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Ken Cooper’s nephew snaps a photo of a landmark on their recent scavenger hunt in Sioux City, Iowa

Ken Cooper loves getting his family into the great outdoors, exploring nature and visting everything that the Pacific Northwest has to offer. But, like most parents, the Bellingham resident and longtime software developer has to compete with electronic devices, which oftentimes capture the interests of his two boys more than a hike in the woods.

klikaklu“I love to hike, but I found that sometimes getting them out on a hike was a little work,” said Cooper, who just today unveiled a new iPhone app called Klikaklu.

The app is sort of like geocaching 2.0. Instead of locating a physical object, users actually try to find clues in specified treasure or scavenger hunts and then snap a photo of the object to see if they are in the right spot. The GPS on the device plays a critical role, helping the hunter pinpoint each clue. Image matching technology allows the person to advance along the route, earning rewards as they go for finding the specified objects or destinations that have been laid out.

For example, Cooper’s wife created a special father’s day hunt last month in which he was awakened by a text message and told to start a hunt in the garage around his bicycle. After figuring out the initial clue, Cooper was sent to a second destination to find another image, in this case on trail near a lake.

Along the way, virtual rewards were placed in the app — in this case photos of his sons when they were young. Getting to each destination and matching the photos of the specified object unlocked additional rewards.

cooperThe critical piece behind Klikaklu is the image matching, which allows a specific clue to be set by one user and found by another using his of her camera. That’s a bit unique from other geocaching and scavenger hunt apps, including Stray Boots.

“I really liked the idea that you were sharing a physical space with somebody,” he said. “In order for them to take that picture, they had to be in the same spot you were, and you can’t do that with the other ones.”

Given that, it does take some legwork for people to create hunts, since they must physically go to each location to take a photo to create the interactive clue. In other words, you can’t create a hunt from your living room sofa. “You have to physically yourself go and take the picture,” says Cooper, who sold his software development company to Microsoft in 1997. “Technically, it is not an issue. It was more of a philosophical question.”

For the image matching technology to work best, Cooper suggests taking photos with sharp edges and high contrast. “A picture of a bush is probably not a good idea,” he says.

klikakluLike geocaching, Cooper said that individuals can choose to make their scavenger or treasure hunts public so others can enjoy them. Once a hunt is public, users can comment about it and like it, earning points and rewards as they go.

At this point, there are only a few publicly-available hunts in the system. But over time, he’s hoping those numbers grow, with specialized hunts for neighborhood pub crawls or tourist destinations like Seattle’s Pike Place Market.

He’s also hoping that families will use them for birthday parties or teachers for educational purposes. Cooper actually just put the app to the ultimate test last week when he organized a road rally amongst five teams — including grandkids and grandparents — at a family reunion in Sioux City, Iowa.

“It was a blast. People were so into it that there was one group that was sabotaging another group,” said Cooper, whose team ultimately won, though he confesses to being a very passive observer of the activities.

Cooper said he initially got the idea for the app a couple years ago, and started working on it casually last August. It initially started as a “bit of a lark,” but Cooper, who holds six patents from his time at Microsoft, thinks he can build a nice business around the idea.

The app, which is free to download, comes with advertisements that appear over time in what he described as the “Pandora model.” However, a user can turn off the ads for $1.99 or opt for a $4.99 option which includes the ability to wipe out ads on hunts; create printed posters and make both treasure and scavenger hunts. He’s already built in features that notify players when opposing teams finish a clue, and he’s hoping to add more interactive features along those lines.

“Longer term, I could see this becoming an interesting business engagement tool,” said Cooper. “I was just at Chipotle and they are doing this treasure hunt sweepstakes right now. And I could see businesses doing things like that — where you have to go to 10 different Starbucks or whatever, and once you accomplish that clue … (customers are rewarded).”

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