A team of developers and 3D artists from creative studio Masters of Pie, and software consultancy Lumacode, have won Epic Games and the Wellcome Trust's Big Data VR Challenge.
The London based team - LumaPie - beat four other teams to win the $20,000 prize for its virtual reality tool which visualises data from Bristol university's ALSPAC Children of the 90s study.
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The study has been charting the health of 14,500 families in Bristol since the early 90s and LumaPie's VR software allows researchers to strap on a headset and interact and manipulate graphics based on the data in an immersive environment. LumaPie's tool also allows multiple researchers to work on the data in VR simultaneously.
VR for Good
The five teams of developers who took part in the four month competition designed virtual spaces for scientists to explore and analyse big sets of data, with the VR software powered by Epic Games' Unreal Engine 4.
Other work at the competition included Hammerhead VR's entry comparing fruit fly and human DNA to find cancer-causing genetic markers by overlaying genomes in VR and Skip the Intro's software which visualised medical records from four centuries ago as interactive tunnels of light.
"All the teams created solutions that address the hurdles of analysing large data sets in new and ingenious ways," said Epic's European territory manager Mike Gamble. "LumaPie in particular have built a brilliant VR application that solves the challenge."
Iain Dodgeon, creative partnerships manager at the Wellcome Trust added that the results of the challenge exceeded his expectations. "LumaPie has delivered an interactive simulation with tangible outputs that can be applied and adapted to other studies as well," he said.
On Masters of Pie's blog, which followed LumaPie's progress throughout the competition, the team writes that in phase 2 of development they met with a team of scientists advisors.
"We had a one-on-one consultation to determine if we were on the right track in order to produce something practical that an actual scientist could and would use. The answer was 'erm..maybe'."
The team went back to the virtual drawing board, requested different data and went on to win the $20,000 prize with software that is genuinely useful.
We've seen VR used for gaming, movies, as an empathy machine for fundraising and as a training tool for doctors. And if games developers with one eye on creating incredible new titles for Oculus Rift and HTC Vive can put their skills to use helping researchers with big data, then it's win-win-win.