The strangest tech to come out of Utah: August edition
Happy summer, y’all. Sit down, take a breather, and get ready to have your horizons expanded—and not in a ketamine clinic or soft swinging MomTok way.
Let’s get those synapses firing with this month’s Two Truths And A Lie, the Utah Tech Edition. Out of the following three animal-related startups, which is the fake one? (Head to the bottom for answers.)
- A startup working on resurrecting the wooly mammoth to combat climate change
- A startup working on synthesizing elephant genes to treat human cancers
- A startup working on bio-engineering honeybees to repel mosquitoes
Meet me in the metaverse
When the temperature is hot enough to scald and kill lizards, according to Brigham Young University herpetologist Jack W. Sites, it’s time to stay inside and DoorDash all your dirty soda and fry sauce necessities. The rise of remote working means air-conditioned life can be a reality for many, but even so, that Zoom fatigue is real. Le sigh. That’s why some companies have decided to mix things up a bit, opting to meet their staff in the metaverse instead of the office.
Virtual reality shindigs have become commonplace for folks at telehealth startup Doxy. In December 2021, Doxy gifted each employee an Oculus Quest 2 headset and hosted a company-wide town hall in the metaverse in February. CEO Brandon Welch used AltspaceVR, a virtual reality social platform, to present his keynote, which was well received.
For many Doxy employees, this wasn’t a flash-in-the-pan meeting. For the last year, their R&D team held biweekly metaverse socials, where they play laser quest and team bonding games, in addition to testing out new features. “It really keeps us engaged,” says Doxy researcher Janelle Barrera.
Other Utah institutions, such as the Sundance Film Festival and Visit Utah Valley, have dipped their metaphorical metaverse toes in the space, but they’re still the exception to the rule.
Still, the fact that Doxy and others have actively invested in this tech shows that companies are genuinely focused on improving and innovating employee wellness and the future of work.
Algorithmic proof that Utah’s got name game
What’s in a name? Were the Beehive State known as Cougar Land or Elk Kingdom (both significantly more stately than the humble bee), would anything really change? Maybe not, but the state’s broader inclination to support the small fry reveals something about its resident’s offbeat approach. When you analyze some of today’s kids’ names—like Atlas, Triton, and Ocean (culled from Real Housewives and MomTok)—this all starts to click.
BYU linguistics professor David Eddington dove into Social Security Administration data and wrote an algorithm to identify what names are uniquely Utahn. Some findings are obvious to locals: y’all know people who just love adding “lyn” to names, for example: Dallyn, Breklyn, Annalyn, Ashlyn, Katelyn, Evelyn, etc. Then there’s the penchant for intentional misspellings—Jaxon instead of Jackson, Kayleb instead of Kaleb, and Kaycee instead of Kacey. Mmm, edgy. Good luck getting a souvenir name keyring at Lagoon Park, you special flower, you.
"It’s time to stay inside and DoorDash all your dirty soda and fry sauce necessities."
To give credit where credit is due, today’s millennials and Gen Z have 20th-century Utahns to thank for their monikers. Eddington’s research found that Brittany, Britney, Aubrie, Cody, and Marshall, among other names, were all birthed in the state before making it to the big-time.
Utah’s growing VTuber scene
Next up in the strange name game is the Vtubers, a.k.a virtual YouTubers—but in their case, their monikers make a lot more sense. VTubers, who stream across Twitch, Insta, YouTube, and other social platforms, generally appear as virtual humanoids with their avatars designed via a computer graphics program. Some programs are sophisticated enough to capture microexpressions and eye movements, but all give the impression you’re engaging with someone in a Pixar-esque fantasy land. Roll your eyes all you want, but the top-performing VTubers are making bank.
At the top of Utah’s VTuber food chain is Syafire Star, an IRL cosplayer and game developer whose blue-haired, blue-eyed alter ego has amassed over 30,000 fans and 2 million views across her various channels. Syafire concentrates on posting 2D and 3D Vtubing design tutorials, her goal being to empower creators to make a living. She shares resources and more through The Eternal Gems, a Discord community.
Most of Utah’s Vtubers have taken the more traditional videogame live-streaming route. VTuber Frosty Frog, a self-described catgirl Neko (an IRL Utah software developer), plays and comments on Destiny 2 and Hollow Knight on Twitch.
On the more esoteric side of VTubing (yes, it gets weirder), we have the green-haired, A.I.-powered robot rap star FN Meka—who has 10.1 million followers on TikTok—and his cyborg buddy, FNNxrmal. Both claim Salt Lake City as their hometown via the bios published by their technical overlords at Factory New music company. As well as IRL records, FN Meka has shilled NFTs (he sold a Lamborghini-styled porta-potty for $6,500) and has been a frontman for G Fuel, the “esports energy drink.” Keeping with the nonhuman vibe, I’ll wrap with Raputa Shobo-shi, a “65 million-year-old raptor gamer” who fights fires. Raputa’s IRL identity is under wraps, but their Utahraptor persona (which manifests as a muscular brunette man) lists gaming, good vibes, and cute girls as their favorite things. You’re welcome.
Answers to Two Truths and a Lie, the Utah Tech Edition:
The honeybee startup is the fake one. Colossal Biosciences, backed by Skinwalker Ranch’s Brandon Fugal and other investors, is working on the wooly mammoth project. Salt Lake City-based Peel Therapeutics is investigating using elephant nanoparticles on cancerous tumors.