Students gathered in a cluster to watch as a volunteer attempted to navigate a virtual world while standing in the BUild Lab. Spectators were amused as she fumbled with virtual reality goggles and hand controllers to cut carrots and throw them into boiling water.
As VR has steadily gained popularity in recent years, its current presence at Boston University is attracting companies and students from around the country. The BUild Lab IDG Capital Student Innovation Center buzzed with excitement about new advances in VR/augmented reality as students and experts from around Boston gathered to share and learn at the AR/VR club’s first festival April 19.
The AR/VR Club, composed of students with a common interest in augmented and virtual reality technology, formed in the fall.
Sponsored by BU Spark! and [email protected], the festival was part of Innovation Week, which encouraged students to recognize “novel ideas and endeavors across our campus and community,” according to the [email protected] website.
Students from BU, Northeastern University and Brown University showcased their VR projects they designed and built. Their equipment and augmented reality screens attracted students, faculty and BUild Lab staff to explore the power of the virtual world.
Bryan Song and Theo Tsapakos, seniors from Northeastern, helped design a virtual reality cooking game using Oculus Unity, the current virtual reality software.
“I knew that I wanted to work with VR for our capstone project,” Tsapakos said. “We sort of took the inspiration from [another game, ‘Overcooked,’] and said, ‘OK, how can we create something like cooking, but in virtual reality?’”
Song said that he was thankful to be a part of the festival, as this was one of the first times others could test the game in its final stage.
“Our game is in the final build, [so] we’re just kind of demoing it [and] showing it off,” he said.
Industry experts were also present to recruit students and provide information about types of professional opportunities available in the AR/VR field.
Representatives from companies, including PTC, Wayfair and Simmetri, gave presentations in the main lobby about their missions. They also gathered in rooms to answer questions and speak with students.
“We really want to tap into the BU student base, especially with people with good passions in terms of AR and VR and really understanding that they have a great niche,” said Alex Jorge, a college program specialist at PTC. “It’s really finding a place for a lot of up-and-coming [Internet of Things] students in a great and innovative company.”
Jorge said he was thrilled with the students he had met throughout the morning and that BU students represent the “fresh young talent that can come in with the grains of passion to succeed at PTC.”
Chandler Zhang, a senior in the College of Engineering and co-president of the AR/VR club, said he is always looking for outreach inspiration. Having attended other AR/VR festivals such as Boston VR and Boston AR, Zhang said that he was inspired to bring innovative ideas to Commonwealth Avenue.
Zhang was responsible for making and enacting plans for the festival with the help of his co-president, Alicia Hong. He said their first ideas were based on bringing company exhibitors to campus to showcase their technology.
However, after discovering the talent of students at BU and at other institutions, the team was inspired to include a student display, Zhang said. At the end of the day, Zhang reflected and commented he was thrilled with the success and added, “we’ll be back.”
As technologies improve and universities expand, Zhang said that he hopes to invite more augmented reality/VR students from other institutions in the future.
“We want to host an event where BU is the hub of augmented reality and virtual reality technologies,” he said.