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article imageThe maker movement and the VR revolution cross paths at TechOutLA Special

By Matt Terndrup     Oct 13, 2014 in Technology
Los Angeles - There is a flurry of technological innovations happening in Los Angeles right now. Companies are experimenting with new ways of immersing people into creative environments where they can learn cutting-edge skills and explore the world like never before.
Recently, an event in LA brought together the most inspiring innovators, entrepreneurs, makers, technologists, artists, futurists, and thought leaders the city has to offer. It was organized by a writer and media producer named Emily Hubbell who was able to gather up amazing speakers and demonstrations within a few weeks.
The experience was a one day interactive conference that was held in the legendary Mack Sennett Studios whose clients over the past 100 years have included Bing Crosby, Dr. Dre, Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, Pharrell Williams, Justin Bieber, Universal Pictures, Adidas, and many other well-known actors, performers, directors, and production companies. The event was packed to the brim with high-energy panels, hourly giveaways, exciting breakout sessions, and even had a few contests as well.
Starting the day off right with a fun-loving tone was Brent Bushnell (CEO of Two Bit Circus) who talked about fire, lasers and robots during a 15-minute presentation early in the morning. He began by proudly mentioning that he is “a nerd” and showed a cute picture of him as an eight-year-old kid looking exceptionally geeky. This got the crowd laughing which led him to open up by saying that “one of the powerful things about being a nerd, and being an engineer, is that you have the willingness to solve any problem. That you have the tools to solve any problem, and that you are not dependent on anyone else.” Brent progressed further to state that “that is a very important mindset, and now a days the tools are better than they’ve ever been.” This insight is something that has been deeply ingrained into his company as they set out to create an educational “carnival from the future” that he and his team have been working actively on. The STEAM Carnival, as they are calling it, looks to bring together the fun loving world of games and arcades with the high-tech infrastructures of the maker movements.
This speech by Brent Bushnell really sparked off the day perfectly by getting everyone there thinking about how important it is to build things that bring people together in exciting ways. For example, Two Bit Circus had a demonstration that day inside the “Maker Room” at TechOutLA which was a custom s-player table that had a variety of simple experiences like Pong, Snake, and a couple of other home-made games. In his presentation, Brent told the audience that “six was a special number because six guarantees meeting someone new.”
Also in the Maker Room was a local makerspace from Tarzana, California called HexLab who was showcasing the vast potential creative learning environments like these are accompanied with. Jonathan Schwartz (one of the guys that runs the makerspace) brought with him a 3D printer that was printing out tiny plastic figurines for the crowd to see. He also had a bunch of custom laser cut works of art that depicted what can be made if given access to the right tools. Through memberships at places like HexLab, and after learning how to use the tools, practically anyone can make anything they want.
HexLab is a makerspace in Tarzana  California that provides members with high-tech tools like laser ...
HexLab is a makerspace in Tarzana, California that provides members with high-tech tools like laser cutters, 3D printers, and injection molding machines.
This idea that one can produce whatever pops into their head was seen across the board at the TechOutLA conference. On a physical aspect, makerspaces allow those interested in creating items with their hands the ability to do so as long as they are given the necessary tools. Looking at this idea on a more abstract level shows that virtual reality headsets also provide individuals the tools to produce amazing and intricate worlds that others can explore.
There were several virtual reality experiences that were demonstrated at the TechOutLA event, which was organized by a local virtual reality meetup group called OCVR. After holding a couple of hackathons and demo nights in Orange County, word spread up to LA and the producers of the TechOutLA conference reached out to them and got VR experiences to show off.
One of those VR experiences was an underwater simulation created by WemoLab that teleported the user into a vibrant and colorful submerged cove. Tons of fish swam around as the player controlled the experience by moving their head and clicking a computer mouse. This induced the feeling like the person was actually exploring undiscovered, hidden environments that could be tapped into with the help of a virtual reality headset.
Another VR company present at the event was SideKick Games, whose tagline is “We make heroes.” Guy Bendov (CEO of SideKick) was demoing a couple of mobile games that would soon be released for the portable Android-based headset called Gear VR. These games allowed people to standup and play. Middle-schoolers who were at the event had a lot of fun having their friends try out Samsung’s new virtual reality headset. They would gather around the person playing and would occasionally touch and shake each other to make the current gamer feel like they were more immersed within the environment. People would come out of the experiences saying something like “I actually felt something. It felt like I was literally there!” which was quite hilarious knowing that that feeling was induced by their friends around them.
People of all ages tried out the virtual reality experiences at TechOutLA
People of all ages tried out the virtual reality experiences at TechOutLA
Other VR experiences included a 360-degree sound demonstration that utilized a custom audio recorder to capture a complete sound spectrum of an area nearby. This was developed by AJ Campbell who was showing that sound design is critical in virtual reality if you want to feel like you are actually there.
Specular Theory was also at the TechOutLA conference demoing a 180-degree video recording system that showed an experience of someone exploring the wild and exciting world of Venice Beach. People were seen swinging from metal rings on the sandy dunes while enjoying the beautiful sunny day. Other individuals were playing volleyball, and there was even a skateboarding clip where kids of all ages sped through the skate park laughing along the way. This type of experience is the evolution of film, media, and journalism where cameras can be placed in unique locations like concerts, sports venues, and fire spinning festival sessions to record what is happening.
Watching how enthused the students were about virtual reality shows that this type of technology has the potential to be integrated into schools. Teachers would be able to press a button a launch a history simulation where their kids could see what it was like to experience a famous speech or see the developments of an ancient civilization progressing through time.
This photo shows a developer version of an Oculus Rift headset combined with a Leap Motion controlle...
This photo shows a developer version of an Oculus Rift headset combined with a Leap Motion controller and camera system.
Makerspaces and virtual reality meetups have been organizing events separately over the last several month in the Greater Los Angeles area. The TechOutLA mini-conference was one of the first major events that brought together the two in a seamless way. Both are creating environments where people can learn, which means that these two sections of technology will surely see more of each in the future as word gets out about what they can do.
For additional information about what was seen at the TechOutLA conference, visit their website at http://www.techoutla.com/ and follow them on Twitter @TechOutLA.
More about Virtual reality, maker movement, Education, techoutla
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