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Virtual Reality Event Highlights New Platforms, Applications

By Matthew J. Leifer and Sarah Wu, Contributing Writers

A woman swung a bat in Yankee Stadium 10 feet away from a man shopping for a new furniture set, while another person explored the debris of a disaster site. These demonstrations were a part of “Explore the Emerging Worlds of Augmented and Virtual Reality,” an event sponsored by the Harvard Innovation Lab during the second annual HUBweek.

The public event offered 1,200 registrants the opportunity to hear from industry representatives and try out new virtual and augmented reality technology, according to i-lab managing director Jodi Goldstein. A series of 20-minute long “Deep Dive” discussions touched on applications in a range of disciplines, such as education and surgery.

Virtual reality platforms have become more widespread because they have become cheaper to develop according to event speaker Rus Gant, director of the Harvard Visualization Research and Teaching Laboratory.

“The actual technology has not changed,” he said. “Instead of being 10, 20, or 30 thousand dollars, you can build one of these for 20 or 30 dollars. If you attached [headsets] to video games… you have a business.”

Goldstein said she hoped the event would showcase Harvard’s potential for the virtual reality industry.

“Harvard and Boston are poised to be leaders in this industry,” she said. “Our goal with this event is to bring together people who are interested with thought leaders in the industry to inspire, educate, and to also start collaborations.”

She also said the i-Lab plan to work more with virtual reality technology going forward.

“We’re going to be opening up a lab here at the Harvard Innovation Lab to enable students to use the hardware and software platforms to ideate and create their own projects,” she said. “We want to more fully resource them in this area as we do in other areas as well.”

HUBweek, jointly founded by Harvard, MIT, the Boston Globe, Massachusetts General Hospital, is a week-long series of discussions, lectures, and workshops in collaboration with Harvard staff and faculty on topics ranging from music to medicine to engineering.

Misha Jamy, a masters student in computer science at MIT, said she attended the event for inspiration.

“Virtual reality seems like the next big thing and I want to be in on it,” she said. “The demos are cool, but the talks really inspire me to continue working in this field.”

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