When you hear the term “screen time” these days, it’s usually associated with something judgmental and negative. People generally talk about “Screen time” as a measure of how long you can stare at your computer or your phone, before something bad happens to your brain.

Your phone has even started giving you unsolicited weekly reports about your screen time, with a percentage of whether it’s up or down compared to last week.

But there was a time, in the past, when the screen wasn’t considered a potential mental health hazard. It was a place of magic. A linear portal into other worlds – realms of fantasy, adventure, drama, and epic wondrousness. I’m talking about movie screens. The movie theater was a cherished childhood place for many people, including Brian Knighten.

Peter Ricchiuti and The Broad Theater's Brian Knighten

Peter Ricchiuti and The Broad Theater’s Brian Knighten

Growing up in New Orleans, Brian dreamed of owning his own movie theater. In 2014, after a career in construction and real estate development, Brian’s dream came true. He bought what had been a warehouse, then a boxing gym, on Broad Street, and turned it into The Broad Theater. Today Brian is the owner of both the Broad Theater and the event space Broadside.

Meanwhile back at your computer or phone screen, if you’ve got your phone set up so that it vibrates when you tap a letter on your keyboard, that feeling of a vibration in response to your touch is called “Haptics.” If you’re a video gamer, and you have a shooting game, when you pull the trigger, the feel of the controller in your hand recoiling is a big part of your interaction with the game. The controller’s communication with the screen that causes a real-life recoiling feeling, is also haptics.

As you can probably appreciate, devising and building haptic devices is not simple. And it’s especially complex when there’s a demand for a total immersive experience, in virtual reality. That can be in a game, or more seriously in a VR training simulation for the military. Two tech companies here in New Orleans are both significant players in the worldwide development of haptic and VR devices. The companies are Haptech Inc and Striker VR .Both companies operate in the field of haptics. They’re the holders of 13 patents and five design patents. And, if you’re thinking “That sounds a like a pretty big deal,” you’re right – both these companies are seriously big deals.

Founder of Striker VR and Haptech, Martin Holly with pizza 'n Peter

Founder of Striker VR and Haptech, Martin Holly with pizza ‘n Peter

The Vice President, Chief Business Officer and co-founder of Haptech Inc and Striker VR is Martin Holly.

Brian Knighten and Martin Holly are both working in worlds that make dreams come true for other people, for an hour or two at a time. But they’re also building companies that are making their own creative and business dreams come true, and that are making big and lasting changes.

Brian ‘s contribution is to the entertainment and culture of New Orleans, and Martin’s contribution is to the worldwide development of a technology that still seems to be in its infancy, but that could well find its feet here in New Orleans. As outlandish as it might seem, because Silicon Valley has yet to find a way to sell VR to the mass market, it’s possible that because of the influence of Haptech and Striker VR, New Orleans might be the Silicon Valley of VR. Watch this space!

Brian Knighten, Martin Holly and Peter Ricchiuti, halfway through a cheese and a garlic pizza

Brian Knighten, Martin Holly and Peter Ricchiuti, halfway through a cheese and a garlic pizza

Out to Lunch was recorded over lunch at NOLA Pizza. Photos by Jill Lafleur. For more conversation with ground-breaking New Orleanians check out this recent conversation about fat on a chip and vegan home delivery.

Realtor Tracey Moore