This Cleveland inventor is putting Mario Kart lovers in the driver's seat with a real-life version

Leave it to someone who works at Case Western Reserve University’s Sears think[box] to think out of the box.


When not working as think[box]’s director of innovation and technology, inventor Ian Charnas is constantly testing the limits of ingenuity—whether it’s coming up with email strategy cards, co-creating a waterfall swing, or designing windshield wipers that sync to music.


Charnas’ newest project is sure to appeal to lovers of Nintendo, nostalgia, and naturally, go-karting. Meshing augmented reality technology with Mario Kart functionality, Charnas has shifted into high gear to turn the video game into a real-life experience.


“Mario Kart has been going strong for decades—it’s been one of the most-played games in the world over the last 20 years, and it’s showing no signs of slowing,” says Charnas, who resides in Gordon Square. “This project started with me saying, ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could really be in a game like Mario Kart and drive around?’”


Thanks to Charnas’ partnership with CWRU’s Interactive Commons, that idea has become a reality. Charnas and his team spent the last six months developing the concept at Scene75, a family entertainment franchise with a Northeast Ohio location in Brunswick.

Players wear a Microsoft Hololens AR headset while operating a go-kart with a maximum speed controlled by patent-pending electronics—enabling players to choose characters, boost their speed via holographic power-ups, and even freeze their opponents.


“We were able to build an interface between the video game server and the actual go-karts,” says Charnas, who spent vacation days, evenings, and weekends testing and refining the concept at Scene75. “It’s as fun as I imagined.”


As Charnas and his team continue to perfect the prototype, he’s starting the process of seeking a company to take it to market. Once sold, Charnas’ plan is to use the net proceeds to benefit a good cause; in the past, he’s auctioned off provisional patent applications to support charities such as Girls Who Code. Says Charnas, “I like to blend my enjoyment of making things that make people smile with serving a purpose.”


And Charnas is already hard at work on his next project—a set of never-before-created emojis (including “dumpster fire,” “clutches pearls,” and “cat butt”). He says he loves the freedom that being in Cleveland creates to pursue his passions and support others who are doing the same at think[box].


“If I'm going to be the director of innovation and technology here, I need to walk the walk,” says Charnas, who advises other entrepreneurs on a wide range of business topics. “When I approached Scene75, I got pretty much an instant ‘yes’—you may not be able to get the types of bigger investments you can get in Silicon Valley, but if you have talent and smarts, you can go further faster here in Cleveland.”

Jen Jones Donatelli
Jen Jones Donatelli

About the Author: Jen Jones Donatelli

As an enthusiastic CLE-vangelist, Jen Jones Donatelli enjoys diving headfirst into her work with FreshWater Cleveland. Upon moving back to Cleveland after 16 years in Los Angeles, Jen served as FreshWater's managing editor for two years (2017-2019) and continues her work with the publication as a contributing editor and host of the FreshFaces podcast.

When not typing the day away at her laptop, she teaches writing and creativity classes through her small business Creative Groove, as well as Literary Cleveland, Cleveland State University, and more. Jen is a proud graduate of Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.