Ryerson students’ virtual reality startup goes to San Francisco

Fourth year RTA school of media student Josh Maldonado is packing his bags and jetting off to San Francisco to participate in the first ever virtual reality accelerator program.

U.S. venture capital firm Rothenberg Ventures has given Maldonado $100,000 in funding to develop his virtual reality company, DISCOVR.

Maldonado will be in the Bay Area for three months, where he will have the opportunity to use free office space and network with industry professionals .

“I’m going to be in (the accelerator) program with leading tech experts,” says Maldonado. “There’s going to be so many intelligent and incredible people under one roof trying to build the future of virtual reality.”

Representatives from film production giant, DreamWorks Studios and video game developer Unity Technologies will also be there in San Francisco.

DISCOVR is the only Canadian company that was accepted from the 200 that applied to the program.

Maldonado will be going alone. His primary goal for the next three months is to optimize DISCOVR’s first virtual reality educational experience, based on a history curriculum.

DISCOVR’s educational consultant, Bernard Frischer, directed the development of the first historical virtual experience, which takes users back to Ancient Rome.

Maldonado intends to use his investors’ money to raise a second round of funding and create more educational virtual reality programs.

Josh Maldonado (left) and Omar Charles (right) co-founded DISCOVR. (Aaron Navarro / Ryersonian Staff)

Josh Maldonado (left) and Omar Charles (right) co-founded DISCOVR. (Aaron Navarro / Ryersonian Staff)

According to Omar Charles, DISCOVR’s co-founder and audio director, much of the virtual reality content being produced in Ryerson’s Transmedia Zone caters more towards people who are looking to be entertained rather than educated.

DISCOVR’s focus on the educational benefits of virtual reality separates them from other companies.

The technology is meant to inspire students to further their education, says Charles. “It’s about creating concepts audiences can easily grasp, understand, and apply to augment their learning experience.”

Maldonado and Charles worked together on their fourth year practicum project by using the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset, to create Vessels VR, a product that takes users inside the human body.

Although Vessels VR isn’t making the trip to California, discussions on implementing it into the Toronto District School Board curriculum are ongoing.

“We’ve done feedback testing with kids and we’ve spoken with educators,” says Charles. “We’ve been learning the ropes about how we can bring it to schools.”

While both media students really only got into virtual reality through their practicum project, Maldonado says the medium is revolutionary.

“The first time you try virtual reality, it completely takes you out of your element,” explains Maldonado. “It’s a completely new way of consuming content and an effective way of recreating sensory experiences.”

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