Inside A Business-Focused VR Hackathon in Brussels

by Krzysztof Izdebski • October 31st, 2016

Among many different event formats pushing virtual reality, there is one standing out: the Hackathon. Sure, Meetups help to spread the technological awareness. And big conventions attract top tier speakers. But only a Hackathon, as emphasizes on their website, “provides an exploratory environment where disruption, innovation, and creative ideas are brought to life”.

Most projects being hacked at VR hackathons end up being Games. However, some people want more – who are ready to push for more than just entertainment. An excellent example here is B2B VR Hackathon in Brussels, which happened on 21st to 23rd of October. Organized by the Microsoft Innovation Center Brussels, Impulse’s Software & Screen Clusters as well as EU.VR, the event was hosted at ICAB, the first business and technology Incubator in Brussels.

How well did the first B2B VR Hackathon work?

I had a chance to discuss the disruptive concept of this hackathon with one of the co-organisers, Juan Bossicard, the president of the Microsoft Innovation Center Brussels and co-founder of the EUVR (European platform for the Virtual Reality Developer community and VR enthusiasts). For him, games are great but don’t lead necessarily to value creation. He sees himself in the business of creating economic activity rather than in the social business. And so, he approached Trond Nilsen and Michael Aratow from to try something new.

And this is how the first B2B VR hackathon was born: a mixture of a startup weekend and VR hackathon.

The goals were rather simple: expose visitors to virtual reality so the entrepreneurs among them would be inspired to understand the technical challenges as well the great immersive aspects of this technology. Another goal was to keep the 1200 people Brussels VR community alive as they were hungry for new forms of community engagement.

Over 100 people gathered in the beginning, and over 30 ideas were proposed. Through voting 10 ideas were chosen, and at the end 9 were presented:

Extended Mind
Documents organisation in VR

This tools enables to organize and connect documents, sounds, hyperlinks, files, pictures, videos, titles, etc in 3D space.The goal of this knowledge management project was to create a documents organisation tool, e.g. for researchers, companies, and even Alzheimer patients. The special feature of Extended Mind was a gestural language used as intuitive interface.

Curious Craft
Increase engagement with the crowd at your booth

Curious Craft is a team of veterans from the first VR Hackathon in Brussels. This time they worked on a VR app that would increase brand activation through crowd engagement. The special features was a multiplayer using custom build table with buttons and live feedback on a big screen. The results can be found at Curious Craft website.

Music Event VR
You’ll never be sold out

This is a project done by students, who missed the concerts few times too many. The idea is to create a platform for watching concerts externally, however still keeping the high audio quality and the amazing feeling of being part of the crowd. This would be realised by placing the microphones in strategical places around the event space, providing not only high music quality, but also realistic feeling of the crowd.

Mirror Mirror on the wall
Real Estate personalisation

This project responds to one of the basic problems in real estate business from the perspective of customer – all catalogues are designed in universal way. Which means that a given apartment could be my dreamed one, but I am distracted by the interior design I would never approve. To change that, the social media stream is used to generate my style preferences to generate a personalised set of furniture, lighting, music etc.

Make living valuable experience

The goal of this application is really noble – to make traveling available to handicapped people again. Since those people can’t travel – because of wheelchair, permanent movement disability, or just a broken leg – they would love to see the travel through the eyes of others. BeBOB is a platform that connects people who want to see with people who travel. Take a 360 camera with you and show the world to those who can’t see it by themselves.

Enjoy nature safely

A rather funny project when you first look at it – visualise the effect of mushrooms that you find in the forest. This is a project that everybody was taking half-seriously over the duration of hackathon. Up until the final presentation. Using the right examples appealing to all travelers, this team created an education product needed by us all – self-teaching tool on wildlife, showing in an entertaining and immersive way what is and what is not edible.

First Aid Squad Simulation

Read BURN, this application is an immersive emergency simulation for professionals. Using virtual reality, First Aid Squad can put themselves in a stress and panic inducing situation, where they are under time pressure in life threatening situations, while still being safe in real world. This way squad members can be not only trained, but also be evaluated under realistic pressure.

Next Gen HR profiling tool

Like many other fields, recruiting is still mostly inefficient and costly: assesment tests are limited, not cost effective, not really responsive to new expectations towards workforce, and introduce bias due to having human evaluating human. Using VR, AssessVR creates scenarios, which measure the response to the exact situations faced in a given job. Using data mining from a wide range of data gathered during simulation, a candidate can be evaluated objectively and reliably.

Virtual Finance

This is a pretty straightforward project – instead of having long sheets of boring data, visualise them in 3D space. By having an overview of multiple data streams, new patterns can be found and overall financial analysis process can be done faster.

The final presentations can be found here. ASSESSVR was an unparalleled winner.

While hackathons happen every day, the quality of this particular one was rather astonishing. Juan, who has visited and hosted many hackathon, summarised it this way:

“In previous events that I hosted or attended, usually a lot of groups were not able to pitch and show their ideas in the end. The demo was broken or something was simply not working right. But here every of the nine groups was able to present the working prototype. Some were more advanced than others, but some teams had only people without unity knowledge.”

European Trends

Events like the Hackvention in Hannover (Germany) or B2B hackathon in Brussels (Belgium) show the trend in the VR community here in Europe. It will go more towards custom solutions and business customer oriented products. Something that has not yet happened in a comparable way in, the usually stronger, North America. Silicon Valley will push the realms of what is possible and accepted in VR faster. But especially in the B2B sector, the European VR Community is about to set a strong trend.  Hence there is still a chance that Europe will play a significant role in the future VR exosystem. That might also be the reason, why, the seed-stage accelerator focused on Future Technology, was a sponsor at the B2B hackathon. In fact, Boost VR did not only sponsor the event bur offered the winners a place in their accelerator space in San Mateo.

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