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Oblong Industries, MIT spin-out focused on new input devices and collaboration tools, opens office in Boston

Posted by Scott Kirsner  February 19, 2013 07:45 AM

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You don't often find MIT-spawned startups taking root in Los Angeles, but that's exactly what happened with Oblong Industries — in part because founder John Underkoffler, right, landed a string of glamorous gigs as a science advisor to Hollywood, consulting on movies like "Minority Report" and "Iron Man." Underkoffler's work on new kinds of gestural interfaces, allowing people to use their hands to manipulate information on a screen, played a central part in "Minority Report" in 2002, and Oblong has been working to commercialize a system similar to the one Tom Cruise used in the film, now called g-speak. The company is also developing Mezzanine, a new kind of immersive collaboration space that lets a group of people share any kind of content from almost any device, from any location. (See the company-produced video below.)

Almost the entire Oblong team hails from MIT, and the company has raised about $9 million from a group of investors that includes Brad Feld, another MIT alum and a managing director at Foundry Group in Colorado.

And now the six-year old company has a local presence, in Boston's Fort Point Channel neighborhood. It'll be a hybrid of demo center and small engineering outpost. Oblong CEO Kwin Kramer tells me via e-mail that "we had a senior engineer commuting from Boston to California for a couple of years. Now he has a home closer to home. We hired a second engineer and a sales guy last fall. Finally got the office open just this month. We're excited." Kramer says that Oblong has similar sales facilities in Washington, New York, and Silicon Valley, but that Boston is the only location whose staff includes engineers. The company plans to hire more engineers here "over time," he says.

The office-warming party happens early next month.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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