USC's Creating Reality hackathon tackles AR/VR projects starting March 12

Don’t be surprised if you’re strolling by the University of Southern California campus and you see see 400 people decked out in virtual reality headsets next week. The university is hosting Creating Reality, its first VR/AR hackathon. It’s a four-day event that’s sponsored by USC, Intel, Microsoft, AT&T, and HP. It will run from March 12 to March 15, and a panel of judges will hand out awards for select projects on the final day.

Creating Reality’s participants are a mix of students and industry professionals chosen from a pool of over 1,000 applicants. Workshops about various aspects of VR and AR will kick off the event, and then folks will split up into teams. They’ll have two days to prototype and develop their projects, which will be judged on March 15. Once the event is over, everything will be uploaded onto the development platform GitHub and the software engineering career site Devpost.

The panel of judges include people like NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory lead UI developer Nathaniel Guy and HP distinguished technologist Paul Martin. To run the event, USC has partnered with journalist Steven Max Patterson, who organized the Reality, Virtually hackathon event at MIT Media Lab.

“I collaborated with Rus Gant, who leads the Harvard VR Lab a few years ago, experimenting with AR and VR and also bringing people together to build and more importantly through the creation of their original work we deepened our own understanding of how these technologies could be applied,” said Patterson in an email to GamesBeat. “In collaboration with a research scientist at the MIT Media Lab, Scott Greenwald, we scaled this to produce over 70 project submissions during a hackathon. For Greenwald, Gant and myself, the project submissions submitted under open source licenses let us see how tool users use these tools. ”

Patterson has a background in engineering, and he says VR and AR remind him of the early days of mobile development. While it’s important for hardware to improve, he says that it’s even more crucial for designers and developers to cultivate the skills needed to deal with new technology. Hackathons are the perfect environment to explore the different use-cases, and because the resulting projects are open-source, everyone can learn from the experience.

“Each hackathon introduces more designers and developers and at each hackathon, we notice increased expertise working with the technology,” said Patterson. “As a nonprofit, non-commercial educational event, one of our goals is to increase the talent pool leading to better jobs for developers.”

Because of departments like USC’s Interactive Media and Games Division, organizers predict that Creating Reality will likely result in more narrative-driven projects than the MIT Media Lab hackathon. The university has hosted similar events before, and it’s the official location for the yearly Global Game Jam, which has over 40,000 participants all over the world at different sites.

Around 150 of the 400 Creating Reality participants will be USC students, and Patterson says that around two dozen high schoolers will be attending. Folks from all over the U.S. as well as Europe will be coming to join Creating Reality.

“We have had a few companies founded, like Waypoint Rx, and others founded on the relationships formed at the hackathon, as well as people who changed careers because of the hackathon experience which is very rewarding,” said Patterson. “I expect to see a lot of advanced projects in healthcare, and architecture, but given the USC’s expertise in cinematic arts, and games design, and the concentration of the entertainment and games industries, I expect to see many more advanced project submissions.”