10 Harvard teams at Reality, Virtually, Hackathon at MIT

Post written by: Jakub Florkiewicz, MBA '18

50 Harvard University students represented the 350 participants at the MIT Reality, Virtually, Hackathon. Check out 10 teams we happened to catch up with during the weekend! 

1. Charity Everett at Musical Puzzles. 

Get out of the bubble as true innovation is beyond one school

Topic: Mixing music in VR

Idea: Puzzle game in which you have to match the correct spheres to the correct pillars in order to recreate a song.

Founder's background: Harvard Extension School. Selected as a part of the Oculus Launch Pad program. Developed a Microsoft HoloLens app to aide in the furniture shopping experience. 

Team: Met on Facebook before the event and consists of Charity and Andy Tsen, a member of the Boston VR community

Advice to others: Don't be afraid to get outside of the Harvard bubble and collaborate with people you may not normally interact with. Some really cool and innovative ideas can come from it.

2. Jiabao Li at VR Documentation. 

Everyone can be entrepreneur. Just go to iLab and change the World.

Topic: Refugee crisis

Idea:  Creating empathy through allowing viewer to take part in difficult experiences of Syrian war. Through looking in different directions the user is making decisions, similar to those made every day by thousands of refugees. 

Founder's background:  BSc in Electric Engineering, MA at Harvard Graduate School of Design

Team:  Members found each other during Hackathon

Advice to others:  working creatively as a team is a challenge as we all have views that differ and because of that we must learn to actively listen and understand each other

 3. Rohit Agrawal at D2

Don't hold up your ideas as they might help others.

Topic: Diabetes treatment

Idea:  Helping improve the feelings of patients with diabetes-related depression, though gaming enabled self-accomplishment

Founder's background:  Physician with MD, Harvard Medical School / MGH

Team: Konrad Feiler (Berlin) (Polyglot Programmer and Game Developer), Rikas Shen (Boston, MIT) ( Designer Programmer), Jeanne Kelly (New York) (Product Manager), Sarfraz Ahmad (Boston) (Software Engineer).

Advice to others:  Don't hold up your ideas. Spread them as team and execution are most important.

More: http://devpost.com/software/d2/ 

4. Mark Kabban

Fall in love with the learning process

Topic:  Language learning for refugees

Idea:  Learning refugee kids English through practical and fun application. A dog assists a refugee in everyday situations in VR advising on what to say.

Founder's background: Entrepreneur in refugee support area, Harvard Graduate School of Education

Advice to others:  Put yourself at the edge of your ability. This is where life is exciting most.

5. Jassim Ahmad

No one puts one's children into a boat, unless the water is safer than the land


Topic:  Refugee crisis

Idea:  Resisting to gamification of refugee crisis, our products shows moving, real pictures from Syria, to the user, to make him aware of the refugee reality.

Founder's background:  Nieman Fellowship at Harvard. Reuters employee in new media development.

Advice to others:  Think of essence of your story. Think who you are targeting.

6. Michelle Wantuch & Ryan Lee at MOLECULVR

It doesn't matter what you know, it's how effectively you can learn

Topic:  Chemistry education


Idea:  Virtual periodic table game where players can pull atoms out of a periodic table and mix and match them to create molecules. We hope to partner with museums and use the game as a way to reinforce the concepts students learn in school, and to enhance the learning experiences of those who might not learn in the traditional way.

Founder's background:  Harvard Graduate School of Education

Team:  Initiator of idea reached out to the teammates through the hackathon's Facebook page during and in the weeks leading up to the event. Taylor Gates (University of Texas at San Antonio),  Ryan Lee (Harvard Graduate School of Education), Jaqueline Hom (Computer Science at Wellesley College), Mariangely Iglesias Pena (Virtual Reality Applications Center, Iowa State University)

Advice to others: It doesn't matter what you know, it's how effectively you can learn and adapt to the things you don't know. Many of us were new to the tools that were used to create our project, but were able to communicate and collaborate effectively and learn on the fly to create a limited, but complete experience for submission

7. Kun Fan

Get interdisciplinary experience

Topic:  Gaming

Idea:  Entertaining game of building from colour blocks in AR

Founder's background:  Harvard Graduate School of Design (PhD). Product manager at gaming company

Advice to others:  Interdisciplinary experience is most important success factor

8. Mike Drachkovitch at Magic Studio

Create healthy culture

Topic:  Video editing

Idea:  Video editing in VR for commercial use. Reducing number of monitors required through VR technology

Founder's background:  MPA at Harvard Kennedy School, MBA at MIT

Advice to others:  Create healthy culture at teams through empathic listening. Absorb what is said by others.

9. Tom  Gorham

Get out of your silo

Topic:  Customer surveys in VR

Idea:  Changing landscape in VR accordingly to survey answers, filled by user.

Founder's background:  Harvard Graduate School of Education. Owner of language school in Japan

Team:  We met at the Hackathon: Barry Dineen (3D artist/unity developer), Keith Hartwig (Artist/Designer), Justin Chin (Unity/C# developer), James David Moffet (Developer/Designer)

Advice to others:  Don't be afraid to get out of siloses. Bring your own experience to the table.

 10. Varun Mani at WayPoint RX

People are most important

Topic:  Drug store operations improvement through AR

Idea:  Reducing number of pharmacists mistakes by leveraging AR technology of HoloLens at drug stores. The HoloLens scans a prescription and leads a pharmacists to a right place in the store. Application also double-checks the label of drug with a prescription.

Founder's background:  Computer Engineering (BSc). Worked for Microsoft on the HoloLens. MBA at Harvard Business School (Class of 2018)

Team:  We all meet at the Hackathon. EMBA student from MIT got us all together.

Advice to others:  The team is most important. Take time to get to know each other.

OpenGL vs Direct3D: who’s the winner of graphics API

Author Hunter Lin

Edit by Evan Brown


You may have heard of OpenGL and Direct3D, but do you actually know what they are? Although oft mentioned in passing with respect to virtual reality, few actually realize how essential they really are. Let me explain.

Just as English and Mandarin are the languages of human communication, OpenGL and Direct3D are the languages of computer graphics. Their purpose is to render graphics, and they’re used to facilitate communication between application developers and hardware driver. Before these standards were created, programmers would have to write different modules for each type of hardware that a user might have.  But with a language standard shared among application developers and hardware companies, programmers no longer have to account for different types of hardware. Instead, the GPU drivers are now responsible for understanding the OpenGL/DirectX code and executing them on different low level architectures. See the figure below for a simple view of how OpenGL games are processed in a Linux system.

  Figure 1. Linux kernel and OpenGL video games[1]

Figure 1. Linux kernel and OpenGL video games[1]

How do these two graphics APIs relate to VR? Basically, VR displays are no different from other graphical displays. The only difference is in their presentation, which uses stereoscopic tricks in order to convince us that we’re in an immersive virtual space. If you’ve ever developed VR software in Unity (a game development engine), the hard work has been abstracted away from you. Under the hood, however, Unity still generates OpenGL or Direct3D code to run on your head mounted display (HMD). See below for an example of how a VR headset renders Team Fortress.

  Figure 2. Team Fortress rendered in VR[4]

Figure 2. Team Fortress rendered in VR[4]

By the way, if you’ve also heard of OpenVR, that’s slightly different. OpenVR is more of an open API designed to develop logic that can interact with all aspects of a VR device. This includes not only the HMD, but also the controllers, cameras, sensors, etc. We will cover this and the Oculus SDK in more detail in an upcoming blog post.


What’s the Difference?

OpenGL stands for Open Graphics Library and, as its name implies, is designed to be ‘open’. It has implementations available for nearly all operating systems including Microsoft Windows, Linux, MacOS, Android, IOS and game consoles developed by Nintendo and Sony. Besides Windows, most operating systems that support hardware-accelerated 3D graphics have chosen OpenGL to be their primary graphics API. The standards of OpenGL are maintained by a consortium composed of companies from several areas to ensure a wide compatibility. Yet this compatibility comes at a cost. OpenGL is fairly slow at accommodating new technologies, due to the different companies’ concerns about compatibility.

In contrast, Direct 3D is a member of DirectX, a collection of APIs specially designed for Windows operating systems, including the OS that runs in the Xbox. Because it relies on other Windows components, it only supports Windows (although some hackers might be able to run a limited portion of Direct 3D on Linux by using Wine, a compatibility software layer). Ignoring compatibility concerns enables Direct3D to innovate much faster than OpenGL. This has become increasingly important: Windows and Direct3D currently dominate PC gaming.

                               Figure 3. Comparison of OpenGL and Direct3D

                             Figure 3. Comparison of OpenGL and Direct3D

The PlayStation 4 is one of the rare devices that supports Direct3D. Due to the specific hardware differences between the architecture of the PS3 and the PC’s X86, the PS systems once only supported a modified version of OpenGL. Eventually, however, Sony switched the PS4 to the X86 architecture in order to reduce cost and simplify the game development process. Consequently, the PS4 now supports a modified version of DirectX 11. However, the forms of OpenGL and DirectX used on PlayStations are still not original versions. They are additionally empowered by lower level access to core system hardwares such as the GPU, CPU and RAM. Theoretically, this means PS4 DirectX/OpenGL will be more powerful than the original versions.



OpenGL was one of the first graphics languages created. It was initially developed by SGI (Silicon Graphics Inc.) in 1992, and was used primarily on professional workstations. Shortly after, however, SGI saw it’s potential for use on a broader scale. They opened the API and established the OpenGL Architecture Review Board, a consortium including Apple, IBM and other major players. In 2006, ownership was transferred to Khronos Group, another consortium aimed at developing open APIs.

Three years later in 1995, Microsoft launched its own Graphics API, Direct3D. Because it was optimized for Windows operating systems, Direct3D is more efficient and has more functionality than OpenGL on Microsoft machines. As a result, Windows more or less dominated the PC game market in the 2000s. While some gaming consoles like PlayStation did support OpenGL, instead of developing it further these consoles concentrated on developing their own customized API extensions.

In 1997, Windows and SGI proposed a plan to merge OpenGL and Direct3D. Unfortunately the project was eventually canceled in 1999, due to a variety of disagreements. But the two APIs are not entirely incompatible: Valve, the company that owns Steam, developed a wrapper to translate Direct3D applications into OpenGL, to allow Dota2 to run on Mac and Linux[3].


                      Figure 4. Visualization of game genre and platforms since 1975[2]

                    Figure 4. Visualization of game genre and platforms since 1975[2]

Recently, however, OpenGL has steadily regained market share as more and more people switch to Macs and the smartphone gaming market booms. For example, many VR applications are developed for cell phones running IOS and Android and thus use OpenGL (sadly windows phone only have about 1% of market share). It appears that in today’s environment, OpenGL’s versatility is proving increasingly valuable.


Future and VR in Web


Although nearly all platforms support the OpenGL API, developers still need to create individualized applications for different platforms. This is because graphics are only one part of an app, and other components still differ between platforms. To remedy this, WebApp was developed to run entire programs in a web browser such as Chrome and Firefox, so that one program can run on all platforms with a compatible browser. Meanwhile, on the client side everything is transmitted to on the fly from servers, so no further app installation is required. A special API called WebGL has also been created for the Web, and is based on OpenGL ES, a subset of OpenGL developed specifically for mobile devices. To accomplish a similar goal for VR, another API called WebVR has been developed to easily bring VR experiences to browsers, no matter the platform.

WebGL and WebVR have not yet reached full maturity. They still face the bottleneck of internet bandwidth limitations, and have some drawbacks in terms of efficiency. Currently, the only two browsers to officially support WebVR are Firefox Nightly with a WebVR extension and a special build of Chrome. Nonetheless, some companies are experiencing serious breakthroughs on WebVR. For example, Mozilla is developing a framework called A Frame to create WebVR contents using markup languages like HTML. Given the enormous potential benefits of easy-to-use, platform-agnostic standards, as well the quality work being done to build out these APIs, I am confident we’ll be seeing more and more of WebGL and WebVR in the recent future.



Hengte Lin, Computational Science and Engineering Master student at Harvard


Zhifan Wang, Translation and Interpretation Master student at Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey

Evan Brown, Harvard College


  1. OpenGL, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OpenGL

  2. Visualization-of-game-genre-and-platforms-since-1975, Daystodev, http://www.daystodev.com/visualization-of-game-genre-and-platforms-since-1975/

  3. Valve’s Direct3D to OpenGL wrapper on Github, https://github.com/ValveSoftware/ToGL

  4. Team Fortress VR mode, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XD7euJtTQio

  5. OpenGL website, https://www.opengl.org/

  6. Direct3D documentation, https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/windows/desktop/hh309466(v=vs.85).aspx

  7. WebGL website, https://www.khronos.org/webgl/

  8. WebVR website, https://webvr.info/