Photo: 302 Interactive
Kyle Morrand’s game development studio is using augmented reality, virtual reality and other technologies to solve real world problems across a range of industries.
Kyle Morrand, 30
302 Interactive, Orlando
Kyle Morrand grew up in the Miami area surrounded by technology — his mother even taught coding at his school — but he was much more interested in music and drumming. At the University of Central Florida, he became enthralled with game design, making it his major in 2013 and “went down a rabbit hole with all these different ideas.” That led the then 21-year-old to start a game design business in 2014, and as he did contract work for companies in virtual reality and augmented reality (AR) technologies, he realized he “just liked helping people.”
“We apply game design to real world problems,” says Morrand about 302 Interactive. “We work with companies in industries like health care, education, attractions, you name it, by taking our knowledge base in emerging technologies and bringing it together in a unique design approach.”
His 302 Interactive was a side business until 2018, when Morrand got the opportunity to work with Orlando company Steamroller Studios on a project with Universal Studios, which ended up being a Mario Kart AR ride. At that point, his company, with just a couple of contractors, was generating enough revenue that he quit his full-time tech job and went all in on entrepreneurship. He dropped out of UCF and worked on the Mario Kart ride through 2019, moving to Japan for seven months to help install it.
The pandemic sent him back to Orlando and put his startup’s future in jeopardy. “We had five employees working on different projects and then the story shifts to becoming about survival. Our biggest contract was the Universal contract and that stopped almost immediately,” he says. “My team rallied to help me figure things out. We actually grew through COVID because of how diligent my team was staying focused and supportive. We took care of each other.”
Game design is not always about turning something into its own game, he explains. “It's also about using the elements of game design that allow for engagement, but then applying them to something more normal.” The team has worked on an AR product for language learning and a device that helps people with nonverbal autism.
For the Tampa startup Verapy, 302 Interactive worked on a VR physical therapy program for kids to solve a problem: Doctors want to keep kids coming back for physical therapy, but too many children never finish their series of sessions. The 302 Interactive team designed a game to encourage kids and based it on their therapy exercises. For example, a volleyball game encourages the children to stretch to the left or right. Morrand says the children, once immersed in the game, aren’t thinking about stretching because they’re playing; meanwhile, a therapist captures the patient’s experience in data.
Another project is a low-vision accessibility solution for the assistive technology company, NuEyes. “We had folks who are near-blind using these AR glasses because they can still see light, and we were doing blinkers to help someone navigate, still using their cane. We were able to provide almost a Google Mapstype experience using audio and visual cues and then made it very encouraging and fun,” he says. A headset giving surgeons a better view of the operation through AR innovation is another project the 302 Interactive team has worked on with NuEyes.
The startup also worked with three other companies to create a mixed-reality simulator with an immersive driver training system that prepares members of the U.S. Marine Corps for real-world operation of the military’s new amphibious combat vehicles.
Fourteen people now work at 302 Interactive, mainly game designers from UCF’s and Full Sail’s programs. In addition to tech skills, Morrand looks for people who are “curious about society and going against the grain a little bit with the status quo.” The startup came close to generating $1 million in revenue in 2022 and nearly doubled that in 2023.
“We're not so much innovating on technology, we're innovating on how a group of people come together with that thought process of making a significant change in someone's life,” he says. “That's an important value to the people that work here.”
- Morrand says it’s the University of Central Florida’s reputation in engineering that brought him to Orlando; the collaborative community keeps him there. He hosts a meetup called Joybreak to encourage creators to take a break from their projects and also runs Lab3, a community hub of companies working in emerging technologies.
THE CREATIVITY SPARK
- Being in a drumline throughout middle school and high school exposed Morrand to being part of a team helping one another express their creativity. “That's even more valuable for me than expressing my own creativity. I really enjoy seeing people that have ideas be able to execute on them and use technologies to get that idea out there.” He also credits Walt Disney as inspiration. “I would come to Disney and not just like the rides, but I really loved the history and story of Walt Disney. A personal driver for me has been looking at how Disney became an influential creative powerhouse and how we can potentially do that for the next generation.”