University of Maryland students stole the show at LAHacks, one of the nation’s largest college hackathons, on April 13 at the University of California / Los Angeles.
The trio of Terrapins — Shariq Hashme, Charlie Hulcher, and Jake Rye — built a virtual reality system called Tred, combining an Oculus Rift headset and a homemade treadmill connected by an Arduino microcontroller. Users were able to walk around a 3-D city. They could even feel the wind, as a second Arduino controlled real-life fans.
Coding for the project was done using Python and the Unity environment. Algorithms aside, the hackers found themselves taking a crash-course in electrical engineering when their homebrewed treadmill did not work as planned. They spent 20 hours soldering 300 push buttons under the platform when they ran out of pre-designed sensors.
To accommodate the software, the students used a K-means cluster algorithm. It considers the number of buttons pressed on the real-world treadmill and calculates a general direction in which you travel in the virtual world, they explained.