University’s Incubator Helps Students Create VR Products
At the University of Rochester Student Incubator, large ideas can be developed into new amazing products in a small space.
NullSpace VR, which is one of the companies that housed at the incubator, is working on a product that gives virtual reality games a new dimension – the ability of feeling what is shown in the fantasy world that created the virtual reality headsets.
For example, if the high-resolution screen of a headset shows a virtual world of the torrential storms, then the NullSpace Vest could yield the feelings of gusts of winds rumbling through the chest of the viewers. That is done with the small weights attached to the small motors that tremble like a cell phone. These devices come in the plastic casings and are implanted in the NullSpace vest.
Lucian Copeland, 23, of the Northfield, Massachusetts, one of the three students of UR who in the recent fall founded NullSpace VR, said, “This is science fiction made into virtual reality.”
Blackout VR, another company housed at the incubator, has developed Sight Unseen, a game which has no visual component, but the user can hear the sounds from all the directions in the imaginary world using the headsets.
Kedar Shashidhar, 22, of Corning, who is a graduating senior in the music and audio engineering at UR and one of the founders of the Blackout VR, said, “With our headphones, you are in another world.”
The student incubator opened in 2011 and it is housed at the Lennox Tech Enterprise Centre of the High Tech Roster in Henrietta. Blackout VR and NullSpace are two of the nine companies that are started by the students now provided with the space in the incubator.
In the large incubator room, not only the student start-ups get free space, but they also get the mentor such as the academic experts and business executives, to give the guidance and access to the other support resources of the High Tech Rochester like the conference rooms and copiers.
Mathew Spielmann, a program manager of the UR’s Ain Center for the Entrepreneurship that oversees the student incubator, said, “It’s an opportunity for them to work in a place that is not their dorm or library and to expand and see if their business measures up.”
Incubator ground rules
The incubator, sectioned into the nine work areas and located in a large room, offers space for a varied mix up of student start-ups – from Ovitz, which is an Optics company which developing an eyewear measurement device for the correction of vision, to the PostApp that is developing a website, with the feature of video chat, to display the information for the students of high school in China who want to study at the U.S. colleges.
A three-member company there chooses the student-run businesses. These start-ups do not pay rent as long as there is a UR student working on the business, and can stay in the incubator for a year at a cost of up to $200 per month – after the last UR student working on the business graduates.
In the same High Tech Rochester facility, some of the businesses have gone on to the rent spaces. The major example is of the Health Care Originals, which make an early detection device for asthma and has recently won an innovator of the year award in the Wearable Technologies Innovation World Cup.
Another start-up making the same transaction is the LighTopTech Corp that has developed the technology Explorer4D to yield the three-dimensional images of the tissues without cutting into the human eye or skin. This technology can also be used in the manufacturing for the quality control.
Cristina Canavesi, who started a start-up in the incubator in January 2014 during studying in the master of business administration degree at the Simon School of Business at UR, is the president of the company. She also holds a degree of doctorate in optics from UR.
She has teamed up with the Jannick Rolland, who is the chief technology officer of the company and professor of the optical engineering at the Institute of Optics at UR.
Explorer4D is a handheld microscope that rays infrared electromagnetic waves that can infiltrate the plastic of the contact tissue or lens. A 3D image is reflected back and is displayed on the screen of the computer, where inadequacies like the scratches can be seen easily.
In July, this start-up moved out of the incubator to a rental space of 800 square feet at the same High Tech Rochester facility.
The first customers of LightTopTech, probably early in the next year, are likely to be the contact lenses manufacturers that want this high technology method of the quality control.
Canavesi said, “You would use Explorer4D to get a 3-D image of a contact lens and from the image see if it meets your specifications.”
Making in a Virtual World
Recently, NullSPace made its first sale to the Zero Latency, which is a virtual reality arcade in the Melbourne, Australia.
Copeland said, “They have their system — a virtual reality headset and tracking system. They don’t have touch feedback that we make for them. That’s important if you play this intense zombie game.”
Copeland, who will graduate next month with a degree in computer and electrical engineering, has established NullSpace with the two other graduating senior: Morgan Sinko, who has computer science as a major subject and, Jordan Brooks, who is a mechanical engineer.
They are aided by useful computer scientists, engineers, and a game developer. All the juniors from the UR, except the game developers, is a graduate student from the Rochester Institute of Technology.
The product that primarily involved just Copeland and Sinko started a couple of years ago as a project for the Robotics Club at UR. NullSpace come into existence during the last fall.
They started their business with the gardening gloves that contains electronic devices. The user can immerse in the virtual reality boxing match and can also feel the sense of a punch with these gloves.
Copeland said the NullSpace system is estimated to sell in the range of $200 to $400. The potential of the company was positioned at a second-place in the Rochester Venture Challenge 2016.
In work area of Nullspace at the incubator, there is a 3D printer that can produce plastic casing in about two hours that holds the vibrating devices.
A high-powered computer sends instructions to a small computer in the Nullspace vest. The computer is capable of controlling the motors. It can control the vibration of the motors to create the preferred sensation.
NullSpace also has potential uses in the field of education like creating a virtual map of the world, with virtual landmarks that can be felt or touched.
Matt Foley, the founder or co-founder of an entrepreneur-in-residence and four start-ups at the High Tech Rochester, is mentoring the NullSpace.
Virtual reality games are not new but they have improved with the advancement in the technology. Foley noted, in 2014, Facebook bought the Oculus VR, the company that makes the headset that NullSpace has been using, for $2 billion.
The field in which the NullSpace is specialized, providing the concrete components to the video games, is especially difficult.
Foley said, “It takes certain skills to build something like that.”
If the feeling sensation is not synchronized with the visual, the user can experience the “simulation sickness,” which is a nauseous sensation.
But Foley has the sureness in Copeland and his team. Foley said, “he just gets it right away.”
Blackout predicts to have the Sight Unseen, its first video game, on the market in the fall season. Shashidhar established Blackout, a year ago with two of his classmates, Dan Hassan and David Porter, both of these classmates are the graduating seniors. They are being helped by the 12 recent college graduates or other students including eight from UR.
The virtual world created by the company is developed by sound that’s heard by the person wearing the headphones.
Mark Bocko, chairman of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UR and mentor for Blackout, said, “It’s like being in a dark room. You have to do a lot of sophisticated sound processing.”
Bocko praises Shashidhar for having more than the technical skills. Bocko said, “He is really entrepreneurial — a real leader,”
In making his 3D audio world of VR, Shashidhar had to develop a computer program that can make the sound slightly altered for each ear.
The computer program can also make the sound appear far or near to the player, with less of an echo the nearer the sound is to an ear. For example, a whisper would seem like a person talking right into the year of the player.
Shashidhar in the fall said, the game should be available to be used on the Android and Apple platforms as well as desktop computers. It is estimated to cost $5.
As with the Copeland, Shashidhar is placing the importance on raising the funds from investors to keep the fledging business floating until the product produces revenue.
However, the game Blackout VR was developed at the UR recording studios, the incubator space provides a meeting space and place where student entrepreneurs can give moral advice and support to each other.
Shashidhar said, “They are struggling with the same issues you are.”
Start-ups at the UR Student Incubator
Ovtiz — o-vitz.com — makes an eye measurement device for correction of vision.
LighTopTech Corp. — lightoptech.com — builds optical instruments to improve noninvasive imaging that can be used in medical and manufacturing fields.
PostApp — postapp.org — is developing a website of resources (travel; jobs/internships/volunteering; social skills/mindset; university information/language practice) for Chinese high school students wanting to study at American colleges.
SmartDialysis — smartdialysis.com — is developing a nanomembrane technology-based portable hemodialysis unit to improve the quality of life for people with the end-stage renal disease.
The FormKey — theformkey.appspot.com — helps make the moving process quicker and easier by helping fill out and file moving paperwork and giving reminders of important dates and deadlines.
NullSpace VR — nullspacevr.com — is wearable technology that allows users to touch and feel virtual objects.
BPR Breast Pump Redesign is working to redesign the modern breast pump to make it more discreet, comfortable, effective, portable and quiet.
Blackout VR — facebook.com/blackoutvirtualreality/ — provides an audio component for video games with only headphones.
ShipIT is a platform/app that enables users to earn a little extra money during a commute by making parcel deliveries while traveling a route.