Virtual reality initiative looks to clear major roadblock for scientific community

by Will Mason • May 20th, 2015

“Numbers are beautiful. If they aren’t beautiful I don’t know what is.” – Paul Erdős, Famed Mathematician

Erdos should have added – as long as you have a way to view them all. The technological revolution in computing, internet and social media in the last few decades has given rise to massive data sets, known colloquially as ‘big data.’ Locked in these masses of information are patterns and new understandings of human nature, biology and the universe – but they will continue to remain locked without ways for scientists to easily visualize that data. It’s all about design – as David McCandless points out in his excellent TED Talk. By creating new ways in which we can easily group and visualize data macro patterns begin to become clear. Virtual reality promises to be one of those new ways.

Today Epic Games announced the six finalists for their Big Data VR Challenge – a competition organized with Wellcome Trust to help “discover new ways to interpret and analyze big data.” Participating in teams of two companies – Pi and Power & Hammerhead VR, LumaPie & Opaque Multimedia, and Skip the Intro & Soluis – the teams will compete for a $20,000 prize over the course of the next few weeks, leading up to the winner who will be announced in July at the Develop:Brighton conference.

Each of the teams will be working on an assigned science initiative – which stretch from medical to social. The initiatives include the Casebooks Project – a digitization of one of the largest surviving sets of medical records in history, “Children of the 90s”  –  a world leading cohort study that has that recruited more than 14,000 pregnant women in the early 90s and followed the lives of their children since, and the Genome Browser

“The games industry has a unique ability to manage, manipulate and effectively present huge amounts of data, and that skill could potentially unlock a massive road block that has been confounding the science community for some time,” says Professor Mike Gamble, European Territory Manager at Epic Games. “This challenge, although relatively humble at this stage, could produce the tools required to grapple with the digital mountains of data that currently reside around the world today.”

While small in scale, if successful the Big Data VR Challenge could really unlock some interesting new thoughts on how to use the medium effectively. Imagine being able to more efficiently dissect patterns from a virtual data cloud, moving information around in a tangible manner. Like red string on a corkboard virtual reality could easily be the thread that ties everything together. The entire universe is comprised of numbers and data – and virtual reality gives us an entirely new perspective.

UploadVR will continue to track the progress of the projects in the Big Data Contest and what comes out of it. 

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