How We Got 350 School Students to Try VR Development

This April the Varwin team organised a track at the VR Hackathon in Skolkovo. We offered 350 school kids from different regions of Russia to create their own VR projects. Our co-founder and CTO shares what it was like.

How our track went

We participated as Varwin, the developer company behind the VR project builder platform of the same name. We were eager for the kids to help us test the platform that had left the alpha stage just a few days prior.

The main feature of our product is accessibility: a user without any tech background or programming skills can create VR projects. There is a saying: “even a child can do it”. We decided to put this to the test.

The task. We let the children create a VR project with a robot for the main character. Time was the only limit, the hackathon lasted 3 days. Participants could create their own worlds and scenarios in all kinds of variations.

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The goal. We wanted to introduce the kids to the world of VR and prove that it’s not as complicated as it seems. It was also important to give students a taste of technology that in 3–5 years will become a simple tool like Squarespace or WordPress, but for VR projects.

The result. All the participants have successfully created their robots using the platform. The kids who have participated in our track have really enjoyed the creation process. The quality and detail of their projects may have varied from team to team, but each and every one has created a ready to use VR app.

A few words about the process

In compliance with the rules of the event, prior to the hackathon we held a VR-themed webinar where we gave the participants a walkthrough of our platform features.The teams were handed out the training documentation and screencasts — short practical videos on how to work with the platform.

The tasks were assigned to the teams on the first day of the event. The kids had questions along the way that our mentors helped them out with.

Leo: Where can we get water? Varwin: You can add water the standard way in Unity, but the shaders must be VR-compatible. Leo: Thank you, but I meant real water, not virtual. Varwin: Please talk to the event organisers. Unfortunately, I’m providing support remotely from Saint Petersburg.

Most of the time it was enough just to point them back to the documentation and training materials. Careful reading and short videos helped them figure out how to proceed.

The winning projects

There were 2 winners.

2nd place – The team from Velikiy Novgorod chose Mars as the main location of its scenario. They created a Mars Rover control room. It had screens showing the rover and all the control buttons. The rover was equipped with a frontal and a side camera: it was possible to switch between the views and see the surroundings from different angles.

The rover was capable of taking research samples too — it was possible to approach a rock and drill.

1st place – The team from Ekaterinburg implemented similar functionality, but managed to create a more detailed and elaborate scenario. The player would find himself in an isolated room with a blocked exit. And then fire breaks out.

Luckily, there was a robot in the next room that was capable of rescuing the player. To set the player free, the robot would move objects and open doors. Ultimately, the robot had to unblock all the exits and get to the player to make them escape. The project turned out as a spectacular and dramatic experience.

The winning project

The takeaways

We realized that it’s possible to work with our platform without a mentor. All of the teams have managed to bring their projects from an idea to the final version on their own, with minimal advice.

The platform proved to work as a simple construction set. We didn’t notice any difficulties. The most challenging part for the kids was time management. They spent the first day getting to know the technology and were actively implementing their projects on days 2 and 3.

Faced with an unfamiliar technology, children (I believe the adults act the same way) act more creatively. We chose two winners, but all of the ideas were fascinating and unusual. Most teams just ran out of time implementing them.

Moreover, we tested the collaborative capability of our platform. The successful teams used the parallel approach: one part of the team was creating the location, the other was making objects and the rest were implementing the logic for readymade objects.

The key takeaway of the hackathon for us is that the Varwin platform is easy to understand and work with. Every team has accomplished the task, even the ones that were new to VR environments and programming. Although the VR/AR trend is still in its early development stage, we believe that VR construction sets like the one we are making will help to make new technologies truly widespread.

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