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Hacker Lab Jumpstarts Pursuit of Virtual Reality




ROCKLIN, CA--When three Sierra College students attended the July 24 Virtual Reality meet-up at Hacker Lab in Rocklin, they had no idea it would put them on the fast track to an exciting new industry. At the end of the evening, Nick Pham, Ryan O'Malley and Sebastian Romanet had decided to work together bonded by a newly discovered passion for virtual reality. Through Hacker Lab, they quickly connected with experts who over the next several days taught them code and loaned them equipment. Just nine days later, they presented their 3D printed headset and beta program at a Silicon Valley Virtual Reality meeting.

They met industry leaders and talked with venture capitalists all of whom were impressed with their early efforts according to O'Malley. "It is rewarding that we've come so far so quickly," said O'Malley. "Members of Hacker Lab who are pursuing Virtual Reality saw our passion and welcomed us into the community. The collaborative atmosphere allowed us to learn quickly and grow our passion daily. They invited us to the meet-up and suggested we bring our prototype."

Virtual reality isn't just for gaming, according to O'Malley. "In the very near future, people located all over the world will be able to drop their cell phones in these goggles, slip them on their heads and connect in what seems like the same room," said O'Malley. "Kids in the hospital will be able to experience places that that've dreamed of through virtual reality. Virtual reality today is where video conferencing was 20 years ago."

The student team represents three different disciplines: Mechatronics, Finance and Electrical Engineering, and working on this project allows each of them to contribute their expertise and learn from each other. Together they've designed a headset and used the 3D printer at Hacker Lab to produce goggles that fit a variety of cell phones. Sebastian Romanet says the goal is make a headset that works with various smart phones for one quarter of the current price. He indicated that their early prototype intrigued major industry players when they saw it.

The students are also writing code for a virtual reality app that could be used on a variety of phones and computer software programs. "We made a demo that was proof of our concept," said Romanet.  "We envision turning common 2D computer applications into 3D. The idea is that you could be fully immersed in the virtual environment as you manipulate the programs and interact with others."

The students' goal is to make their product simple and intuitive to the consumer. "We want the 3D virtual world to feel as natural as possible," said Romanet. "You should be able to rotate your head to look around the virtual environment as your body moves forward in it." Their prototype program separates head and body movement to make the sensation feel like real life.

This is exactly what Sierra College envisioned could happen by bringing Hacker Lab to Rocklin explained Carol Pepper-Kittredge, Director, Center for Applied Competitive Technologies, Sierra College.  "The synergy of industry experts, start-up resources and accessible maker space and tools, is powerfully inviting to students and entrepreneurs," said Pepper-Kittredge. "Sierra College students can join Hacker Lab for only $12.50 per month. They can immediately apply what they are learning on campus and explore possible careers. What these Sierra College students have accomplished with virtual reality in such a short period of time is so inspiring and will encourage others to pursue their dreams."

Gina Lujan, Co-founder, Hacker Lab says that the new Rocklin site is embracing students, benefiting from faculty expertise and attracting members from local businesses, all of whom make a community that supports start-up activity. "It is amazing to see these students' creativity and innovation," said Lujan. "At the grass roots level, the Hacker Lab community is fostering technology that is now in its infancy and will be the norm in the future. These students are ahead of the curve."

The partnership with Sierra College has added resources to the community as well as supported Hacker Lab's mission of education, explained Lujan. "It is the best of both worlds. Students benefit from the academic curriculum at Sierra College and bring it to Hacker Lab where they can roam freely and collaborate with the maker community. When open source and crafters collide, it ignites innovation."

Sebastian Romanet indicated that the Hacker Lab community made their jumpstart into Virtual Reality possible. "If Hacker lab didn't exist, this wouldn't have happened," said Romanet.

The students get together at Hacker Lab after work, sometimes even pulling all-nighters as they enhance their virtual reality product, explained Nick Pham. "The support from others at Hacker Lab encourages us and getting the positive response at the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Meet-up showed us that our ideas are viable."

The Hacker Lab environment has enriched the students' college experience according to Pham. "At Hacker Lab, the expertise is diverse, everyone respects your ideas and the community is supportive," said Pham. "Hacker Lab helped us formulate what we wanted to do together and has supported us every step of the way."

Hacker Lab powered by Sierra College is located at 4804 Granite Dr., in Rocklin. Tours are available M-F from 11AM to 6PM. Meet-ups, start-up support and classes are offered continuously in Industrial Sewing, 3D printing, Metal Fabrication, Laser Cutting, Ardunio, ShopBot CNC and Building Mobile Apps. Community membership monthly rates range from $25 for students to $149 for families. Members have access to the maker space 24/7 after they take an orientation and equipment training. Discounts are available for Sierra College staff, students and faculty. 

For more information, go to the Hacker Lab website http://hackerlab.org/sierracollege/.





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