Noah Cyr wields a bow and arrow to protect his home from invaders while immersed in a virtual reality world at the Makerspace. Photo by Chris Crosby

On March 2, 2019, the University of Rhode Island will be holding an “Immerse-a-thon” event for students, focused on designing virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR).

This event will take place in the Makerspace in URI’s Library, where laser cutters and VR equipment are held and available for all students to use. Students at all levels of understanding VR and AR are welcomed to sign up and compete for a $500 prize which will be awarded at the end of the day.

URI is partnering with Rhode Island Virtual Reality (RIVR), a non-profit initiative working towards building an industry of virtual reality and augmented reality in Rhode Island. They have lined up experts in the field, which include URI professors and graduate students. Director of Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Undergraduate Research at the University of Rhode Island, Deedee Chatham, said, “We’re connecting with people inside and outside of URI, creating a wide range of knowledge on the different applications.”

Chatham said that the program is focused on the design of VR and AR, and students from any major can, and have, joined. This includes students majoring in engineering, art and music. With students, professors, and professionals coming from diverse backgrounds of study, Chatham said that the program will encompass a range of different disciplines.

“It’s the first one that’s going on,” Chathan said, “It’s an experience that we had to begin to grow here at URI.”

Chatham explained that the program will be composed of three different components. The Immers-a-thon will begin with clinical exercises.

“Students will focus on understanding the range of new applications that could be used,” Chatham said.

Students will then form groups, working on their VR and AR design and will finally be assigned a panel of judges, where a groups will be awarded the $500 prize for the best design. After the judging, students will be appointed a two hour long workshop where they can learn how to program, which graduate students and professors will be teaching.

According to Chatham, the VR/AR Immerse-a-thon had a great response by the student body. “We’re booked for students!” Chatham said.

Although the directors of the program originally wanted to close the event at 30 students, so many students began putting their names on the waiting list that they extended the amount of students who could join to 43. Even now, there is still a waiting list students have put their names on  in case anyone drops out.

Assistant Professor of Electrical, Computer and Biomedical Engineering, Dr. Bin Lu, was one of the main professor behind this program. He was helped by graduate students that work with him.

Additionally, there are many other professors from diverse fields of study who are also largely impacting this program, such as Kinesiology Professor Dr. Susan D’Andrea, who works in biomedical engineering.

Along with this upcoming Immerse-a-thon, Chatham relayed information of the many other resources available for students, which focus on helping students gain social capital and gain important skills for their future after college.

One of the groups she directs, URI squared, supports URI undergraduates in all disciplines and at all levels to think in a self-directed, hands-on way. Students are able to conduct research, produce scholarly work, and create artistic innovations through the program, as well as make new and original contributions to their specific field of interest. This group that Chatham directs provides the resources needed for the students to complete their work and showcase their innovations to others.

Students can apply for funding for their projects at http://bit.ly/uri-squared or they can contact the Office of Undergraduate Research and Innovation through email at uri2@etal.uri.edu.

Chatham also helps to run the URI SPARC group, a group where students are able to work with some of Rhode Island’s most successful investors, business educators, entrepreneurs and attorneys in order to grow URI’s business leaders and receive first hand real-world advice on ideas for businesses.

Students who are interested in URI SPARC and want to receive free expert advice can register at URI’s Business Engagement Center, or at http://bit.ly/URI_SPARC or http://uri.edu/bec.