Fuel hits the playground with new technology division

Internal play and learn lab will help Ottawa agency stay ahead of tech trends

Michelle DiPardo January 19, 2015

PLayground labFuel is going boldly into the future with the launch of PlayGround Division, a new internal lab dedicated to exploring emerging technology such as 3D printing and robotics.

The lab is housed within the digital agency’s 2,500 square-foot film production studio in Ottawa (Fuel also operates out of Los Angeles) and is headed up by former QNX concept development group manager Mark Rigley, an industry veteran with 25 years of experience in engineering, and leading technical and design teams.

“If someone’s got an idea, if there’s something that someone needs for a pitch, we’d like to be able to have everything we need to build it as quickly as possible, in less than a week in some cases,” Rigley told Marketing. “And that means we’re going to need things like 3D printers for rapid prototyping… Boards with microprocessors on them, sensors, motor controllers, Bluetooth, GPS, things like this, just sort of sitting on the shelf ready to go.”

In addition to generating new services and technologies for integration into client projects, Rigley called the aim of PlayGround “hyper-prototyping,” and said the division will keep Fuel ahead of the pack technology-wise, while providing enormous value to its clients, which include Mattel, Microsoft and McDonalds’s.

“Part of my job is to be the guy with his eyes on the horizon to see what’s coming,” Rigley said. “It’s very common in marketing agencies — especially digital ones — for a lot of the technology to become commoditized after a period of time…you’re always having to keep up with the latest tech to stay ahead of the curve, which is very hard to do. So if you reach your arms out a little bit wider and embrace the technology a little bit more closely, that’s easier to do and you get a little bit further out ahead of the crowd.”

Aside from Rigley, PlayGround has one other full-time employee, co-curator Phil Glofcheskie, who brings a background in art and game design to the division. Staffers from various disciplines at Fuel will contribute to PlayGround projects where needed, and Rigley said he’s hoping to add a few more full-timers in the future.

Rigley and Glofcheskie have also begun offering Fuel staffers workshops and “lunch ‘n learn” sessions to experiment, explore and play within the new lab.

“There’s a lot for the people at Fuel to learn about what’s actually possible, what you can do, and what technologies are out there on the horizon,” Rigley added.

Founded in 1999, Fuel bills itself as a “Youth Engagement company” that provides digital branding and experiences for kids, teens and young adults.