Virtual Reality Club Draws 100 Students to its First Hackathon

Photo courtesy of HackXR.

The Virtual Reality (VR) Club hosted UC San Diego’s inaugural HackXR, a unique event for aspiring developers, from Feb. 23 to Feb. 25. The three-day hackathon focused solely on extended reality, with workshops and game development centered around virtual, augmented, and mixed realities.

The hackathon had four workshops for participants of all experience levels, including a mandatory “VR Design” workshop to help teams create an extended reality (XR) game. Limited to 100 participants, the event included 19 teams of three to five students and had 10 mentors, 27 volunteers, and 11 sponsors to guide the hackers. One of the main goals of the hackathon was to provide guidance, so at least one mentor was available at all times to help the teams, even through the night, according to VR Club President Connor Smith.

“I honestly believe that this type of mentorship from experienced leaders can make all the difference in a student’s hackathon project and in their motivation to keep working with a technology in the future,” Smith said.

The 19 teams had to create a game over the three days. Nisha Yerunkar, the vice president of the VR Club; Dr. Jürgen Schulze, an Associate Adjunct Professor in the Department of Computer Science; and Anish Kannan, event director, decided the winners for the four categories—Best Overall Hack, Best Medical Hack, Best Beginner Hack, and Best Multiplayer Hack.

Best Overall Hack went to Dana Kimball, Patrick Traynor, Christian Lay-Geng, and Carter Andrews for their game, Starshot Express, in which the goal is to send a train into space. The team won the grand prize and received the “Ultimate VR Bundle,” which included a HTC Vive, an Oculus Rift, a Samsung Gear VR, a Google Daydream View, a Samsung Gear 360 Camera, and five Google Cardboards.

Best Medical Hack was awarded to Geeling Chau, Godwin Pang, Kevin Huang, and Thomas Tang for their flying game, Bird. The objective of the game is to fly through hoops through the view of a bird. The team received two Windows MR headsets.

Best Beginner Hack was given to Nia Doum, Henry Narambe, Jasmine Simmons, Edward Yoon, and Dat Ta for their escape room game, Deceptive Reality. They all received FPV VR Drones and Merge VR Headsets.

Best Multiplayer Hack went to Justin Park, Thomas Tran, and Danny Mercado for their spy team game, Breach, which requires one player to see and control aspects of the game world while the other player moves through the level. The entire team received $500 for the win.

One of the grand prize winners, Kimball, who has been to four other hackathons, said that though HackXR is smaller than SD Hacks and Global Game Jam, the event’s focus on extended realities made it different from the other hackathons she attended.

“At HackXR, the organizers spent a lot more time interacting with and helping out teams that needed mentoring than any of the other hackathons I’d been to,” Kimball said. “The overall result was a more friendly and supportive atmosphere than most other hackathons.”

Many of the participants in HackXR had little experience with extended realities and over half of the entrants attended all the workshops, which were oriented toward beginners. All teams were able to create and present a finished project, according to Kannan, whose favorite part was watching the demonstrations.

“I love to see the teams getting to show off their hard work. It’s especially rewarding seeing beginner teams because they’ve learned the most out of everyone,” Kannan said. “If I’ve motivated at least one team to keep going and making XR experiences, then I’ve succeeded.”

HackXR stemmed from the VR Club’s previous involvement with other hackathons. Kannan said that successfully hosting a virtual reality space at SD Hacks 2016 allowed the club to continue participating in other hackathons, such as HackXX 2017. However, the VR Club wanted to expand their space beyond just virtual reality, so they organized HackXR to try to popularize extended realities, which also encompass augmented and mixed realities, according to Smith.

“Right now, augmented reality and some mixed reality devices are in the stage that VR was a few years ago, and we want students to be able to work with this equipment and set standards in an industry that’s still growing and developing,” Smith said. “We also encouraged and mentored across all these different devices, expanding outside of just virtual reality and helping hackers work with all forms of extended reality.”

Cynthia Leung is a staff writer at The Triton.