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Campfire creators David Wykes and Kyle Kesterson. Photos via Campfire.

Two Seattle entrepreneurs want to re-imagine the way parents read physical books to their children.

Kyle Kesterson and David Wykes this week officially launched Campfire, a new app that uses technology to create an immersive reading experience for kids.

Originally conceived at a Startup Weekend event last year, Campfire is a companion app for reading print books. It uses IBM Watson’s speech recognition to track your place in a given story, and triggers different audio depending on what part of the book you’re reading.

Photo illustration via Campfire.
Photo illustration via Campfire.

But the “magic” of Campfire happens when users connect to the app to IoT devices like smart bulbs, bluetooth speakers, fans, the Amazon Echo, and other products that help create a specific mood and atmosphere while reading a physical book.

“While users can experience a taste of Campfire with just the app, pairing with devices, including smart bulbs, is what makes the experience feel immersive, and by many accounts, magical,” Kesterson told GeekWire.

Here’s a demo with GeekWire co-founder John Cook and his son, James, that gives you an idea of the Campfire experience:

Kesterson noted that though new technology — e-readers, specifically — has hurt the print publishing industry, children’s print book sales are actually up, “as parents aim to bond with their young ones and keep them growing emotionally and intellectually through stories,” he said.

Campfire’s idea is to use technology to help parents preserve the age-old experience of reading physical books with their children, at a time when kids are spending more and more time staring at smartphone and tablet screens.

“We believe that with just the right combination of art and science, we can refresh the story experience, and create magical moments between parents and children around stories for years to come,” added Wykes, a design veteran who was formerly a creative director at TEAGUE.

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Kesterson noted that evolving voice recognition platforms and cheaper IoT devices makes him optimistic about where Campfire can go.

“Expect this combination to be a very heated space in the coming year,” he said. “Campfire is excited to be at the forefront of it.”

The company, which inked recent partnerships with smart lightbulb-maker LIFX and St. Jude Children’s Hospital, is currently focused on adding Campfire features to existing children’s books. However, users can develop their own custom titles with the app’s creator tool and publishing platform. Kesterson said the revenue model will be based on subscriptions, similar to Netflix, where users get access to experiences for a recurring fee.

Campfire is developed by Freak’n Genius, a startup that Kesterson co-founded in 2011. Kesterson, a veteran of the Seattle startup scene who re-located to Las Vegas in 2014 but will return in September, said that Campfire is a new direction for Freak’n Genius, an inaugural member of the 2012 Kinect Accelerator program that previously built a popular animation app called YAKiT.

Kyle Kestersen.
Kyle Kesterson.

There are six employees working on Campfire, and Kesterson said he’s looking for funding. He’s also looking forward to getting back into the Seattle tech community after operating Freak’n Genius for two years in Las Vegas, where the 31-year-old was a full-time community member with the Downtown Project, an initiative led by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh to revitalize Downtown Las Vegas.

“The opportunity to work on Campfire may never have come about had I not made the transition in the first place,” Kesterson explained. “One of the biggest benefits to coming down was getting to further my relationship with the Vegas Tech Fund, who have been very hands-on and instrumental to this new opportunity, and continue to provide their support. They set a great example for how early stage investors can be valuable to a portfolio company, and Seattle investors should take note.”

Added Kesterson: “I am really looking forward to picking up where I left off with the community projects and initiatives I was a part of regarding youth, homelessness, and the broader tech community. There is much work left to be done.”

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