Students compete in 48 hour virtual reality hackathon at CSU

Rachel Telljohn

Colorado State University students competed in a 48 hour challenge to create a virtual reality experience over the weekend.

RamHack was a hackathon, an event where teams of people work on software projects. The event was part of CSU’s virtual reality initiative, which aims to expand virtual reality use on the campus.

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Eight teams competed for cash prizes by creating virtual reality experiences. The team in first place won $1,000. The three to five person teams were comprised of undergraduate and graduate students, and even two 13-year olds.

Traditionally, hackathons are focused on computer science students said Kaden Strand, lead organizer. The hackathon consisted of interdisciplinary teams from electronic art and the college of liberal arts.

“It’s really interesting to see that come together,” Strand said.

Teams were given a variety of different VR technologies to help develop their virtual experience.

“(There are) all kinds of toys here that they are using to create,” said Alan Rudolph, vice president for research.

The prices of the equipment ranged from $10 to $90,000. Four main pieces of equipment included a CAVE wall display, an Oculus rift, an HTC Vive and a Microsoft Hololens. While they can be used to create realistic video games, the teams worked to create immersive educational experiences.

The major sponsor for the equipment used during the hackathon was Hewleett-Packard, according to Strand, lead organizer.

“(The teams are creating) unique innovative experiences,” said Tanner Rohnke, an intern for the virtual reality program.

Rohnke said participants were still awake working on their projects when he arrived at 5 a.m. on Saturday morning.

Some of the completed experiences included an open field composed of mannequins, a driving simulation and a series of models that showed scale by shrinking the participant down to atom size or up to dinosaur size.

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The hackathon took place in the Aylesworth design lab, home to a temporary virtual reality studio or demo lab. Teams had access to the innovative research space and the computer lab. A nearby classroom had been converted into a sleep zone and a hallway held food for the teams.

Alumni groups toured the hackathon on Saturday. In addition to viewing the design space, they were able to experience the CSU VR Experience that premiered on Friday. Rudolph said the experience is a virtual introduction and tour of CSU and alumni are the first test audience.

The teams were judged on idea formation, design and methodology, creativity and cross-disciplinary focus and presentation, according to the guidelines given to each team.

One of the judges for the hackathon was Dr. William Warren, vice president of Sanofi Pasteur, which is one of the top vaccine companies in the world.

Other judges included Dr. Kenny Gruchalla, of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Dr. Winifred Newman, from the University of Arkansas, Paul Martin, from Hewlett-Packard, and Dr. Amy Banic, from the University of Wyoming.

Teams presented their finished experience to each of the judges Sunday evening.

All of the participants were given Google Cardboard glasses, which allows anyone to have a virtual reality experience with their smartphone.

Collegian reporter Rachel Telljohn can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @racheltelljohn.