By Lynsey Jeffery
A door covered with paper eyes stood in the middle of the Stamp Student Union’s Atrium Tuesday. Virtual reality goggles lay beside the door on a table. Around the perimeter of the room were tables with T-shirts, computer monitors and frozen Jell-O.
This scene was the VR at UMD Virtual Reality Expo held by the new entrepreneurship-focused club TerpVenture.
The event featured startups from 10 University of Maryland students. Its purpose was to spread the word about the possibilities of VR, promote entrepreneurship among different campus communities and give students a chance to network.
TerpVenture co-president and junior information studies and finance major Uday Misra said the event was a way to establish the club’s presence on campus. They chose to focus on virtual reality products to showcase an up-and-coming industry Maryland students are taking advantage of.
“We thought this was one industry that is really taking off and is kind of representative of something that students in the space should know more about and should be interested in,” Misra said.
The door at the center of the expo, created by junior math major Patrice-Morgan Ongoly, was a centerpiece of the event. The paper eyes flipped up to reveal hundreds of QR codes, each one with 360 Video technology featuring a different Silver Spring business. Ongoly considers his creation a blend of technology and art.
“The concept is to allow people to explore the community by interacting with the art exhibit,” Ongoly said. “There’s always things to discover.”
Other student startups at the expo included MelloBrand, a comfort clothing line; Tommy WARES, a custom printed T-shirt line; Chill-O, which sells frozen Jell-O popsicles; Dark Sonar, a cybersecurity software and MPLEX, a virtual reality video game company.
MPLEX, like Ongoly, used virtual reality headsets to showcase their 360-degree view video game, Core Disruption. The game takes place inside a tank, where players can battle one another for a post-apocalyptic Earth’s resources.
MPLEX founder Galen Stetsyuk, a junior computer science major, said the company—formed by Stetsyuk and several other UMD students—wanted to explore VR in ways it hadn’t seen before.
“We wanted to try to take advantage of it for gaming,” Stetsyuk said. The product’s defining feature is that it supports competitive multiplayer gaming. Students could try the game at the exposition. MPLEX provided VR goggles and monitors for players.
VR at Maryland was the club’s first event under their new name. The club was formerly Google at UMD but decided to rebrand after Google ended their student ambassadors program.
Ongoly, who is also a co-president of TerpVenture said though turnout was low, he was satisfied with attendees’ engagement with the expo.
For Ongoly, VR is about using technology to better understand people.
“There really is a disconnect between humans that can’t be bridged by any technology we have now,” he said. “Technology is allowing us to get a clearer picture of the human condition.”