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Young Researcher Entrepreneur of the Year award to climbing wall developer

Raine Kajastila, a graduate of Aalto University, has developed a technology that transforms an ordinary climbing wall into a games platform. This has become a successful product and business.
Raine Kajastila has done climbing for over 15 years. The in-depth knowledge he gained from his experience enabled him to create a successful application. Picture: Laura Puikkonen / Kaskasmedia.

The idea of an augmented reality climbing wall arose about five years ago when Raine Kajastila was working as a post-doctoral researcher at Aalto University involved in games research. Enthusiasm for climbing encouraged him to examine how technology could be used to motivate people to take exercise.

The Augmented Climbing Wall uses a projector to turn a climbing wall into an interactive touch screen onto which you can create climbing routes and play various games either solo or with a partner. Implementation utilises human-computer interaction methods.  When the games are taken from the computer screen to places where people exercise and take part in sports, they get the fun of playing as well as good exercise.

‘The climbing wall brings together playing and physical activity to create a good challenge’, explains Dr Kajastila.

From the business perspective, scalability of the product is important.

‘The climbing wall seems to attract both experienced climbers and young players. Feedback from fitness centres is that children and young people really like the application’, says Raine Kajastila happily.

The idea, which arose from research, has developed not only into a successful product, but a business as well. The Augmented Climbing Wall, developed by the company Valo Motion, founded by Dr Kajastila, can be found in numerous fitness centres and indoor activity parks around the world.

Entrepreneurship and research are close to one another

Receiving funding from Tekes was decisive in commercialising the climbing wall and bringing it to international markets. Another stroke of luck was loading a presentation video onto the internet in September 2016.

‘Interest in the climbing wall had grown as the result of demonstrations at several different events, but the video gave the final stimulus to the demand for the product. Since September, the presentation video of the game on Facebook has been viewed 29 million times and the system has been ordered by the tens around the world’, says Raine Kajastila.

Valo Motion is the third company set up by Dr Kajastila. In between working on his doctoral dissertation, Dr Kajastila spent a couple of years setting up companies linked to his area of research, and one of these businesses was sold to Facebook. Raine Kajastila returned to complete his dissertation and then continued as a post-doctoral researcher in Professor Perttu Hämäläinen’s group.

Motivating people to exercise using games and technology has been the mission of Perttu Hämäläinen and his research group for a long time.  

‘With the climbing wall we motivate people to exercise and at the same time we teach them new skills in a completely new and interactive manner. We can have more of an impact on society through commercialising this idea that if we had simply published research articles’, says Professor Hämäläinen pleased at Dr Kajastila’s appreciation.

According to Dr Kajastila, it is challenging to combine research and entrepreneurial activity equally at the same time, but they do have elements that nourish each other.

‘Both can be done on your own initiative: researching interesting subjects and developing good products and applications. It is worth trying out a good idea and at Aalto you get support to do that.’

The Augmented Climbing Wall turns a climbing wall into an interactive touch screen onto which you can create climbing routes and play various games either solo or with a partner. Photo: Augmented Climbing.

The Young Researcher Entrepreneur of the Year award is a prize of 5000 Euros, and it is awarded to a person who has developed a new research-based business. The award is made by the KAUTE Foundation’s Academic Entrepreneurship Fund. The Young Researcher Entrepreneur 2015 was Reetta Kivelä, for her “Pulled Oat” invention.

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