Cell VR is an educational game that actually teaches biology from inside of a human cell. Using the immersive power of Virtual Reality, we created an environment based on the inner-workings of the human cell. As you turn your head and look around, molecules are floating and combining together to simulate various combinations that actually occur inside of a cell. It gets better, though! Using the Sixense Razer Hydras, we provided the user with two virtual hands that they could control by moving and rotating hand controllers. With this power, they could actually reach out and create biochemical reactions by smashing cell molecules together! Cell VR has the power to teach education in the most innovative way possible, and inspire a passion for a subject that may otherwise require tedious memorization.
Of course, we understand not everyone instantly knows that glucose combines with mitochondria to produce ATP in the cell, so we include in-game instruction scenes that show what each different model represents, and what can combine with what in order to make even more cell molecules. In this sense, there's absolutely no prior knowledge or experience required in order to play the game and learn biology.
As a side note, it's also pretty fun to just toss things around and watch them bounce off of a cell wall. That happens in real life, right?
Behind The Scenes
Before attending the hackathon, we managed to get a hold of the Sixense Razer Hydras, so we instantly knew we wanted to make a project with in-depth user interaction. The question, then, was what type of educational content would such user interaction be able to teach? Furthermore, what is something that's hard enough to learn in high school that a Virtual Reality experience could teach better? It was at that point that we settled on cell biology- a subject that many of us had, for the most part, associated with a great deal of memorization and, more importantly, something we believe was hard to visualize in school through textbooks.
For this project, I designed the system that allowed cell input and output, meaning that when certain molecules are combined together, new ones are produced. I also wrote the scripts for cell floating, random cell generation based on desired frequency, and the sphere barriers that allow certain cells to exit if thrown with a high enough velocity. Anish handled all the 3D user interaction, ensuring that cells could be grabbed, and Kristin created all of our 3D models and interfaces. Together, our team worked to create the ultimate educational experience in an industry that was still developing.
Cell VR was built using the Oculus Rift, the Sixense Razer Hydras, the Unity Game Engine, and Autodesk Maya for 3D modeling. In fact - all models were made by the team, and no external models were used. The Oculus Rift was our VR hardware, and the Razer Hydras were our chosen input mechanism, and they allow easy grabbing and moving of cell parts.
We worked hard for this Hackathon, and from the moment we entered, we decided that we wanted to create something awesome that could truly improve education. It didn't matter to us if we won, we just wanted to achieve an impactful project that demonstrated our own dedication to education. After 36 hours of almost nonstop coding, we were incredibly happy with our final result. However, we never expected to end up on stage.
So, during closing ceremony, our group was half asleep (or half awake, depending on your philosophical views) when we heard our name called. The reaction was something along the lines of, "Guys, I think that's us. Did they just call us?"
Roughly 10 minutes later, we were the first group presenting on stage as part of the Top 10 finalist demos. Needless to say, the entire experience was utterly surreal. We committed ourselves to making a difference, and poured hour after hour into making that a reality. To hear our project name called, to speak in front of hackathon attendees from across the nation, and to be recognized by judges and peers alike was an incredible feeling like none I have ever experienced before.
However, the experience became even more incredible a few weeks later, when we received an email informing us that we had been bumped up from a Top 10 Finalist to 3rd Place Overall. With that recognition came numerous prizes, including a new Oculus Rift and a Muse headset. More importantly, however, was the sheer evidence that we had made something that really did impact people. We had made a difference, and achieved what we initially sought. This is a feeling like no other.