On January 16, a team of students from Carnegie Mellon University took part in MIT Media Lab’s Mixed Reality Hackathon. MIT Reality Hack is a 5 day event held every January that comprises of thought leaders, brand mentors and creators, participants, students, and technology lovers to come together and attend tech workshops, talks, discussions, fireside chats, collaborations, hacking, and more. Design students Joseph Zhang (BDes ’22) and Michael Kim (BDes ’23) were two of the four member CMU team.
This year’s MIT Reality Hack was a 350-person competition sponsored by leading XR companies such as Microsoft, NReal, Magic Leap, Oculus, and HTC. Representatives from each company came and provided competitors with +70 mentors, over +60 headsets, computers, and various other assets for us to build in 2.5 days, or 60 hours.
“Overall, it was an incredible experience; from meeting amazing people to making it on the event’s Twitter’s feed, we genuinely had a blast,” said Zhang about the team’s experience at the event. “As a team, we went in expecting to compete with fellow college students — we ended up competing against industry professionals who have been in the AR/VR field for +7 years.
“Though it was quite nerve-racking, we found this to be an extremely valuable opportunity to meet new people and to learn new skills.”
The team’s submission to the Mixed Reality Hackathon took the form of “Icarus.” Inspired by recent wildfires and natural disasters, Icarus is an ultra-high resolution virtual reality experience. The experience begins in a man-made room, giving the user the choice to one of three natural environments. Upon entering one of the environments, users are presented with the ability to impact their world through direct object manipulation.
“As users steadily tarnish the world, a social parallel to what humanity has done to Earth, the conditions degrade rapidly,” said Zhang. “The experience ends in an eerie scene of the world bereft of life, on fire. This is a commentary on the recent wildfires and natural disasters that have been ravaging the planet.
“We'd like Icarus to raise awareness for these kinds of events, and thanks to the ultra-high resolution of the Varjo headset, we can depict these kinds of changes in unparalleled quality. Using the headset was an extremely meaningful experience and from there, our Varjo mentor, Timmy Ghiurau, guided us throughout the rest of the hackathon competition.”
Although the team ultimately did not win the competition, they highlight the relationships they built and the amount they learned about the Unity Game Engine, C# language, and spatial interface ergonomics was incredible and made the trip worth it all.
Zhang, Kazi Jawad (Statistics & Machine Learning '23), Kim, and Dean Dijour (Information Systems '20)
Zhang and Kim’s experience at the MIT Media Lab’s Mixed Reality Hackathon was provided in part by the Design Student Experience Fund. The Design Student Experience Fund aims to help subsidize expenses Design students can incur while pursuing opportunities outside the School of Design.