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University of Rochester team brings sense of touch to virtual reality

April 30, 2015

Virtual reality has made huge technological gains in the last decade, but the ability to feel your surroundings is not yet a part of many mainstream virtual reality systems. A group of University of Rochester students is trying to change that by creating a jacket and gloves that allow the wearer to feel the surface and impacts of a virtual environment.

The student group called Nullspace was founded by Morgan Sinko, a junior majoring in computer science. The group has been working together for the past two years to develop their technology and they are hoping to improve the functional aesthetics of the product to make it more wearable and sleek.

“We have very high hopes for this technology,” said Sinko. “We have a provisional patent for the suit right now and we would like to eventually market our product as the first low cost virtual reality system that allows users to feel their surroundings in video games, research and in other platforms.”

Sinko and three other team members—Jordan Brooks, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering; Lucian Copeland, a senior majoring in electrical and computer engineering; and Kian Jones, a sophomore majoring in computer science—have been representing Nullspace at recent competitions.

The team is now heading to Cape Canaveral, Florida, to compete in the final round of the Intel-Cornell Cup, taking place May 1-2. The winner of the cup this year will receive $10,000 and a chance to exhibit their technology at the Intel Booth in the Maker’s Fair in New York City; honorable mention teams will receive a $2,500 prize. They hope to equal the success of some of their peers two years ago. In 2013, a University of Rochester team received an honorable mention at the Intel Cup for their software that was able to read text and PDF files and output the words as Braille for the visually impaired.

The Intel-Cornell Cup is not their first competition. The team was selected to be one of 12 finalist teams at the 2014 US Imagine Cup National Finals in San Francisco. The Imagine Cup is the Microsoft Corporation’s annual technology competition where teams vie for a chance to represent the United States in the World Imagine Cup Semifinals this summer. Nullspace was one of the four teams competing in the Innovation category of the cup. Although the team did not win at the Imagine Cup, they remain excited about the potential of their technology.

“Our team has made absolutely amazing strides over the last few years,” said Brooks. “We started with a very basic prototype that had to be duct taped to someone’s arm, and we’ve created a system that has full upper body feedback and has a lot of interest from several major companies.”

Apart from the four members that represented the team at the two competitions, the team has five other members: Alexander Matthers, a senior majoring in biomedical engineering; Casey Waldren, a sophomore majoring in computer science; Christian Freitas, a junior majoring in biomedical engineering; Gary Ge, a junior majoring in electrical and computer engineering and optics; and Minsoo Lee, a junior majoring in electrical and computer engineering.

To learn more about the upcoming Intel-Cornell Cup, visit http://www.systemseng.cornell.edu/engineering2/se/intel/competition/.

For more details on the Imagine Cup, visit https://www.imaginecup.com/content/details/8280.

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