Become a game changer – Level up!

Great ideas take time to spread, but after their promo video hit over 100 million views, the Aalto University team behind Valo Motion’s Augmented Climbing Wall knew they had reached new heights.

When Leo Holsti got up one Saturday morning in 2016 he knew the world had changed. “I woke up and my phone was buzzing”, says Leo, operational manager of Valo Motion, a company established for the Augmented Climbing Wall. “All my friends were freaking out.” 

As it turned out, the simple promo video the company had uploaded the night before had become a literal overnight success. In just a few hours, close to a million people had watched Leo and CTO Joni Vähämäki playing a video game projected on a climbing wall, using their bodies as controllers. It looked incredible, simple and fun while showcasing the new game the crew had been working on. 

It all began a few years before when Raine Kajastila was post doc in the games research team at Aalto University led by professor Perttu Hämäläinen. His aim was to examine ways to motivate people to get physically active through technology. “I had been climbing for over fifteen years and I’m a trained rope climbing instructor. I quickly realized the idea of combining projected graphics and body motion tracking would work in the realm of climbing really well.” 

Success needed some hard work. In 2015, Raine Kajastila was granted funding for developing the product inside the university. Year-long funding enabled him to build a team of 6 persons and turn a promising prototype into a product. After the university project, when the product was launched, Raine and his team decided to set up a company. A great deal of uncertainty was involved with the solution: could the university invention be turned into a profitable business and day job for several people? “We had just started sales, with some interest and potential in the air. We started off without a salary, but a strong belief in our product helped get it off the ground”, says Raine, the company’s CEO. 

Huge publicity from the videos, events and media as well as an enthusiastic reaction from customers have ensured a busy start. Currently, Valo Motion has eight full-time and two part-time employees. Augmented Climbing Walls have been erected in different types of activity parks, fitness centres and climbing gyms in over thirty countries. At the moment, there are five different games available. Sven Rösch, who is responsible for the product’s sales, enthuses: “It was great to see that my 4-year old son was equally captured by the wall as my mother and many professional climbers.” 

The Augmented Climbing Wall team is a diverse group of top experts, their different skills and backgrounds creating fresh, new thinking. Janne Karsisto, who has studied graphic design and industrial and strategic design at Aalto, is responsible for the Augmented Climbing Wall’s design. Many of the team members have studied information technology at Aalto, but gained other type of experience along the way. 

Leo serves as a prime example of diverse expertise. “My background is in computer science studies with a focus on interactive content production and games. I also have a circus artist's degree. This combination gives me a unique viewpoint into using modern technology to motivate and enhance motor skill learning.” 

The team members share an interest in games or climbing or both. They are the best experts in their own products also in practice, testing all of the games themselves. Programmer Sami Pekkola gushes: “It's really fun to work with something that is so tightly related to my hobbies.”

The group is already working on products tied to other forms of exercise as well. Game designer Lauri Lehtonen wants to develop fun, catchy games that get people moving. “Using the same gear time after time is rather boring. With our products we can make it interesting every time, it’s never exactly the same. I believe that in the near future, products such as the Augmented Climbing Wall will provide everyone, including people like myself, an enjoyable way to exercise. We want to make something that will ultimately help people make their lives better.”

Become a game changer. Find your own bachelor's programme (in Finnish) and apply to Aalto University 14 – 28 March 2018.