‘Ram Hack’ hackathon explores possibilities in virtual reality

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The Office of the Vice President for Research at CSU and virtual reality enthusiasts dedicated three days of events to exploring virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR).

Virtual Reality Symposium

On Oct. 21, key leaders from industry, academia and government came together to discuss the scientific, technologic and sociologic opportunities for VR and AR at the Virtual Reality Symposium.

Speakers included:

  • William Warren – Vice President and Head of Innovation Programs and Networks, Sanofi Pasteur
  • Kenny Gruchalla – Computational Science Center Lead, National Renewable Energy Laboratory
  • Winifred Newman – Head of the Department of Architecture, University of Arkansas
  • Paul Martin – Distinguished Technologist, Hewlett-Packard
  • Adam Russell – Program manager, DARPA

The audience included 13-year-olds, 75-year-olds and many in between; and 25 Poudre School District science and technology teachers. They heard a panel discussion and witnessed the unveiling of a new CSU “immersive experience,” narrated by CSU President Tony Frank.

Virtual reality hackathon

The events continued into Friday evening for Ram Hack, a 48-hour Virtual Reality Hackathon that included 42 participants from across Northern Colorado and more than 20 volunteers, mentors, and faculty. Eight teams of computer scientists, biologists, psychologists, artists, designers, engineers and hobbyists competed for cash prizes for their best attempts at creating immersive experiences. An art competition ran alongside the teams using a Virtual Art program called Tiltbrush.

“Virtual and augmented reality has the ability to enhance our daily routines,” said Alan Rudolph, vice president for research. “Our office hosted Ram Hack 2016 to expose people to the technology and give them the tools needed to use and create immersive experiences and inspire them to see the technology’s endless possibilities.”

Hackathon participants were required to include a teaching, research or outreach component of CSU’s land grant mission. All codes, designs and applications were required to be made over the course of the event, according to Kaden Strand, virtual reality lead in the Office of the Vice President for Research.

“Participants were required to plan and implement their own projects during the weekend, and all computers, VR tech and software tools were provided,” Strand said. “This was the first time that many participants had tried VR, much less developed VR experiences with a team.”

Attendees had at their disposal equipment including HTC VIVE, Oculus Rift, Hololens and access to a Mechdyne cave. The event was sponsored by HP, NVIDIA, and Mechdyne.

Throughout the weekend-long hackathon, visitors and participants included people from the VR community, industry representatives, middle schoolers, alumni groups and graduate fellowship programs.

A panel of eight judges chose the winning teams based on idea formulation; design and methodology; construction and testing; creativity and cross-disciplinary focus; and presentation and interview.

The panel of hackathon judges included Friday morning’s VR symposium speakers, as well as: Amy Banic, assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science, University of Wyoming; Sharif Razzaque, chief engineer of imaging at Medtronic; Alan Rudolph, Vice President for Research at CSU; and Cyane Tornatzy, professor of electronic art at CSU.

Hackathon winners

1st Place, $1,000: Team Human.ly

Members: Fatimah Alaqil, Torry Brelsford, Aoina Buer, Mohtadi Ben Fraj, Filip Lewulis

Project: “Human.ly,” an augmented reality experience providing a viewer with a detailed view and description of muscles and bones in a human arm.

2nd Place, $750: Team Savage

Members: Kevin Bruhwiler, Chris Cochran, Derek Showers, Victor Weeks, Kaitlyn Quick

Project: “Crowd-Me-Not,” a virtual reality experience for a viewer to overcome Enochlophobia, or fear of crowds, by using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques and incentivizing the viewer while navigating a large crowd.

3rd Place, $500: Team No Name

Members: Muath Alessa, Brendan Garbe, Jake Poirier, Pratik Ramdasi

Project: “Spatial Neurologic Circuits,” a virtual reality, spatially correct neurologic circuit visualization to allow a viewer to conceptualize 3-D relationships of neurologic circuit structures and their interconnections.

Outstanding Technical Accomplishment, $100: Alex Masarie, for application of 3-D mathematics for gesture recognition in an occupational therapy experience.

Outstanding Artistry, $100: Aoina Buer for creating accurate 3-D anatomical models.

HTC VIVE Tilt Brush competition, $100: “The Tree,” created by Rachel Stern, for best use of 3-D space, texture and animation in virtual reality.

The future

All the events highlighted the transformative power of the perceptive revolution that virtual and augmented reality could bring to our society.

“This hackathon has shown that VR and AR can change the way we interact with computers,” Strand said. “Immersive technologies provide new ways to visualize information and organize our thoughts and ideas. These winning teams have shown us that VR will continue to be used in medicine, therapy, education, and many other areas.”

View a demo of the augmented reality project created by the winning hackathon team, Human.ly.