On Friday, March 17, 2017, eight teams comprised of 35 students demoed their virtual reality apps at Demo Day, the final part of the VR Challenge. This challenge, hosted by E-club and Hackers at VT and sponsored by Google, kicked off on Friday, February 3, 2017 and since that date, teams have worked hard researching and designing their own virtual reality worlds. The culmination of the past six weeks came on Demo Day when students showcased their new VR apps to the judges and community.
At the VR Challenge Kick-off in February, 24 teams signed up to participate. Three weeks into the project, 14 teams were still working on their apps, dropping down to eight teams demoing on Friday. While it was a huge accomplishment for all of these teams to finish building their apps, four winning teams were chosen by the six judges. The categories included: Best Technical, Most Creative, Best Marketing-Potential, and Best Over-all.
One of the teams competing at Demo Day was Project Diva, a team I interviewed at the halfway mark. I was present on Friday while they pitched their app to three of the judges and tried it out myself as well. The final project that Diiva Anaya, Angie Zhang, Amy Judd, Lekha Chowdhuri, and Heather Robinson created was a variation of their original plans for an interactive game. They maintained the environment that they had envisioned, creating a beautiful forest landscape. There were layers of trees against a background and foreground where horses of varying sizes stood by, waiting to have their picture taken. As the user, when I’d find a horse and click on it, the horse would begin to sparkle. While one of the goals for the app included creating a timer of 3 minutes to find each horse, the virtual reality experience was still unique and interesting to explore, and they were proud of the time they had put into the project.
There were six judges for the teams to pitch to, each coming from a different background. The group included a Computer Science professor, two Google employees, the chair of Visual Communication Design in the School of Visual Arts, a 2nd year Masters’ student, and a 3rd year PhD student working in Virtual Reality. The judges spoke to every team, asking clarifying questions and trying out the apps for themselves. After deliberating, they took a moment to speak briefly about each team before announcing the winners, offering encouraging and constructive advice.
After congratulating all of the participants for completing the challenge, they went on to award prizes to the following winners: Mind Palace received Google Chromecasts for Best Marketing Potential with their photo gallery app, allowing users to view their photos in a 3D sphere. Team Tilda won Rokus for Most Creative App, a sailing game in which users could pick up items and maneuver obstacles in the water. Team Tupperware was awarded Google Daydreams for Most Technical, demoing a fantasy-based role-playing game which measured the user’s brain activity and included two 3D printed components acting as a shield and wand. Finally, CycloVR won Best Overall for their CycloTron game, inspired by the Tron arcade game. Users peddle on a stationary bike as they race to cut off the game’s racer, resulting in their character in VR speeding up as they peddle faster. As the winners of the Best Overall category, CycloVR received Google Homes and a trip to New York to visit Google’s office, courtesy of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Virginia Tech.
Though the project was time consuming and challenging, the students who participated amazed their peers and the judges with the creative, unique apps they designed. Most students agreed that they took away a higher value of teamwork and pride in their ability to learn and use Unity from the VR Challenge.