Last week my friend Nate Daubert – a UI designer at Makerbot – and I finished competing in a Samsung sponsored virtual reality hackathon organized by VRVU. The classic hackathon is characterized by RedBull, pizza, and sleep deprivation. Usually running 48-hours with a specific prompt that inspires the project building frenzy. While that is fun and exhilarating, VRVU decided to bend the rules a bit and ran this specific event quite differently.
First, instead of a 48-hour crunch participants were given a whole week. Second, teams were not judged on their projects. They instead were judged on the thoroughness of their documentation/tutorial. The goal being that teams could enable others to recreate and learn from whatever project they chose to build. Strange, right? Definitely different! Lets think about what this resulted in.
Instead of the hackathon ending with a podium standing and array of half-baked projects, a knowledge bank was created and shared. The efforts of all participants were detailed and are now available to one another and the web as a whole. For an industry as young as VR, this is invaluable – being that the greatest hurdle we are currently facing is content creation. Fostering community and organizing events that effectively bring together and share early developer’s scattered wisdom is invaluable to achieving the future growth we want to see.
In order to share and make available each teams submission, VRVU relied on Hackster.io – an online community dedicated to learning hardware. Hackers publish tutorials and share projects on Hackster of an impressive variety. Whether it’s converting a grandfather clock to be run on Arduino or altering your skateboard to be controller in VR, it’s on Hackster. Their archive of creative tech is impressive. Being that Samsung sponsored the event, one of the few restrictions given was that projects would be built for the GearVR – Samsung’s VR headset. Because of this, Nate and I dedicated the first section of our tutorial purely to setting up Unity and deploying a simple GearVR app to your phone.
The main focus of our tutorial was how to connect Unity built VR environments to web API’s, enabling VR developers to call and make use of JSON data in C# scripts. With much of the attention in VR going towards gaming and entertainment, we believe it is important to have in ones tool belt a method for bringing real world data into virtual environments. Whether that is connecting to Yelp for reviews and restaurant info, or Reddit for your favorite feeds, the VR applications that will end up adding value to our everyday lives will need to utilize and build on top of the information and infrastructure the web now offers. Even something as simple as understanding how to look up the weather from a virtual world is a meaningful step forward as a VR developer.
That last sentence there… it was a set up. How to call a weather API in Unity and make use of the JSON response in a C# script is exactly what mine and Nate’s tutorial covered. It’s accompanied by screen shots, our code, a few design assets, and two videos. If you are interested in learning what exactly it takes build and test an VR app for the GearVR, give it a read by following this link over to Hackster.io. More importantly, if you see a way to improve upon it and are willing to offer that insight I’d be most thankful.