Virtually Possible: Students Reach Final of Virtual Reality Contest

A team of students from Professor Yoshifumi Kitamura's laboratory at the Research Institute of Electrical Communication (RIEC) will represent Tohoku University at the final of the International Collegiate Virtual Reality Contest (IVRC) in Tokyo in November.

The seven-member team punched its ticket to Tokyo by being among 10 teams to make it past the qualifying round, held at Aobayama Campus in September. Their project, titled "Be Bait!" provides the experience of swimming in the sea and being eaten by a shark.

"One of the benefits of virtual reality is to provide an experience that you usually cannot get in real life," said Kitamura. "I don't think any of us has ever been swallowed by a big fish, so the students thought it would be fun to try to create that experience just to see what it might be like."

The IVRC encourages students to act on their creative ideas in order to raise local and global awareness of virtual reality and its benefits. Teams are judged on their innovation, their understanding of interactive technology and the impact of their projects.

"Normal virtual reality content makes use of visual and auditory information," said Kitamura. "But the students are trying to increase the feeling of reality by adding physical movement, temperature change and tactile sensations such as softness, hardness and texture."

"One of the main points of our project is to make the users feel that they are swimming in the water," explained Shotaro Ichikawa, a first year Masters student on the team. "To achieve that, we're using two hammocks, and users swing their body to create the swimming motion. Then we use a tracker as a sensor to move the user forward in the virtual environment."

Kitamura has encouraged several batches of his students to participate in IVRC over the years, with varying degrees of competition success. He believes the experience is a good way for students to explore their own ideas and learn through observing other teams in the competition. It also reinforces the importance of deadlines and teamwork in research.

"I've enjoyed how well we've worked together," said team member Yuki Onishi. "Some members here worked on the software, some on the hardware. From the very beginning, we've all had our different roles and we've combined our different skills to get success. This is more than what we learn in class, or our usual research. Through this experience, we learn how to cooperate with other people and be a team."

The final of the IVRC will take place during the Digital Content Expo 2018 in Tokyo from November 14 - 16.

IVRC has been held annually since 1993 and is closely associated with Laval Virtual in France, the biggest VR event in Europe. Both contests have produced many innovative products by students that have gone on to expand the understanding and use of virtual reality around the world.


Professor Yoshifumi Kitamura
Deputy Director, Research Institute of Electrical Communication
Tohoku University

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