At Intouch, it’s cool to be a geek, and we have more than our fair share of them. Some go head to head with world chess champions; others use their spare time to showcase their SEO prowess; some participate in prestigious hackathons.

The Reality, Virtually, Hackathonheld earlier this month at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Media Lab in Cambridge, MA — brought together participants from around the globe to explore new frontiers in the virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) space. Two thousand applied, and Intouch director of product development, Jacob Shepherd, was among the nearly 400 selected to participate

The four-day event brought together mentors with diverse backgrounds, including members of Google’s ARCore team, researchers from Boston Children’s Hospital, and alumni and advisory board members from UCLA, Stanford and the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

Categories for submissions included architecture, engineering and construction, advertising, Internet of Things, machine learning/artificial intelligence, education, and healthcare and medicine. Following, Jacob shares details about the event and a few of the entries.

“I was thrilled to bring Intouch’s healthcare and pharmaceutical advertising focus to participants from MIT and other top universities, and help push beyond known boundaries and disciplines, mixing unconventional thinking to create new, disruptive solutions.” – Jacob Shepherd

Workshop, Network, Build

Starting Friday, October 6, participants engaged in workshops and ideation sessions, and then networked to align into groups for pitching, final team formation, hacking and submission. Since judging relied heavily on original work conceived and created Saturday and Sunday, participants were encouraged to team up during the first day, as opposed to showing up with a pre-established team or idea.

On Monday, October 9, an AR/VR research conference and expo was held while judging occurred, giving hundreds of members of the public hands-on access to the teams’ finished prototypes. Following are a few projects and ideas that were explored over the course of the event.

Microsoft Hack: Mixed Reality Learning Platform

With members from three different countries, my team collaborated to imagine and build an open crowd-sourced, mixed reality learning platform, named “AchieV/AR,” that provides a hands-free, 3D holographic virtual assistant and natural language bot. The bot helps learners master activities like meditation, physical therapy, medical training, self-defense, dancing, weightlifting and more, using virtual and augmented (mixed) reality. Learners can select their lesson, environment and trainer (with trainers being either 3D scanned models of the expert, or the user’s favorite animated character). Then, they can conversationally interact and move around the character in their physical environment to get a better understanding of the form involved in each activity. In addition to providing the ability to remotely learn from your favorite expert, the platform also provides the ability to verify completion and promote adherence to a plan by storing course achievements in a publicly verifiable ledger using blockchain.

Best Hack in Healthcare & Medicine: Alleviate Depression With Virtual Reality

After losing a friend to depression just days before the hackathon started, team “Triloka” set out to save lives by providing a virtual environment that allows people to talk about their problems without worrying about any stigma associated with mental health. In a purposeful blend of virtual, physical and spiritual realms, the user goes through a series of interactions that will help them prevail over loneliness, sadness, guilt and a general feeling of hopelessness. A virtual therapist listens and responds to the user’s story while they’re sitting around a bonfire in the woods, and suggests fun or relaxing activities such as canoeing or meditating in a peaceful mountain environment.  IBM Watson’s Tone Analyzer is used to change the environment based on how the user is feeling, and the chatbot powering the virtual therapist can recommend having the user talk to friends, family or caregivers once they’re ready.

Read more and watch the team’s video here:

Best Hack in Education, AR & VR for Social Good: Provide Wayfinding for the Visually Impaired

When most people think about VR and AR, they assume there’s a visual element. Team “Getting ARound” had a different idea, building a navigational and sonic soundscape that allows for those with vision impairments to find their way around cities and other areas using audio breadcrumbs. By associating a descriptive sound with nearby objects, they’re working to enable more efficient navigation. One example that was given is the ability to more easily find a building’s door in the middle of the winter.

Watch the team’s video here:

HP Grand Prize in Virtual Reality: Overcome Your Fears

One of the earliest proposed uses of VR was to help people overcome fear and anxiety. Team “SpeakEasy VR” took home HP’s grand prize with a vision of helping individuals overcome fears of public speaking. After analyzing TED talks, they worked to provide real-time feedback from a virtual audience, coaching your vocal and physical performance. Words such as “um” are recognized and your rate of speech, projection and gestures are all judged, providing positive criticism throughout the duration.

Read more and watch the team’s video here:

HTC Vive Grand Prize in Virtual Reality: Get Up and Move During Long Hospital Stays

Team “HOVR” built an experience that allows elderly patients to “get up and move” in VR during extended hospitalizations. By pairing a cycling device with their VR application, patients in the hospital can move around and interact with different virtual environments, such as a park.

Watch the team’s video here:

Best Hack in Architecture, Engineering and Construction: Collaborate in Augmented Reality

With the recent release of Apple’s ARKit, “Team 2” took home the prize for best hack in engineering by building a framework that allows for multiple collaborators to easily engage and share an experience in the same physical space. The team described it as a Google Docs for AR.

Watch the team’s video here: