VTech Challenge 2020: Solving social issues caused by COVID-19

About me

Hi, my name is Liudmila Bredikhina. I’m a virtual intern at GREE VR Studio Lab, and I’m a Master’s Degree student at Geneva University. I’m currently majoring in Asian Studies, and I research Japanese Virtual Beings, such as VTubers.

Introduction

Welcome to the final stage of VTech Challenge 2020 (Figure 1)! In 2019, GREE VR Studio Laboratory organized the first edition of VTechChallenge2019, which was a special student contest on VTuber technology specialization. VTechChallenge2019 was held at the end of February 2019, during the beginning of the COVID-19 epidemic in Japan. Due to the prevention measures for health security, the public venue was closed. The contest was distributed online via the REALITY application and allowed a broader audience to enjoy the event, engage in discussions, and vote on virtual gifts for the participants.

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A total of 17 research projects were submitted by high school, university, and graduate students worldwide. You can see the five finalists in Figure 2. The evaluation was based on three factors: novelty, technical capabilities, and impact of realization. VTechChallenge2019 had two primary purposes: 1) present with an entertaining program on research and development in avatar society for a wider audience, and 2) develop research regarding VTubers and avatar society.

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VTech Challenge 2020 (VTC20) had a different theme and style. The challenge was designed as “a long term hack-a-thon”. And the theme of this year’s edition was “Solving social issues caused by COVID19.” Since the beginning of this year, our everyday life, work, education, and social interactions have drastically changed. The organizers of this second edition of VTC2020 were looking for proposals and practical implementations to solve new social problems, all with avatars or in VR. The second edition was held in Mozilla Hubs, an open-source network that can be accessed from the desktop.

Participants

Seven projects were selected as the finalists from the entire entries. The participants were chosen from different fields and affiliations, taking into consideration their artistry. Below you can find the list of participants with hyperlinks to their presentations and Hubs rooms.

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“Academia Park in Hubs” by Kitaro Nakayama in KOSEN Student Chapter of JSAP (The Japan Society of Applied Physics). Click here for the Hubs room and the presentation in Japanese.

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“A virtual exhibition hall to promote the research activities in our laboratory” by Kenichi Ito in the University of Tokyo (URL: http://www.lhei.k.u-tokyo.ac.jp/). Click here for the Hubs room and the presentation in Japanese.

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“You can learn together anytime in a smiling class” by Yoichi Yamazaki in Kanagawa Institute of Technology Click here for the Hubs room and the presentation in Japanese.

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“Online exhibition depository” by Mr. Kenta Sekine in Tsumiki Seisaku, Co. Ltd. Click here for the Hubs room and the presentation in Japanese.

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“Easy VR commerce in Hubs” by Yukihiko Aoyagi in Digital Standard, Inc. Click here for the Hubs room and the presentation in Japanese.

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“Live VR Starry Sky” by Poteko in EXR, Inc. Click here for the Hubs room and the presentation in Japanese.

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“Gekko” by Enchan in Narratify co., ltd. Click here for the Hubs room and the presentation in Japanese.

The winner of VTechChallenge2020 was Gekko with his “silent zazen room.” Zazen is a meditative discipline that is typically the Zen Buddhist tradition. Zazen’s meaning varies from school to school, but in general, Zazen can be regarded as a means of insight into the nature of existence through meditation. Zazen aims to meditate in a sitting position and suspend all thoughts, ideas, images, and judgments.
The majority of the VTechChallenge2020 projects focused on decentralizing research and exchanging ideas, a picture against which Gekko stood out. A sense of seasonality of the late Japanese autumn and the almost poetic and paradoxical quality of “silence in VR” could take anyone on a spiritual journey. Gekko possesses a timeless and remote lyricism, distancing itself from the “noisy” VR and going back to the essence of human existence with nature (From official comment by Akihiko SHIRAI, Director of GREE VR Studio Laboratory).

VibeShare

VibeShare is a technology used to share non-verbal feedback during a virtual live-stream. Actors/players can feel various vibrations with Hapbeat. The audience can send “Virtual clapping” via their smartphone, and the vibrations reach the actors/players in less than 1 sec. HapBeat technology can be used as a new form of “emoji.” Instead of typing “love” or “lol,” the audience can send those emotions as vibrations to the player. The audience can also vote for their favorite project with VibeShare: they have to press on their favorite emoji during the voting period. The audience participates in the live stream by sending their emotions and contributes to the broadcast’s visual aesthetics. In Figure 3, you can see the VibeShare mechanism. I’m wearing the HapBeat device, and I have the VibeShare tab open. Whenever the audience sends a reaction, my HapBeat vibrates.

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Live

As mentioned previously, the audience participated in the live broadcast with VibeShare. As you can see in Figure 4, the audience’s emotions are shown on the screen. At the end of the broadcast, the number of votes was collected and the winner announced, as you can see in Figure 5. As for the participants, each individual presented from their Hubs environment. This is the advantage of virtual conferences — speakers can present from their ideal environment and demonstrate a practical application of their research.

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Conclusion

I participated in the first edition of VTC, and this second edition coincides with the end of my internship at GREE VR Studio Lab. VTechChallenge2019 took place during the beginning of the pandemic, and VTechChallenge2020 tackled social issues that arose from the changes the world has been experiencing due to COVID-19. VTechChallenge20 was a great example of how Hubs is used for student and professional driven contests and innovation.

The future

COVID-19 pandemic has impacted our lives in many different aspects. The initial buzz and excitement of the first VR events are slowly disappearing, and the new future of VR events is beginning to peak over the horizon.

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Written by

R&D division for Creating a new future with XR entertainment research and VTuber industry with REALITY, Inc. in GREE Family.

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