barrier and you're back to being close through human contact.

"It's not about the game though, really. It's the slight change in culture and attitude," says Ritzén Praglowski. "Absolutely," adds Östergårde. "Tear down the social barrier and you're back to being close through human contact."

Fuffr is currently funding on Kickstarter, where early backers can secure a case for $59.

Images courtesy of Fuffr

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