USU students create ‘Tron’-inspired virtual world as part of hackUstate competition

An example of what the user of the new Oculus Rift program may see while wearing the headset.

LOGAN – From Friday morning to Saturday night hundreds of tech-minded university students from Utah and beyond gathered on Utah State University’s campus for a “hackathon.” Known as hackUstate, the intercollegiate competition sanctioned by Major League Hacking was the first of its kind in Utah and brought together hundreds of tech-minded students.

According to Andrew Hancey, one of the hackUstate organizers, the word “hack” has some negative connotations, but this competition was all about creating and learning. The competitors arrived with ideas and spent the next 36 hours creating everything from websites, computer programs, hardware, smartwatch applications and more. The creations were then judged and prizes were awarded to the winners.

“A lot of people think hack means you’re going to break into something, it’s something illegal,” Hancey said. “We’re not doing any of that kind of stuff. That term ‘hack’ nowadays is almost like a process of learning.”

The overall winning team – a group of three USU students – created a brand new program for the Oculus Rift virtual reality system. Brady Riddle, Hans Gunther and Nathan Copier showed up with just an idea.

“It was very ‘Tron’-inspired. Like the movie ‘Tron’,” Riddle said. “Going into it, what we wanted to do is build out that same type of thing. We built this program that basically talks to the computer and figures out what is going on inside the computer. It figured out the processes that were running, all the memory that was being used.”

The program lets the user put on the Oculus Rift headset and see all the computer information and processes displayed virtually. Riddle said the user can look around and see giant building-type structures that represent everything going on inside the computer. He said a virtual file browser and virtual web browser is also included.

“The idea was to be able to have this virtual desktop environment where you can actually be productive when you have this headset over your face,” he said.

The program developed by Riddle’s team was just one of many created during the event. Hancey said one team took an overlay from Google Maps and turned it into a PacMan video game.

“It’s PacMan, along the roads, on a Google Map,” he said. “So it’s fun stuff, even like that.”

Hancey also said it was a great chance for competitors to network with and meet industry professionals.

“They are here,” he said. “They are available to help and teach what they know, which is fantastic. It’s unheard of. You don’t get that chance a lot of times.”

Riddle said if the event returns to USU he would like to participate again, and he may get his chance. Hancey said he believes it will be back.

“We’ve seen huge, huge success,” Hancey said. “We’ve seen a lot of interest. It’s probably here to stay.”

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