Keep your eyes to the sky for any passing dragons — tech start-up VarDragons is crafting a smartphone augmented reality game that replaces passing aircraft with the mythical creatures players can capture, raise and fight.
The Miami-based company that's showcasing at the eMerge Americas conference hopes to tap into the multibillion-dollar online game market with an app that turns passing planes into dragons — and helps deploy a network of plane-watching antennas.
Players point the phone's camera at airplanes in the sky to see dragons that can be captured and trained. Like the wildly successful augmented reality game Pokémon Go, VarDragons overlays an image of a dragon on top of passing aircraft that can be interacted with.
Each dragon will take on characteristics and cues unique to the aircraft's livery, country and even flight path — a short-haul Airbus operated by Lufthansa, for instance, might be displayed as a small European-style dragon with yellow-and-blue markings, while a long-haul Norwegian Air flight could show up as a large Nordic-style dragon with a red head.
Behind the scenes, the app matches the player's location and orientation to real-time flight information from sources like FlightAware to determine details about the plane.
Dragons can be captured, modified, played and armed while the corresponding plane is in the air, but they can only be raised and trained when at a nest — when its real-world counterpart is at an airport. "We're trying to incentivize people to collect more," founder and CEO Thomas Byrd said in an interview with CNBC.
To build a larger collection of dragons, players can pay to tap into a network of "Magic Talons" — glass orbs about the size of a softball, specially designed for the game. The orbs are in fact ADS-B antennas, receivers that pick up the broadcasts airplanes are legally required to send while in flight.