116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
AMES — There's just something about game day — the roar of the crowd, the sea of fans, the sound of marching bands playing familiar fight songs.
It's an electric atmosphere that can be hard to resist, and Iowa State University has decided to bottle it — in a sense — in hopes of enticing, among others, football recruits looking for a collegiate home.
Engineers with ISU's Virtual Reality Applications Center have created a virtual replica of the sights and sounds of Jack Trice Stadium during a Cyclone home football game in its C6 virtual reality room. The project cost $50,000 and was paid for through athletics.
ISU is not the first university to add virtual reality to its recruiting arsenal in what has become an increasingly competitive convention. But its virtual room — consisting of six 10-foot-by-10-foot display screens that combine for more than 100 million pixels — is unique in that it provides the highest resolution 3D immersive stereoscopic visualization and interaction experience in the world, according to Vijay Kalivarapu, staff research scientist with the center.
'Any football program can take recruits to the games when they are scheduled or to an empty football stadium and show them videos and try to get them excited about joining the football program,' Kalivarapu said.
But Iowa State wanted to go further and do more by capitalizing on the campus' world-class technology.
'If recruits come during the season, when the games are held, they would take them to the game,' he said. 'If not, they wanted us to recreate that game day experience using an emersion 3D stadium application.'
ISU engineers began building the tool two summers ago and started using it last summer. So far, 40 to 50 recruits have experienced the display, and Kalivarapu said he believes it's winning players over.
'There is a lot of positive response from recruits visiting the C6 who say, 'Yeah, I want to be a part of the team,'' he said. 'It's not the only reason why they want to be part of the team. There are other factors. But there is evidence that recruits are signing up … partly because of this recruiting tool.'
'In the team huddle'
Athletics officials who suggested the virtual recruiting tool asked that it replicate a list of Cyclone-specific experiences, including band and cheerleading performances; a 'Cyclone storm warning' played on the scoreboards; players running onto the field through an inflatable tunnel; and fans singing 'Sweet Caroline.'
'We can place these recruits in this application right beside football players,' Kalivarapu said. 'They can wait in the tunnel and run onto the field … they can be in the team huddle and see what's going on.'
The football program also asked that virtual guests be able to experience an offensive and defensive play. Kalivarapu said the virtual system isn't a video game that allows recruits to control the action. But, he said, they can live it — before actually living it — or 'fly anywhere' to explore the stadium.
'Anything we can do to make it a different experience,' Kalivarapu said.
Even recruits who can't make it to campus soon will have the ability to virtually experience Jack Trice thanks to engineers' work to duplicate the program on an Oculus Rift — a portable, head-mounted display system attached to a laptop.
That system will provide ISU recruits the same ability to explore and experience game day in Ames — but from anywhere with access to a laptop. Kalivarapu said Iowa State isn't yet using those portable devices to recruit, but he expects coaches to start within the year.
Other colleges and universities of late have entered the virtual recruiting game, both with Oculus Rift-type devices and virtual 'caves,' said James Oliver, an ISU professor and director of the Virtual Reality Applications Center.
Other institutions with some type of cave include the universities of Wisconsin, Michigan, Wyoming, and California in Davis and San Diego. But, according to Oliver, most of those environments have three to four sides and are not fully enclosed, like the one at Iowa State.
'There is only one device in the world that compares to ISU's C6, and it is located in Saudi Arabia,' he said. 'I doubt that they use it for football recruiting.'
Iowa State's virtual center has a vast number of uses, supporting research, faculty, and students representing all seven of the university's colleges — along with government and industry collaborators from various agencies. Its research community spans a spectrum of disciplines, including mobile computing and robotics.
And even the center's football programming holds promise beyond recruiting. Oliver said virtual applications could help fundraise for Jack Trice Stadium upgrades, and Kalivarapu said ISU athletics could, in the future, use the technology to enhance its game day preparation.
'There is no reason to say we cannot do it,' Kalivarapu said. 'We have the technology and we have the development tools. We can deploy them.'