An alum partners with Mystic Aquarium to spread knowledge about marine conservation
Benjamin Williams chose to attend NYU Tandon largely because of its entrepreneurial focus, and true to that ethos, he launched his own company, ARSOME Technology Group, with co-founder David Oyanadel in 2016, even before he had earned his master’s degree in Management of Technology.
This year, his rapidly growing enterprise, which designs custom augmented reality (AR) software and systems, has forged an exciting partnership with Connecticut’s Mystic Aquarium, one of the most popular aquatic museums in the country, to create “Animal Heroes,” an AR experience that allows young subscribers to personalize an avatar and learn about a new creature each month through interactive games, videos, and activities.
Two virtual guides serve in much the same capacity as members of the aquarium’s real-life teen volunteer program, introducing youngsters to various animals, leading them step-by-step through the adventure, and engaging them in all the program has to offer — including the ability to take a selfie with an AR whale or feed it in their own living room or backyard.
By the time a child finishes a module on a creature — African penguins, for example — they will know all about its behavior, the appropriate habitat for it (rocky coastlines), and the correct diet (fish, of course, no matter how good that virtual hamburger might look).
Steve Coan, who heads the aquarium, has praised ARSOME’s efforts. “We’re trying to engage young people on issues related to conservation,” he recently told a reporter for the Hartford Courant. “ARSOME had a really good understanding of educational development. Part of it is that they are younger and understand where kids are at, and the information technology is user friendly.”
Williams and Oyanadel, have always pointed to education as an important sector. Among their first products was an interactive AR scavenger hunt for a Boston museum, and they later developed an interactive experience outside the public library in Hartford, Connecticut, home of Mark Twain, to make a statue of the famed 19th-century writer come to life when patrons aimed their smartphones or tablets at it.
Partnering with the Mystic Aquarium is thus a natural for them. “Given the pandemic’s devastating effects on both in-person learning and tourism, we’re very proud to be both providing an easy way for parents to enrich at-home study and for the museum to continue its mission,” Williams says.
As Connecticut-based ARSOME has expanded, so has the company’s voice in the community. U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) recently invited Williams to participate alongside business leaders from across the state in a virtual roundtable discussion about job-creation. Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, has noted the potential for ARSOME’s augmented and virtual reality platforms to benefit institutions in business and government. At a recent sneak preview of Animal Heroes, he said, “I think this will open a new era for Mystic Aquarium.”