Seattle VR Hackathon Gives a Glimpse of Virtual Reality’s Potential
Over a hundred virtual reality developers from around the Seattle region were in attendance at the Pacific Northwest Center for Construction Research and Education last weekend for the Seattle VR Hackathon, a biannual event that encourages people with a passion for virtual reality (VR) to collaborate and create VR experiences using the latest hardware and software. Hackathons offer sponsors and local businesses an opportunity to get to know some of the talent that might someday contribute to their virtual reality investments, whilst encouraging learning, experimentation and community building.
The Seattle Hackathon
Over a two-and-half day period, these teams, many of which stayed up all night on Saturday collaborating with other teams and working on their code, built collaboration tools for sharing 360-degree content in social media; populated educational applications focused on global health; created immersive puzzles; integrated VR with the Amazon Echo designed to help teach Mandarin; developed captivating virtual musical instruments; crafted chill listening rooms that mimic the sound of vinyl; and rendered colorful, glowing 3D games.
Tom Furness, Seattle’s “grandfather” of virtual reality, who runs the University of Washington’s HITLab, was a judge and coach at the event.
“I’m always humbled to see where people take this technology,” said Furness, “We are just at the beginning of figuring out how this is going to improve people’s lives. I’ve already seen VR applied to helping people in assisted living stay better connected to their families, the therapeutic benefits for those suffering from conditions like PTSD, and for anyone who watches football, they’ve seen a television spot on how VR is helping train quarterbacks to better read defenses. It’s a whole new way for people to experience computing and I just think it’s fun.”
Virtual Reality in Seattle
Another judge, Nirav Desai, who leads the Pacific Northwest innovation group for hackathon sponsor Booz Allen Hamilton, said he believes that virtual reality has a critical role to play in the Seattle region’s economy.
“Seattle is the number two innovation hub in the United States,” said Desai. “When you look at patents, venture capital activity and growth, this is a great place to be.” Seattle, he points out, “has one of the most diverse economies.” He highlighted the enterprise and consumer businesses at Microsoft; e-commerce and cloud leader Amazon, manufacturers Boeing and PACCAR, federal government entities like Joint Base Lewis-McChord and Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, and large hospital and medical research facilities. The enterprise opportunity is bigger and less competitive than gaming.
When it comes to virtual reality, the Seattle region has a huge game development community, as well as great schools like the University of Washington and Digipen, along with Valve, HTC and others directly in the VR space.
Greg Howes, the event organizer added that: “LA will be entertainment, and will lead that,” but for “gaming, and especially for enterprise, Seattle will be one of the global leaders.”
Howes believes that architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) will be a huge driver for VR, as well. “Seattle is one of the fastest growing cities. You have higher demand and higher price-points. You can experiment more with technology.”
Desai sees Seattle as the home of the VR platform: “Enterprise applications, distribution, testing, operating systems and utilities—a lot of that is going to come from the Seattle area.” Howes adds, “when I look at participants in the AEC hackathons we run, more-and-more people are employing VR, not because we are guiding them that way, but because they see an opportunity. In many ways the enterprise opportunity is not only bigger, but also less competitive than gaming.”
Virtual reality delivers entire worlds, therefore the industry will require people who create all aspects of those worlds, which translates to new job opportunities. Compared to traditional technology fields that are focused on event-driven transactions, virtual reality will require artists and musicians, designers and storytellers, model curators and data analysts, hardware engineers and experts in curriculum design, exactly the kind of eclectic mix of talent for which Seattle is known.