A different kind of mural is coming to downtown Detroit this spring.
It's the imaginative creation of two entrepreneurial brothers who realized that, together, their very different skill sets could generate a product on the cutting edge.
Mahmoud "Moody" Mattan immersed himself in technology while working in San Francisco, where he made investments as an associate at Fenox Venture Capital and launched a virtual reality division for Powis Parker.
"I always wanted to start my own business," he said. "That came from my dad. He's always owned different businesses — a restaurant, a travel agency, a food distribution company — and we grew up working for them."
Another member of his family inspired him, too — his brother, Zach Mattan, who had launched a clothing line.
"Turns out that's pretty difficult," Moody said laughing. "Nobody bought the clothes, but people loved the hats and the pins that went on the hats."
Zach pivoted his idea and began collaborating with graphic artists and musicians to create specialized merchandise, such as pins, T-shirts and stickers, under the label Electrifly Collective. Another Mattan brother, Malik, joined him as a co-founder.
And Moody launched BrandVR, a platform for businesses to integrate virtual and augmented reality into their consumer marketing products.
When the brothers decided to work together, the idea for a moving mural was born.
Virtual reality and augmented reality are often used interchangeably, but they aren't the same thing. Simply put, virtual reality refers to technology that is completely immersive — like putting on a headset and seeing a different world. Augmented reality positions something virtual atop of the real world — like using your phone's camera to see how an AR couch might fit in your living room.
Companies like Brand VR can create augmented reality products in real life by assigning a digital marker to a real-life object. When a viewer scans the object using an app on their mobile phone, it activates the marker, which can be programmed to move, create sound or transform on-screen.
The brothers' first big project is an augmented reality mural that will be equipped with digital markers — allowing passersby with mobile phones to activate the designs on their screens. After raising a successful crowdfunding campaign via Patronicity, Electrifly Detroit is working with local muralist Phyber to create the mural. Using BrandVR's app and technology, the mural will come to life.
"We were inspired by everything going on in Eastern Market with Murals in the Market, and everything going on in Detroit with the street art scene," Moody said.
To the naked eye, it's a mural. Through a screen, it will be a magical, moving masterpiece.
"I think of it more as public art than an advertisement," Zach said.
He recalls the reactions that the Electrifly designs made at last year's Dally in the Alley festival in the Cass Corridor. "We had a lot of cool reactions from really young kids, they were wowed and amazed by it. And then older people, they were really not sure what's going on, so they were wowed, too."
The augmented reality mural will be displayed on the exterior wall of The Elephant Room at 439 Congress St. in Greektown. Formerly Mr. Steven's, the building is undergoing a total renovation. The team is pushing for an opening date in early June, Elephant Room General Manager James Droze told Crain's.
"We ran into Moody and Zach Mattan at Dally in the Alley at their Electrifly booth," Droze said. "After seeing their app, we started talking about how we could apply that technology to something bigger, like a mural. We had a wall to feature the work in a high foot traffic area, as lines for shows at The Shelter generally convene near it."
The mural isn't just about aesthetics. Visitors will be instructed via signs to download an app to view the mural's augmented reality features. Downloading the app will also unlock a special coupon at The Elephant Room. It's a marketing tactic that Moody believes can drive foot traffic to the bar.
"Since the coupon deal (is) exclusively available through the app, it's going to be seeing a lot of interest," he said. "The mural going to look good and bring them a lot of new customers."
That's BrandVR's premise — that companies big and small can integrate digital markers and AR technology into their products. Imagine a product on a supermarket shelf that could reveal a video when scanned with an app, or a poster that contains a coupon code for a passerby to unlock.
"Moody and Zach made everything very approachable, so we weren't skeptical at all," Droze said. "We're happy with the direction it's going, and if the weather holds, and that's a big 'if' in Michigan, we expect to begin the mural on April 1."
Beyond Detroit, the brothers are working on augmented reality mural projects in Denver and Miami. Zach's Electrifly is technically a customer of Moody's BrandVR platform. But the two brothers acknowledge that they are often working in sync.
"We help each other out a lot," Zach said.
Moody chimes in. "A few years ago, we were in the Bahamas for a family trip over the holidays. The weather was horrible, so we bought a container of hookahs. We created a hookah distribution business on the beach of the Bahamas because it was Christmas and raining," he said, laughing. "That's just the kind of family we are."
Read the original article from Crain's Detroit here: