Gaming, Interactive Media and Mobile Technology at BSU: More than just games

A walk around Dr. Anthony Ellertson's lab day at Boise State University is a journey through creativity.

First year students are working on 2D and 3D design.

Upperclassmen are making virtual and augmented reality.

They're part of Boise State's Gaming, Interactive Media and Mobile Technology program, but don't let their competitive gaming in one corner of the lab mislead you.

"Certainly we're showing students how to create games that are entertaining, but really we focus a lot more on how to create games that have a therapeutic value, an educational value, a medical value," Ellertson said.

That includes students like Liz Altmiller, who is experimenting with animation sequences.

She'll proudly tell you during lab day that this major isn't about STEM - it's about steam - and bringing art into the interfacing with technology.

"We go into Photoshop and Illustrator and we create images layer by layer - and we break them into smaller pieces - and then we take those and we bring them into after effects and treat them as 3D images and animate them in a 3D plane," she said, explaining her project which demonstrated a robot learning emotions.

Sophomores Dean Cohen and Gabe Grow have built an App that converts paper data into a 3D model for INL physicists.

"So the object here is actually a graphite cylinder used to cool nuclear reactors," Cohen said, showing off bright colors of red and blue on his phone. "And when you see the red color, that means there's a higher density of graphite that's in there, when it's more of a blue color at the bottom, that's a lower density."

You can view other examples of Cohen and Grow's projects here:

INL Billet Visualization Augmented Reality

Copy of Molecules

In another corner of the lab, you'll find junior Colby Morgan and his fellow students working with virtual reality.

In fact, the students just won a national virtual reality contest to complete a VR experience from scratch in less than 48 hours.

Their theme: a dream sequence - and they completed it in 30 hours.

"They send out lasers into an area you've set up, and so it tracks exactly where her head is, where her hands are, where her controllers are- and so from inside UNITY, we can take that information of where exactly her hands are - transfer that into that 3D environment you're working in," Morgan said.

The students created a functioning marimba inside of their game and can be viewed here:

National programs are noticing the virtual reality work being done by Boise State students in GIMM.

In 2015, students won the WOW Award from WCET for virtual training in nursing.

The GIMM students created VR for the university's nursing program, in need of a more streamlined and efficient training system.

"And the problem that nursing had - and it's not just at Boise State, it's around the world - they have medical mannequins, state of the art labs, but they don't have enough time to practice with the mannequins to get as much exposure for nursing students as they'd like to have," Ellertson explained. "So they came to us and said can you create a virtual reality solution? Part of the solution was creating a custom haptic system - which is not only making an environment at a 3-D model, but this is something that you can reach in with your hands and actually pick things up and move them around."

Ellertson said the GIMM students not only created a solution - but did it at half the cost of current industry pricing.

"We were able to do this, able to create a system that could go in a 10 by 10 office - it only cost about $8000 dollars - which is about half the price of the regular mannequin - and it can be available 24 hours a day, which means that students can get enough practice time to get competent on the procedures," Ellertson said.

You can learn more about that award-winning project by GIMM students here.

When you take a walk around BSU's GIMM lab, you'll fast realize technology has come a long way since Pacman debuted in 1980.

Today, it fits in our hand and virtual reality can transport us into a new world.

But at BSU, tomorrow has arrived and students are merging virtual reality with our real world, creating what's called an augmented reality that will soon be in homes and in the workplace.

"This notion of how do we decide to layer things over the environment, whether we're going to present it through a smart phone, smart glasses - whatever - it's going to let the user know how to better interact with a piece of equipment, other people, a situation - whatever arises," Ellertson said.

Ellertson's lab is no doubt cutting edge.

But the professor also teaches his students to not lose sight of the basics of coding - that everything a beginning, a middle and an end - something he calls storytelling.

Student Rachel Storjohann demonstrated a project from second semester of last year - creating an interactive comic.

The project took several months to complete.

"The way I see this, there are two parts to this. The code and then the visual part of it - so the art," she said. "I'm really interested in storytelling, for example. I really love writing code that makes it work and I love the visual part of it - designing characters and designing the environments where things will happen. And I like this middle area between the game and the video. It's that interactive storytelling. So you create this story for the user and they can go through it and explore it on their own."

Second year student Kaylee Celaya also created an interactive comic during her freshman year.

Her story was designed for children - centered around a main character named Ruff - where they overcome fears and then are taken to what Celaya called a "surreal version of reality."

"You have such a huge opportunity to not just make your voice heard, but to give people an experience about who you are or an idea that you want to express," she said.

Local industry leaders like Jennifer Lastra, the CEO of 360 Immersive, said the future demands these students skills.

She calls it a passion for experimentation - and trying to figure out how things work.

It's a work ethic and interest in the industry that her company needs from workers right now.

"We are a virtual reality content creation company - meaning we create virtual reality experiences - either live experiences using 360 degree cameras rigs or using computer generated imagery, using software," she explained. "We need entrepreneurs, we need small businesses, we need students to begin creating content and experimenting with the technology."

You can learn more about Lastra's company on their website here.

Ellertson said he believes his students will easily find future employment and points to a report by Goldman Sachs, who predicts by 2025, this technology will be an $80 billion-dollar market.

A future Ellertson's students say has already arrived in their lab.

"Hopefully by the time I graduate, there will actually be people doing that, or I will jump into a firm that's doing VR and pitch that to them," Altmiller said.

Boise State's four-year academic program is growing as fast as the technology the students are developing.

In its first year, Fall of 2015, GIMM had 41 majors.

The next year, the program tripled that number, and in Fall of 2016, GIMM registered 122 majors.

If you'd like to learn more about Boise State's GIMM program, you can check out their website here.

The GIMM program is part of the university's College of Innovation and Design.

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