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Up, up and (virtually) away

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

The AR Balloon Fest app lets users launch their own hot air balloon and float it anywhere outside through virtual reality. (Courtesy of Reality Force)

Hot air balloons fill the Albuquerque skies each October.

Yet, this year is different.

With the 49th annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta postponed until 2021, there are a smaller number of balloons in flight.

Two New Mexico-based filmmakers have developed an app to keep balloons up in the sky – at least virtually.

Reality Force’s Richard Farmer and Keagan Karnes are the driving force behind the app, AR Balloon Fest, which was launched within the last week.

The effort was put into play after Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller set a challenge to find different ways to celebrate the world’s largest gathering of hot air balloons.

Reality Force’s Richard Farmer and Keagan Karnes created the AR Balloon Fest app.

“We are trying to employ AR to help businesses and tourism,” Farmer said. “We put together a pitch and the (Anderson Abruzzo International) Balloon Museum latched onto it really quickly.”

The app – available on both Android and iPhone devices – lets users launch their own hot air balloon and float it anywhere outside. It can also be downloaded at the Apple App Store, GooglePlay or realityforce.co.

The user is able to share the AR balloon on social media as a way of keeping the balloon spirit alive and well during this challenging time.

“Our goal is to keep the thruster fires burning by creating awareness and adding new technology to the museum that can be built upon for the future,” Farmer said. “Augmented reality is going to change the way everyone interacts with our world and how we choose to use that technology will be the most important part of writing that new story that we can all experience together, as one community.”

Reality Force worked with app developers New Discovery Media, based in Las Cruces, to complete the app with a quick turnaround.

“It’s not easy to do something of this magnitude in a few weeks,” Karnes said. “We knew we could create it and it’s here for the world.”

Karnes also points out that the entire project is New Mexico-based.

“The developers are (New Mexico State University) Creative Media Institute alums,” Karnes said. “From top to bottom, it’s a New Mexican project. You can help create something magical here and New Mexico can be a leader in AR, this just the beginning for AR and our state.”

Reality Force hopes to expand its AR apps and collaborate with the businesses and tourism departments.

“It’s the land of enhancement,” Farmer said. “We want to develop apps for tourist spots. We’re coming up with many ideas. We’re on the hunt for local talent in the AR space based in Albuquerque.”

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