A group of Virginia Tech students came together Friday to show off their visions for the future of virtual reality technology.
The so-called VR Demo Day contest rules were simple: Each team got a Google Cardboard VR headset and six weeks to build an app. On Friday, each team showed off what it came up with and judges chose a few of their favorites.
One team built a video game called CycloTron in which users wear a headset while on a stationary bike. The faster they peddle, the faster their character in the digital world moves.
Scott Ziv, meanwhile, worked on a game called Forest of Zoron. It uses a headset that can read players’ brain waves. When users cast spells in the game, they become more or less powerful based on how hard the player concentrates on the target.
Forest of Zoron is a little buggy, Ziv admits, but he was still excited to be experimenting with VR.
“It’s kind of ahead of its time because the phones aren’t powerful enough to do everything all at once,” Ziv said. “But the idea is there, programing is there. We’re just waiting for the technology to catch up.”
The VR event was hosted by Tech’s Entrepreneurship Club, with help from Google. The California tech company sent a team to campus in February to distribute the headsets and give a crash course to participating students on how to build the apps.
A couple of Google employees returned on Friday to see what the students came up with and to help judge the contest.
Virtual reality is still a relatively new technology, but it’s quickly going mainstream as companies such as Google, Samsung and Oculus release their first publicly available VR devices.
The idea is to let users wear headsets that place a screen in front of their eyes, instead of sitting in front of a stationary monitor. As wearers turn their heads in the real world, the digital universe moves right along in order to trick the brain and create an immersive experience.
For instance, when playing Fantasy Scavenger Hunt, another game developed as part of Tech’s contest, players wander through a digital forest in search of horses. They can look down at the grass below, or up at the evening sky above their heads. They can turn all the way around, tapping the headset to take a picture whenever they spot a horse.
The game was supposed to be full of unicorns, co-creator Heather Robinson explained, but her team didn’t want to pay the $20 required to purchase those graphics. Horses were close enough, she said.
David Evans, the Entrepreneurship Club president who helped organize the event, said the point is to get students to practice the first steps of starting a business.
VR is destined to be a major industry someday soon, and Tech students will hopefully be prepared to create the next wave of applications.
“Our goal is to create this individual who is comfortable and confident coming up with an idea and then going out, starting the idea, talking to customers and building something,” Evans said.
Organizers chose VR because it requires a lot of different skill sets, from software engineers who can write the code, to graphic designers who can create the digital universes and marketing majors who know how to push the apps out to the app stores for download.
Evans said more than 100 students signed up for the kickoff event in February, about 68 buckled down to work on a project and 35 students, making up eight teams, ended up completing their design in time for Friday’s pitch competition.
“We knew this was going to be a really hard task because most of these teams never had any virtual reality experience,” Evans said. “Some didn’t even have much coding experience.”