Team Lead: Taylor Gates
Location: 4th by the elevator
Category: Human Well-Being (education)

GitHub Link: https://github.com/RyanChenLee/moleculvr

Inspiration

Not all students learn in the same way. Traditional teaching models assume that students will just listen to lectures or read books and that this is enough. This is not enough. Students needs are not being met. Often, students need a more immersive experience, one that allows for deeper thinking. The EDUCATVR team aims to tackle this issue by providing an engaging, immersive educational experience, MOLECULVR. We're allowing students to interact with the world in a way they are not able to in reality, making atoms and molecules tangible. Furthermore, students are not only able to see and interact with molecules, but they are also able to have the molecules interact with one another in ways either too unsafe or impossible in traditional classrooms and real life.

What it does

The game puts the player in a virtual lab with a 3D periodic table of elements. The player can reach into the periodic table, grab an atom, and put it into a "combination chamber" at their workbench. Students add molecules to the chamber one at a time, allowing them to explore possible combinations of elements. Once a student makes a combination of elements that is real-world molecule, the student is given visual feedback. The learning experience is discovery-based, allowing the student to try as many combinations as they desire. This is meant for a museum space setting.

How we built it

We started out by identifying the core problem we were trying to solve (see above) and the necessary features to solve those problems. Then, we prioritized those features to ensure a minimum viable product. MOLECULVR was created using the Unity3D game engine for the HTC Vive. The game uses a number of third party plugins and assets (from Yobi, Turbosquid, and the Unity asset store). The team workflow was divided into level design and feature implementation, with all members collaborating in real-time through the strategic use of the Unity Collaboration tool. We each worked in different Unity scenes to ensure that no conflicts were made in our development workflow and putting everything together in the end.

Challenges we ran into

The HTC Vive had some hardware issues; at first, the PC did not detect the Vive hardware. Since the hardware is so new, much time was dedicated to fixing these issues which interfered with our ability to debug. Many of us are also new to game design (especially for VR) and ran into challenges surrounding the creation of a holistic immersive experience. Our developers were also very new to Unity and the C# language, but all were able to use their general coding backgrounds to solve problems effectively and collaboratively. Additionally, we have so many ideas that we constantly had to pre-evaluate what features were possible to make in such limited time.

UPDATE: The biggest challenge of all...the entire project broke one hour before it was due. We had to search for the last working version and start again from there. Unfortunately, some UI elements were lost (e.g., color coded-periodic table with locked elements.)

Accomplishments that we're proud of

We are proud of our ability to learn useful tools in such a limited amount of time, communicate, collaborate, innovative, and iterate as a team, with the product and users always staying at the heart of our decisions. As a team, we felt that we accomplished our main goal of having various molecules and interactions available for the user to play with.

What we learned

We effectively used available resources to learn new skills on the fly. Through this, we learned Unity development and UX best practices for VR. We also learned about the constraints of design (i.e. letting the coders code instead of constantly feeding them ideas), teamwork, and team communication. One important aspect that we adopted throughout the hackathon was the ability to do "check-ins" so that we could all be aware of each other's progress and to-do list.

What's next for MOLECULVR

We have many plans for the future of MOLECULVR. Here are some features to add:

- Color-code the periodic table of elements

- Lock icon will appear in the bottom right corner of element blocks, restricting you from pulling out atoms (unlock the "level")

- A curved periodic table (for a better user experience); animation of molecules once they are created (e.g., water molecule floating in water in the chamber once water molecule is made).

- A working log of what you've put in the combination chamber, highlighting any successful combinations (on the clipboard that you can put on the workbench and carry around with you).

- A larger list of molecules for combination (since many are "locked" right now on the periodic table).

- Instruments and objects for interacting with the molecules in an creative way (test out different reactions). The bunsen burner should react with different molecules (e.g., water makes the flame go out and methane makes an explosion.)

- A clear button on the workbench to clear contents in the combination chamber.

- Different modes (free play vs. quest mode, which would give scaffolding for how to make certain molecules).

- A dynamic poster with the molecules you've made, hanging on a side wall (like a pokedex of molecules) and/or glass jars to keep molecules in.

- The capacity to pull molecules from objects in the environment and deconstruct them on the workbench.

- Updated models of the lab scene (possibly including teleportation locomotion to allow for a larger lab scene).

- An interactive intro tutorial (The experience is intended for a museum setting. This means that many students have not interacted with VR experiences before and have little time to be immersed in the experience. So, as students enter the lab, they would be provided with a short interactive tutorial, designed to be quick and seamlessly integrate into the virtual environment.)

- Gloves would replace the controllers inside the environment

- Make the "You Have" poster above the workbench functional (so that it tells you what molecules are in the chamber)

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