“You guys know what ‘Pong’ is?” is a question Bradley University game design students may hear occasionally, but rarely from somebody as prominent as a U.S. representative.
On Tuesday afternoon, Rep. Cheri Bustos (D, IL-17) peppered Bradley interactive media students and faculty with various questions — most of them not pertaining to the 1972 Atari arcade game — on her visit to the Caterpillar Global Communications Center.
“This is a ‘wow’ moment to be able to go through this entire department and see what students, both at the graduate level and undergraduate level, are accomplishing right here in Peoria,” Bustos said. “I think it’s remarkable.”
The congresswoman is working to secure $8 million in federal funding for a partnership between Bradley, the University of Dayton and the U.S. Air Force, which would outfit the military branch with virtual reality software to assist in training mechanics.
“The Department of Defense wants to figure out how [to] use something like virtual reality [or] augmented reality in a practical sense,” Bustos said. “The fact that the Air Force sought out Bradley says something about the reputation of Bradley University and this program.”
Interactive department chair Ethan Ham said Bradley and Dayton were approached by the Air Force, and the partnership budded from there.
“They’re looking for ways to better maintain their equipment,” Ham said. “We put our heads together, put together this proposal, and Cheri Bustos has been taking it forward in Congress, and we’re looking forward to hopefully having it funded.”
Throughout her mid-day visit, Bustos dropped in on various IM classes throughout the GCC.
Bustos’ first stop was a user experience class, where the congresswoman outfitted a virtual reality headset. The group, including Ham and university president Stephen Standifird, then headed down the hall to visit a graduate level game design course.
There, five students detailed their project of designing, creating and eventually selling a game. Bustos viewed a trailer of the game — which is temporarily named “Project Belo” and features a mushroom venturing through a realm — and quipped that it looked like something she’d enjoy playing herself.
The congresswoman’s visit culminated in an animation lab, where senior animation major Keelan Rodgers demonstrated motion capture technology, similar to the technology that is used at major animation studios.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Rodgers said. “I can look back and talk to many [graduated] seniors, and I can tell they’re very jealous of how things have grown. Just the fact that we have motion capture, that’s already such a large leap.”
Rodgers believes that the partnership with the Air Force will help the animation department continue sustained growth.
“It puts more eyes on Bradley,” Rodgers said. “It leads to more support going toward the program, which also leads to more improvement and better technology for the program as well.”
Bustos is highly optimistic about the partnership’s future and believes her colleagues in the nation’s capital share that energy.
“There is not pushback on this whatsoever out in Washington, D.C., because they see the potential of the program right here at Bradley in helping the Department of Defense,” Bustos said.