VR meets science: Hackathon births VR innovation

Samantha Bostick

Despite its name, a “virtual reality” future seems more and more realistic — and Colorado State University students are here to cultivate it.

The fourth annual RamReality Virtual and Augmented Reality Hackathon took place this weekend in the Nancy Richardson Design Center, a change from the Morgan Library last year.

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From Friday evening to Sunday afternoon, 50 CSU students of all skill levels formed teams of five, each team working to create a unique virtual reality experience — all within 48 hours.

This year, teams were required to pick from the “bounty board”: 40 VR-related ideas submitted from CSU faculty researchers. Each idea hailed from a different field of academia, encouraging a diverse set of experience and expertise.

From role-playing as a disabled person, to an underwater water bear, to even a bloodstream-bound mosquito, each VR (and one AR) experience lent a unique perspective to the world of extended reality.

“We wanted the students to really encourage faculty to use (VR) … to see that it’s more than just a gaming application,” said Lauren Klamm, director of communications for the Vice President for Research.

Each team walked away with an award, with the grand prize totaling $2,500. Prizes were sponsored by Hewlett Packard, who also supplied computers for the competition.

Team

Project Name

AR/VR?

Project Function

Award

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Memento

VR Impaired

VR

Simulation of various physical impairments

First Place ($2,500)

Poke Tubes

Vectors of Death

VR

Collect viruses as a mosquito and infect surrounding humans

Second Place ($1,500)

Hackers Anonymous

Virtual Landscape Time Machine

VR

Simulation of Peruvian river erosion over 34 years

Third Place ($1,000)

Epic Gamers

Enriched Environments for the Healthy Aging Brain

VR

Simulation of environments normally inaccessible to older adults

Technical/Land Grant Award ($200)

Waterbears

Little Living

VR

Simulation of a microbial environment under the sea

Outstanding Artistry Award ($200)

Team Real

Nancy Richard Design Center

AR

Augmented Reality application supplementing real-life campus tours

Practical Award ($200)

 

“(We) definitely never have gotten anything like this before,” said computer science graduate student Vidya Gaddy, who was a part of first-place Team Memento in this year’s Hackathon.

“VR Impaired,” Memento’s winning project, demonstrated living with various disabilities. Users could experience cataracts, hearing loss and life in a wheelchair, among other afflictions.

Team Memento included freshman Alex Karduna, graduate student Zahra Borhani, doctoral student Ali Ebrahimpour-Boroojeny and Gaddy, all computer science students, as well as Lucas Plabst, an intern for 3D User Interfaces from the department of computer science. 

“The purpose is to increase empathy for people who have these problems … to understand them and what kind of struggles they have to go through,” Ebrahimpour-Boroojeny said.

Initially awarding five prizes, judges surprised teams at Sunday’s ceremony with a sixth prize: the Practical Award.

Team Realisationsvinstbeskattning — shortened to Team Real — took the prize with its AR application, “Nancy Richardson Design Center.” “Realisationsvinstbeskattning,” the longest word in the Swedish language, means “capital gain taxation” in English. 

You know someone a lot better after an event like this.” -Alan Rudolph, vice president for research

Team Real’s project, a mobile phone app, allowed CSU visitors to experience campus landmarks more in-depth through AR.

Any Apple or Android phone could run the app, said team member Jarret Flack, computer science graduate student. 

Flack also explained how the team’s app could benefit CSU.

“On the back end, we can run analytics to find out which locations are popular on tours,” Flack said. “CSU admissions can gear their campaigns toward those parts of campus.”

While most projects focused solely on simulation, Team Poke Tubes incorporated an element of gaming fun into their project, “Vectors of Death.”

The VR experience followed mosquitoes through a human bloodstream, collecting as many virus “bulbs” as possible. Each mosquito then spread the viruses to other humans, causing mass infection. Users were given the option to view information about each disease collected.

This “game-ified” simulation was a fun yet educational way to teach users about how mosquitoes are vectors for diseases, the team said.

As the Hackathon continues to grow, at its core, it remains a true bonding experience for students across all academic disciplines — computer science major or not.

As Alan Rudolph, vice president for research, said at Sunday’s ceremony, “You know someone a lot better after an event like this.”

Samantha Bostick can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @samannbostick.