A world of new gadgets

Modeling and Simulation gets an upgrade with new Virtual Reality devices

photo by Faith Marino
Junior Saagar Shah uses the KAT VR to play a game.

Viewing the wonders of Yellowstone National Park from the comforts of home sounds unattainable, unless one is experiencing it from videos or a TV show. However, for advanced students in the Modeling and Simulation program, this has become a reality, due to new equipment given to the school from the National Center for Simulation.

Students worked with NCS and the Army Corp of Engineers to host a two one-week long camp mid-June for middle school students who were interested in going into STEM. Participants learned the basics of 3D Modeling, Project Management, and Development. In return, the Mod and Sim program received around $3,000 of new equipment: a KAT Walk VR (treadmill), an Oculus Quest and an Oculus Rift S. 

Students have been working on programming games to enhance the new technology given to them. The junior and senior team are working on the KAT Treadmill VR, which reads the inputs of a stationary person and allows them to move in one direction without being restricted. Students have been manipulating this technology by programming and designing elements to one day play a game that they have created.

Sometimes it can be frustrating when things do not work but it is super satisfying seeing what you have been working on for weeks or months work in the way that you want it to,” junior Saagar Shah said. 

Another team of juniors work on a Biology experience, where students would be able to learn about the immune system. Their goal is to find a way to integrate this technology with education, to enhance learning.

Hard to grasp subjects like Biology, Chemistry and Physics suddenly become easier to learn when you give students a way to visualize and understand the process of these sciences,” junior Nathan Gilman said. 

The games created by Mod and Sim students have garnered recognition and awards. At NCS Student Day, their Chemistry game had won first place. This game allows people to interact with the periodic table, combine different elements, and view their atomic structure. Bill Nye would approve. Its success has allowed it to be demoed in December at I/ITSEC, the largest Modeling and Simulation Event in the world. 

“It’s great that students are able to achieve these things as it is incredibly difficult to work on a project for only five hours a week, when you are competing against industry professionals who make games for their livelihood,” Mod and Sim teacher Jonah Hardy said.

With the introduction of VR in the classroom, students have various paths to explore opportunities and network with industry professionals. Senior Mason Dettman found virtual reality to be a different, but welcomed addition to his life.

“We really have the chance to challenge ourselves, in a way that many of us have not done before,” Dettman said. “Students can now become inspired and can take the idea of a perfect world and create it themselves.”

Hardy would eventually like to see his students be able to develop a game that they can publish on STEAM, a game distribution platform, or sell themselves. But first and foremost, he wants them to become better at anything that they are passionate about. 

“I want them to not be afraid to try something new or fail or struggle a little bit. Not every kid who goes through our program is going to go into the modeling industry, which is okay,” Hardy said. “The end goal is to make them better than they were when they first started the program.”