Penn State Students Finding Success in Virtual Reality Educational Consulting Startup: Rain Reality

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[Photo: Phoebe Sheehan via Centre Daily Times]

The Bechdel test began as a way to understand whether women in works of fiction were active or passive characters as indicated by the content of their dialogue. To be considered active, the conversation between two women must be about something other than a man and the ‘test’ itself was developed as a way of talking about gender inequality in fiction. In real life two women, Ria Bhatia and Elaine Demopolis, both students at Penn State, did at first talk about their respective love lives, but that quickly gave way to conversations about technology, specifically virtual reality.

The virtual and augmented reality startup begun by the two grew from these conversations to become Rain Reality, reflecting a combination of “Ria” and “Elaine” – and its story is one of advancing possibilities. Bhatia, a computer science major, and Demopolis, a major in biomedical engineering, began with brainstorming what-if sessions about the ways in which VR and AR technologies might be useful for the next generation of health professionals among other industries.

rain-realityThe women hope that by integrating AR and VR technologies into the classroom they might also benefit those students who are farther away from it. Remote learners make up nearly 14% of Penn State’s enrollment and Rain Reality can clearly see the added benefits of utilizing these technologies to boost the experience of those students. As Demopolis explained:

“With online education, for instance, students don’t have a true chem lab experience. So with VR, we can allow them to engage in this experience even if they can’t be in the classroom…I love thinking innovatively about solving real-world problems. We are in a space that truly inspires me and literally takes me to other worlds.”

This is more than just a couple of college kids with a dream. They are actually making real headway in the virtual world. Since they founded their company this past August, they have been working to build custom applications for educational institutions and they have their first actual client, Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center. They are currently working on creating the first learning module for the Center using the HoloLens VR headgear by Microsoft to create a way for students to feel immersed in their learning environment no matter their location.

screen-shot-2017-01-25-at-10-51-45-amDemopolis explained some of the vision behind Rain Reality:

“Our company is bringing augmented and other forms of immersive reality to revolutionize how we teach and learn. In a world of fast and unpredictable change, education is one industry that has managed to stay pretty much the same over the past few decades. Our team is creating immersive reality applications to disrupt traditional educational practices. They will integrate effective teaching methodologies to increase student comprehension and engagement. One day, we envision to be the next Khan Academy for 3D learning.”

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[Photo: Phoebe Sheehan via Centre Daily Times]

This experience has moved these young women out of their discomfort zone, something often experienced by socially awkward youth in engineering and the sciences, and given them the confidence needed to take on a new reality. Bhatia remembers the transition:

“I would read in my dorm room and would watch movies. I was content, but I was like, ‘there’s got to be something else’…We were all like scared engineering people who were just kind of scared to talk. It takes me a little while to get out of my shell and into my comfort zone. But it’s an interesting dynamic, right?”

That’s the double whammy of a project like this. The product of the partnership will be both an enhanced learning environment for long distance students and a boost of confidence for the next generation of women in tech. Discuss in the Rain Reality forum at 3DPB.com.

[Source/Images: Centre Daily Times]

 

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