Alt Ethos News – Wednesday October 26th, 2016

The “Reality, Virtually, Hackathon!” brought together VR/AR industry researchers, developers and innovators to connect and create focused applications. It is the brainchild of MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

My first impression of this event was a chance for our team at Alt Ethos to hone our skills and connect with the immersive, interactive tech community from MIT and across the world, giving new power to manifest our creations across industries and ultimately improve our ability to serve. What follows demonstrates how many there are who see as we see; a world shaped through immersive technologies applied in ways which benefit each of our lives. The scope of ways by which this is possible has been ever broadened in our eyes.

Friday October 7th, 7:00-9:00AM- First day in Boston

Awakening in Boston, I was met with a sprawling cityscape rich in its humble antiquity. Sidewalks mapped in red brick, climbing its way up the architecture into the sky. I immediately came to know it as a place vivid in personality.

  

Friday 9:30-6:00PM- Workshops begin

The Julius Stratton Campus building was charged with anxious creative energy. The workshops ran from 9:30am-6:00pm. Topics ran along 3 series: AR and VR Design, Unity, and native AR and VR development. I quickly became aware of the participants’ diversity; creators of multiple disciplines from around the globe and MIT gathered to unlock knowledge of immersive design. The event was led by 40 mentors, renowned VR/AR professionals and was recently announced as the largest VR/AR Hackathon.  

       

     

       While the workshops followed segmented tracks, all were open and ran parallel to each other. I chose to take Intro to Unity Development, Daydream with Unity, Development for Vive with Unity and Forge your AR/VR content. Intro to Unity Development dove into C# scripting, 3D User interface and Rigid Body dynamics. Daydream with Unity introduced Google’s newest headset project which shares Cardboard’s SDK. As with the first round of workshops, this was a crash course, in this case familiarization with the headset, building and running a project together. Development for Vive with Unity covered plugins and SDKs for HTC and SteamVR. Forge your AR/VR Content rounded out the day with Autodesk Forge, WebVR and Autodesk’s use of the Oculus and Hololens. The complete list workshops can be found here.

Friday 8:00-10:00PM- Closing ceremony

The closing ceremony marked the end of the first day. Participants formulated ideas and broke into teams. The monumental task of team formulation out of 350 attendees was for the most part executed within an hour. Those without a team were given the option to join on Saturday afternoon. All projects would supplement vertical markets (VR/AR for Good, Health/Medicine, Education, Industry, Productivity, Advertising, Gaming, Entertainment, Social Networking) and created in an open source format. Once groups of a maximum 5 people had banded, teams with openings were given 30 seconds to pitch their concept. Hacking would begin the following morning.

Saturday October 8th, 7:00am- Sunday 1:00am- Full day hacking

Hacking began in the MIT Media Lab, a pristine contrast to the Julius Stratton campus building. Teams met on the 6th floor and projects development ran throughout the day. Workshops were also available from 10:00am-4:00pm. For those who have never been a part of a hackathon it’s very important to eat and sleep to keep your energy up. Regular meals were served throughout the day, disappearing quickly in a room of over 300 people. Those still seeking a team were free to search for a project with an open spot.

     

 

                         

Our team, Katy Hamilton, Viraj Rai, Alfredo Barzola, Kiera Johnson and myself worked to create one stage of  immersive, interactive language learning game Steam VR for Social Networking. Auditory, visual and tactile immersion combined creates extremely rapid information absorption. Our approach was to take language acquisition, a typically disciplined endeavor, and create a fun mystery game environment where you match foreign words with those above objects game objects.

Katy and Viraj picked up the development side, I built hard surface assets and assisted in general production, Alfredo designed the UI, and Kiera lent storytelling direction. Kiera had joined the team this day and helped to give us new direction. Our challenge then became to create a focused yet playful story driven experience utilizing multiple senses: Sight, touch and audio, making language learning more subliminal. For those interested in watching or contributing, follow here.

                                    

Sunday October 9th, 7:00am-3:00pm- Half day hacking, submission and preliminary judging

We had developed the scene, designed the UI, written and tested coding functions, fine tuned collision dynamics and worked to build according to our storyline. Katy and Viraj, our developers, used most of this time to iron out the functionality between Unity and the Steam VR headset. Projects were due at 3:00pm, when preliminary judging began. Teams were given 10 minutes to pitch our creations.

Sunday 4:00-8:00PM- Cocktail party, networking, semi-finalist announcement

By 4:00 all teams had been judged and we had all had a chance to get to know each other and talk about our projects. The highlights of my evening were talking to Dulce Baerga, a full-stack AR/VR developer  and Diego Borges-Rivera, MIT Phd student  about the future of AI and trying out Spaceout VR, a sponsor of the Hackathon and creator of an app combining social media, gaming and music.

                                                      Steven Patterson- semi-finalist announcement

At 7:00 the semi-finalists for each vertical and best VR application were announced. Kid City VR and Waypoint Rx’s topped the list out of a pool of 75 projects. Kid City VR’s “Treehouse” is an exciting HTC-Vive based educational app designed to bridge the gap between parents and children, taking on one of VR’s most common critiques: individual vs communal experience. Waypoint Rx is an incredible Hololens app which arms pharmacists with prescription drug knowledge and the ability to identify the correct pill dosage every time.

Monday October 10th, 10:00-4:00PM-EXPO

On Monday morning semi-finalist projects were shown at the public expo. Social media traction had been established early through the “Reality, Virtually, Hackathon!” and EXPO page. Qualifying projects, all open source, were given a stage at the largest scale AR/VR Hackathon event with an immense turnout. Kid City VR and Waypoint Rx ultimately won for best VR and AR project, respectively.

The reasons why both were chosen as winners should be clear: As VR continues to grow, experience has been tied to singular experience. As aged as VR technology is, since it’s entered the limelight and gained traction in the past few years, headsets have become more ergonomic, improved peripheral vision and resolution, interactivity has allowed for a rapid expansion in gaming including online play but interactivity has thus far eluded developers. The Neomillenial generation gravitates most heavily to interactive technology in many ways because they have never known a world without the technology that we have today.

Pharmaceutical work is an extremely taxing business. An estimated 4.27 billion prescriptions will be filled in 2016. An app capable of filling errorless prescriptions could save thousands of lives per year.The benefit of this project’s ultimate success in development and transition into the Medical field cannot be understated. Pharmacists study for years and function in one of the fastest paced environments. As sharp as one may be there is still room for human error and an error in the medical field can result in serious injury and death of a patient. This creates a heavy emotional toll which, if possible through AR technology, should be eliminated.

Closing thoughts-

As VR and AR technology experience rapid market growth, the Hackathon’s progressive approach speaks to it’s values and shows a finger on the pulse of immersive technology; professional AR/VR software developers, innovators, students, and researchers from across the globe gathered together to both learn from experienced (look for synonym “developers”) and bring new knowledge, galvanizing implementation and philosophy of this growing technology to enhance human experience. It was all at once a talent identification, active developmental think tank and supercharged networking event. Connections extend past the Hackathon, into your circle and across the world.

Talent is a process of knowledge gathering and repetition over time. The great strength of Hackathons is in condensing skill development combined with multiple pools of knowledge. They push you to work past what you previously believed was your limit. Innovation is the process of synthesizing streams of thought and practice into new creations. When an answer can’t be found through traditional means, the solution can only come through creative, calculated synthesis.

Most important is the effect on human relation towards new technology. As we all know technology can be used for both incredible advancement or massive detriment. The focus on Hackathons, not least of all this one, is to enhance human experience. Our creations are born and used based on our intentions.

VR and AR’s lifeblood depends on the creator’s and user’s attitude and intended use. As many of us who marvel at the possibilities of immersive technology’s advancement, there are still many who are justifiably skeptical of its potential to put humanity one step back through those who would use it to implant their own ideas,  promoting escapism through enslavement.

At the same time endeavors of this scale give hope through a praxis bent towards human education, access, and experience. Technology is and always has been an extension of ourselves. We are personally responsible for what we create and how it affects the lives of those around us. Immersive technology is arguably the most disruptive by nature simply because it’s not only extremely effective but also ubiquitous. It’s not even a matter of if or when it enters our collective sphere of existence, it’s happening right now.

We’ve never had such influential power as we do right now to change human lives; The first step to directing the course at a massive scale is through awareness. When great minds from across the world are gathered together to learn and experience immersion in a focused environment and time frame, amazing things can happen.

Alt Ethos is founded on the mission of spreading immersive creativity to untouched avenues through a group of people with varying backgrounds and disciplines. We realized how this technology can be used to inspire wonder and push the boundaries of what’s possible, ultimately benefiting people’s lives. I’m humbled and grateful to have been a part of both. I have come away sharper and more enlightened through this experience. This Hackathon has affirmed our common vision for the future. Technology provides the vocal chords for creativity.

Matt Maes is a Denver animator focused on immersive and interactive technology. He is Chief Influence Officer of Alt Ethos, Ltd and is also an executive member of the nonprofit organization Denver Arts and Technology Advancement (D.A.T.A.)