Calgary students use Virtual Reality to make learning fun!

A team of students from University of Calgary created a game with Oculus Rift and Kinect to make learning more fun. Their idea earned them top spot in the Canadian Imagine Cup 2014 Games Category. In this post the team talks about their project: Funiverse and their Imagine Cup win.

What is your project/idea?

Funiverse aims to make learning more fun for children. With the increasing amounts of technology in our lives, children often find that traditional classroom education can be dry. Indeed this has been realized by education officials around the world and there is serious efforts to integrate technology in education but this is still in its infancy. Realizing the need, we are contributing Funiverse as a 3D game which makes use of awesome technology both within the game and outside the game to make learning more fun. The game follows the players as they explore galaxies in a funny-looking space ship, where each planet holds different lessons on various subjects like math or science.

Another way that Funiverse makes learning more fun is that it is designed to be used with the virtual reality headset Oculus Rift®, and with a Kinect®. Overall, the players have fun while they absorb their learning material in an immersive way.

Funiverse oculus rift

Meet the team

From left to right:

Omar Zaarour will complete his masters in computer science at the University of Calgary in August 2014. His first degree was in Computer Engineering and was completed at NNU-Palestine and BU-Turkey.

Alper Aksac will complete his PhD in computer science at the University of Calgary in August 2017. His first degree and master were in computer engineering and were completed at TOBB University in 2011 and 2013

Gabriela Jurca will complete her computer science at the University of Calgary after-degree in December 2014. Her first degree was in Biochemistry, which was also completed at the University of Calgary in 2012.

Omar Addam will complete his masters in computer science at the University of Calgary in August 2014. His first degree was in Computer science which was completed at Global University in 2012.


Why did you enter Imagine Cup?

Gabriela - I heard about the Imagine Cup in some of my classes prior to participating, but it had not occurred to me to participate until our mentor Prof. Reda Alhajj recommended that I be on this team. It sounded like an exciting idea to me, and I had always wanted to learn to make a game, so of course I had to do it.

The Omars - After the great success our SANO team had last year, we decided to give it another try this year. Thanks to the support of our professor Reda Alhajj who made it possible for us.

Alper - After the recommendation of our professor Reda Alhajj, I found this competition as an amazing opportunity to learn new concepts.

What category did you enter in the Imagine Cup?

We entered the Games Category of the Imagine Cup. It is the most challenging category as fun is the main key for success.

Did you think you would get this far when you entered?

Our team is unique in the sense that it combines expertise from various backgrounds integrated with the rich experience of the two Omars and our mentor Prof. Alhajj who participated in last year’s competition. This helped us build high self-confidence and move forward smoothly to achieve the target. Indeed, we were excited and happy that Funiverse was selected as the winning game, yet we were confident that our project had a large potential to succeed. We believe that virtual reality has a strong potential in both the educational system and the gaming industry. We wish that we could have had a game like Funiverse when we were kids in school as well, so that we could had seen more facets of the learning material and experience it in an exciting way.

What do you think you did really well with your project?

Funiverse stands out as an educational game because it makes learning more fun by fully immersing the players into their gaming environment through the Oculus Rift® and Kinect®. Oculus Rift® provides the 3D visuals around the player, while the Kinect® allows the players to navigate their game using gestures similar to those used in real life, such as walking or turning. Funiverse shows how technology can be used to teach people about worlds that are not easily reached.

However, Funiverse is also accessible to people who do not have an Oculus Rift® or Kinect®, since there is also a Web version of the game available. We wanted to keep the game accessible to our user, even if the player does not have the technology that we designed our game around.

If you were starting over again from scratch what would you do differently?

If we could start the project all over again, it would be helpful to get a lot more feedback from teachers at the very beginning of the project. We sought feedback from teachers after we had already done some development, so that we could have something to get feedback on. However, performing some more investigative research early on would have made it easier to develop the content of the game accordingly.

What’s next for you after Imagine Cup?

Our plan for Funiverse was to design it in a way that could make it easy for teachers to teach their students the learning material. In the future, we would like to implement a way for the teachers to modify the content of Funiverse according to their own curriculum.

Another plan that we have for Funiverse is to make it even more immersive by using technology such as the Virtuix Omni® or Wii Board®, which make it easier for the player to move around while the Kinect detects his or her motion®.

What’s next for…

  • Gabriela: Plans to pursue a Masters in computer science starting in January 2015.
  • Omar Addam: Plans to pursue a PhD in computer science starting in December 2014.
  • Omar Zaarour: Plans to finish his master and gain some experience in the industry.
  • Alper: Plans to finish his PhD and gain some experience in the industry.

What advice would you share with a student who is thinking of entering Imagine Cup?

One advice for a future competitor is to get a great team together with a great mentor, where ideas are easily shared and expanded. The greater the pool of ideas that you have, the more likely you are to choose really great ideas. Working in a team also keeps the spirit of the project alive when challenges are encountered, whether the challenge is technical or a case of the writer’s block.

Another piece of advice is to keep a working schedule for your project from the beginning. Making small deadlines for yourself or the team will ensure that progress will be achieved on your project.

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