University of Rochester Incubator Turns Virtual Reality Into Tech
The University of Rochester Student Incubator is a place where big ideas can be developed into new products in a small space.
One of the companies now housed at the incubator, NullSpace VR is working on developing a product that imbues new virtual reality games with the capability of feeling what is seen in the fantasy world created in the headsets.
When a headset’s high-resolution screen, for example, shows a virtual world of torrential storms, the NullSpace vest has the capability to produce the sensation of gusts of winds rumbling through the viewer’s chest.
This is implemented via the use of small weights attached to miniature motors, vibrating like a cell phone on cue. These devices are placed in small plastic casings embedded in the NullSpace vest.
“This is science fiction made into virtual reality,” said Lucian Copeland one of three UR students who established NullSpace VR last fall.
Blackout VR, another company housed at the incubator, has developed a game, Sight Unseen, which, while having no visual component, uses headphones to enable the user hear sounds from all directions in a fantasy world.
“With our headphones, you are in another world,” said Kedar Shashidhar, who is one of the founders of Blackout VR, and a student of audio and music engineering at University of Rochester.
Another start-up making waves at the center is LighTopTech Corp, which has developed technology called Explorer4D which is able to produce 3D images of human tissue without cutting into the skin.
Cristina Canavesi, who holds a doctorate in optics from UR started in the incubator in January 2014 while working on her MBA degree at University of Rochester’s Simon School of Business, is president of the company. She teamed up with Jannick Rolland, a professor of optical engineering at UR’s Institute of Optics, who operates as the company’s chief technology officer.
The Explorer4D takes the form of a hand-held microscope that beams near-infrared electromagnetic waves, which has the ability to penetrate the plastic of the contact lens or tissue and then reflects back a 3-D image which is subsequently displayed on a computer screen, where imperfections, like scratches, can be seen.
Manufacturers of contact lenses that want this high-tech form of quality control are expected to be LighTopTech’s first customers.
“You would use Explorer4D to get a 3-D image of a contact lens and from the image see if it meets your specifications,” said Canavesi.
NullSpace recently made its first sale to a virtual reality arcade in Melbourne, Australia, called Zero Latency,.
“They have their system — a virtual reality headset and tracking system. They don’t have touch feedback that we make for them,” said Copeland. “That’s important if you play this intense zombie game.”
The product started with gardening gloves containing electronic devices which allowed the users to engage in a virtual boxing match and feel the sensation of a punch with these gloves.
NullSpace’s work area at the incubator contains a 3-D printer, which can, in about two hours, produce a plastic casing that holds the vibrating devices.
A high-powered computer sends commands to a specially designed computer in the NullSpace vest which then controls which motors vibrate to create the desired sensation.
Matt Foley, who doubles as a founder or co-founder of four start-ups and an entrepreneur-in-residence at High Tech Rochester, is mentoring NullSpace.
Foley noted that even though virtual reality games are not new, they have only taken off in recent years as the technology has improved, with Oculus VR, the company that makes the headset that NullSpace uses being sold to Facebook in 2014 for $2 billion.