Aldis and Nik Sipolins explain the future of brain training through VR

Aidis Sipolins, Harpreet & Avery
L to R: Avery, Aldis, and Harpeet at the NYVR Meetup on August 19th.

Aldis Sipolins, hailing from Toronto, Canada, was another notable attendee at last week’s New York Virtual Reality (NYVR) Meetup. Sipolins was there to demonstrate his immersive learning VR platform, Cerevrum, which he started based on his belief that neuroscience will eventually prove VR is a superior learning method. He calls it “neurogaming”, a combination of virtual reality, machine learning, and cognitive neuroscience. Aldis believes that those currently trying to improve their intelligence with brain training will eventually find what they are looking for in Virtual Reality assisted learning.

Aldis ran a virtual reality laboratory for one year at the University of Illinois while earning his PhD in Visual Cognition and Human Performance. During the Spring ’15 semester, the U of I had a new computer science class – Virtual Reality – which was taught by Professor Steven M. Lavalle. Professor Lavalle had previously been on leave, working as the Chief Scientist at Oculus (developer of the Oculus Rift) which Facebook acquired for $2 billion in 2014. Aldis’ experiences at his university eventually led him to start Cerevrum in April 2015. 

At the Meetup, Seidenberg students Harpreet Wasan Singh and Avery Leider, who have been on the prowl for information concerning the latest advances in VR technology, were also able to interview Aldis and his brother, Nik, who joined him that night to help with the demonstration.

Harpreet: Since the time you started with VR until now, what are the most significant developments you have encountered?

Aldis: VR has changed enormously in the time I’ve been in the industry. We’ve gone from the screen-door effect in the [Oculus Rift Development Kit] DK1 to not being able to see pixels in HTC Vive. We’ve come from having to use a mouse and keyboard to having incredible motion controls and hand-tracking.

Nick Sipolins & Harpreet Wasan
Nik Sipolins shows Harpreet how to use Cerevrum

Nik: The first and most significant transition is the ability to run [these technologies] on your phone. That’s going to be the democratizing thing in VR – not having to purchase a device that is purposefully built as a Virtual Reality machine. And whether or not [you use VR] with the Samsung Gear VR or with Google Cardboard, or with any other – I’m sure people will figure out many novel ways to attach their phones to their faces – that’s going to be the near future of VR.

Harpreet: Can you explain what you are trying to do with Cerevrum and Virtual Reality?

Aldis: Cerevrum is exciting to me because Virtual Reality opens up so much potential for brain learning. Brain training right now is an unexplored field of Virtual Reality. We’re going to be the first in VR with a brain training app. Brain Training VR opens up a bunch of possibilities of what you can do at a neuropsychological level. Cerevrum adds the missing piece of the puzzle, which is VR. Right now, brain training doesn’t work and it is easy to see why. Pressing buttons on a tiny screen only goes so far. The feeling of presence that you get in VR means that you use the same set of cognitive skills that you do in everyday life. That’s the point of brain training, to get better at the skills you use in everyday life. We live in immersive 3D environments, so I think that it makes sense to learn in them too.

Harpreet: What else about VR is exciting to you?

Nik: 360 degree photographs. If you’ve never experienced it, get a Samsung Gear VR or Oculus Rift and look at a 360 degree photograph. It’s stunning! People make the same face, they all do the same things, they look around themselves, and are dumbstruck.  What I also saw that was cool was a 360 degree video of an acoustic performance. It was a band in a small space and they brought in a virtual reality camera and with your Samsung Gear VR or Oculus Rift headset on, you really felt like part of the performance in this intimate space. What these guys were doing was putting concerts in virtual reality. If you don’t like being in a crowded bar, or you have anxiety issues or can’t afford tickets to the New York symphony orchestra, with this technology you can be in your living room and feel like you are at the New York Philharmonic.

Harpreet: There are students at Pace University who want to get into Virtual Reality. What do you recommend to them?

Nik: Learn Unity. That seems to be the first skill. Come up with a cool little app that you can develop for VR. Currently the user base is small, as it’s an early technology.

Aldis: Pick up Unity. It is free and it is super easy to learn. I was a grad student struggling with programming and MATLAB, and within a few months [on Unity] I was making 3D experiments. It’s very easy. So, pick up Unity, pick up programming, find a good artist, and do whatever you want. Follow your dreams.


Vaibhav has spent his summer working for Mastercard

vaibhav dubey1. Who are you working with this summer? (…and what do they do?)

I am working with MasterCard Worldwide as a Data Architect at their St. Louis Operations and Technology Headquarters. MasterCard is a global payments and technology company that connects billions of consumers, thousands of financial institutions, millions of merchants, governments and businesses worldwide. (Well, just have a quick look in your wallet or purse; I am sure you will find a MasterCard).

2. Can you tell us a little about what you are doing? 

I am working as a Data Architect in the Enterprise Architecture team, which provides database services for Oracle, PostgreSQL, DB2, SQL Server and mySQL. Our services include performance tuning, backup/recovery, monitoring, disaster recovery strategy and production support for databases. My project for this summer was to design and develop a prototype for a web app with a persistent chat function for internal ticketing system for the department.

Additionally I worked with the Enterprise Architecture database team in Dublin to design and develop a database monitoring tools to actively report and check the user permissions, which are added or deleted from day to day within the Oracle database schema.

My last project was a Data Modeling project, where my primary goal was to understand the current procedures written for a self-service data-modeling tool by senior data molders in Oracle and migrate them to PostgresSQL.

3. Is there a particular class or professor at Seidenberg that has helped you prepare specifically for your current internship? (Clearly, we’re all about shout outs this summer!)

I’m focusing on Database, software engineering & methodologies, and project management so I’d like to give a shout out to Professor Namchul Shin for his IS 613: Database management systems class where taught me the concepts of Database; Professor Hsui-Lin Winler for her  IS 667: Database Design and Development of Web Applications; and Professor James Gabberty for IS 623: Information Systems Design and Development.

Mastercard summer group

4. Does your new office have a favorite restaurant/hangout they go to after work? (No! we’re not going to show up like proud parents!)

Located only minutes west of St. Louis, my office is located in O’Fallon area, which is more of a commercial side of St. Louis. But I live in the Loop area, on Delmar Boulevard, which has six blocks of exhilarating, one-of-a-kind shops, restaurants, art galleries, live music, café culture, and the St. Louis Walk of Fame. It’s easily accessed, and once you’ve parked your car, everything is within walking distance. Blueberry Hill restaurant is one of our favorites. The food is great and the atmosphere is fun!!

Vaibhav Dubey is a graduate student pursuing his degree in Information Systems, set to graduate this December. He is also Liverpool FC’s biggest fan. 

A chat with Virtual Reality Trailblazer, Eric Greenbaum

Eric Greenbaum Harpreet Wasan
Eric Greenbaum (L) and Harpreet Wasan (R)

Virtual Reality is riding on the latest boom in the technology sector, and one way Seidenberg is keeping up with the ever-growing community is through Meetups. These Meetup communities and events are an excellent resource for exchanging information, ideas, and joining forces with other trendsetters in the field. Just last week, Seidenberg CS graduate student Harpreet Wasan and CS PhD student Avery Leider attended the most recent New York Virtual Reality (NYVR) Meetup to interview some of the leaders there to see what’s new and improving in the VR scene.

One person Avery and Harpreet were eager to speak with was Eric Greenbaum, an original founder and organizer of the NYVR and NYVR Developers Group MeetUps. Greenbaum works as a patent attorney, entrepreneur, and start-up consultant, and has also been active as a ‘Virtual Reality Trailblazer‘ since seeing the 1992 movie Lawnmower Man, in which the main character becomes a genius through VR technology used to augment his intelligence. And although Lawnmower Man may not be the best advocate for convincing the world of the usefulness in VR technology — there is definitely an allure to VR’s range of possibilities! In fact, Greenbaum believes that with the introduction of the Oculus Rift, “VR is poised to take the tech world by storm.”

Harpreet and Greenbaum talked about the current expansion in the VR industry:

Harpreet: From the time you started with Virtual Reality, how far has VR come?

Greenbaum: The VR industry has grown a lot, since 2012 until now, from being essentially nonexistent to being one of the world’s most exciting technology platforms — kind of like the Internet. I think it is important to recognize that before the recent excitement, there were people working on industrial VR for the last 20 years. So there has been this whole movement, bubbling beneath the surface, of really dedicated scientists and engineers working on VR since the 90’s. It wasn’t until the cell phone industry drove down prices on screens and inertial measurement devices that enabled accessible VR for the masses. So, how has it changed? It changed from like 7 people in the grimiest co-working space in midtown to like 1500 people [in the NYVR MeetUp], and we’re packing out Microsoft on a monthly basis.

 H: What’s the most interesting thing you’ve seen in VR? 

G: The social VR is the most exciting; you saw some of it [at this MeetUp] and it is a little bit primitive, but it holds a promise to change the way we interact with each other. Imagine being able to sit in a virtual space with your friends from around the country or around the world and share and watch a movie or play chess or have that feeling of being together in a space. It’s really powerful and I think it’s going to change everything.

H: So, there are students at Pace University that are interested in getting into the VR industry – what advice can you give them to get started?

G: If you want to get into VR, the most important thing is to have an idea. What do you want to build? Before you start to think about what concrete skills you need to build it, spend some time thinking about what unique characteristics VR can bring to the table and how can I use that to do something amazing? Once you think about your idea, the tools that are available are really accessible. For example there is a program called Unity, which is a go-to tool to build a VR experience, and even if you have no programming experience at all – no gaming experience at all – if you sit down and spend a few hours with Unity you can make strides and build things. As someone who two years ago had zero experience, the experience of sitting down and building a space and then entering it in a virtual way, was one of the most transformative technology experiences I’ve ever had. If you haven’t done it, do it. Unity is free – there’s no reason to not do it.

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For more information about the Virtual Reality scene, stay tuned for other interviews we’re conducting with various members in the field! You can also head over to Eric Greenbaum’s blog to see what VR topics he’s currently discussing. Lastly, don’t hesitate to get going on the Meetup trend. There are a bunch of events coming up in the city, so let us know on Twitter (@pace_seidenberg) when you’re going!


Chinmay talks about his summer internship at Argus

chinmay1. Who are you working with this summer? (…and what do they do?)

I worked with Argus Information & Advisory Services LLC this summer. Argus is a leading provider of analytics, information and solutions to consumer banks and their regulators. They help their clients maximize the value of data and analytics to allocate and align resources to strategic objectives, manage and mitigate risk (default, fraud, funding and compliance), and optimize financial objectives.

2. Can you tell us a little about what you are doing? (We might not understand the technicalities, but we’d love details!)

I was tasked with developing and deploying Tableau Reports for use by the ETL Production and Client teams within Argus. I developed two separate Tableau Reports covering system-wide metrics for SQL loading and server status, and an inbound file tracker. This involved developing the reports themselves within Tableau, as well as the necessary SQL Server tables and stored procedures to obtain the data. Once developed, these reports were deployed to a Tableau Server and  Argus’ main server.

Alongside the internship project, I worked with the production ETL processes including in-house file and SQL Server loading automation, SAS file conversions, WinSCP FTP troubleshooting, and data ticketing platforms.   Argus

Outside of my professional responsibilities, I served as a team captain for the company’s annual summer soccer tournament.

3. Is there a particular class or professor at Seidenberg that has helped you prepare specifically for your current internship? (Clearly, we’re all about shout outs this summer!)

All the database related classes that I took in my Fall 2014 and Spring 2015 semesters helped me to a great extent during my tenure there. They involved Database Management Systems (Prof. Namchul Shin), Data Warehousing, Mining & Visualization (Prof. Chienting Lin), and Database Design & Dev of Web (Prof. Hsui-Lin L. Winkler).

4. Does your new office have a favorite restaurant/hangout they go to after work? (No! we’re not going to show up like proud parents!)

Almost everyone in the office goes for lunch together at the mall right outside Argus, called ‘The Galleria at White Plains.’ And for after work drinks there is one huge strip on Mamaroneck Avenue flooded with restaurants and bars, “The Brazen Fox” and “Black Bear Sports Bar” being everyone’s favorites.

Chinmay Juneja is working towards his MS in IS and also works as a student assistant in the Seidenberg offices. Another Seidenberg student, Nachiket Pingle, also spent his summer working at Argus with Chinmay!

Oyewale is protecting NYC’s environment this summer

nyc dep1. Who are you working with this summer? (…and what do they do?)

I work with the NYC Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The department is grouped into different bureaus, but the main bureaus are Bureau of Wastewater Treatment (BWT), Bureau of Water Supply (BWS), Bureau of Wastewater and Sewer Operations (BWSO), Bureau of Development & Construction (BEDC), and the Bureau of Customer Service (BCS).  DEP’s main objective is to provide clean, drinkable water to New Yorkers. In BWT, there are 14 wastewater treatment plants in NYC that collect waste from different parts of NYC for treatment and disinfection, which is then released back into the river.

2. Can you tell us a little about what you are doing? (We might not understand the technicalities, but we’d love details!)

I work with Bureau of Wastewater Treatment (BWT) MIS Section; we manage all the information technology equipment across all the offices under BWT. I do mostly helpdesk related issues and active directory. I have been tasked with different projects ranging from setting up a server for use in a treatment plant (it was pretty tough as it was my first time without supervision). The team and I go out to the plants that have submitted help desk tickets and we troubleshoot and resolve their issues in the quickest possible time.

3. Is there a particular class or professor at Seidenberg that has helped you prepare specifically for your current internship?(Clearly, we’re all about shout outs this summer!)

All my classes have helped me prepare for this internship. My IS 623 class, Information Systems Design & Analysis helped me the most.

DEP Desk View

4. Does your new office have a favorite restaurant/hangout they go to after work? (No! we’re not going to show up like proud parents!)

There are a couple of malls around where I work. All the malls have food courts in them. When we are out on the field, the treatment plant we are working at determines where we would go for lunch. There is a pizza place where we love going. They make the pizza in a brick oven and the ingredients are made fresh daily.

 Oyewale Senbore is a graduate student in the Seidenberg School, working to earn his MS in Information Systems.

Siddhesh is spending his summer at Moody Analytics

moodys1. Who are you working with this summer? (…and what do they do?)

I am working with Moody’s Analytics as an Associate in Financial Modelling and Data Analysis. 

2. Can you tell us a little about what you are doing? (We might not understand the technicalities, but we’d love details!)

I work closely with the in-house software tool to develop cash-flow water models, which are used by the investors to value and evaluate their portfolios. I also acquire, organize, refine and deliver financial data to clients through analytic software libraries and client databases

 3. Is there a particular class or professor at Seidenberg that has helped you prepare specifically for your current internship?(Clearly, we’re all about shout outs this summer!)

 The Data Mining and Data Warehousing class made me comfortable to work closely with data.

 4. Does your new office have a favorite restaurant/hangout they go to after work? (No! we’re not going to show up like proud parents!) 

 No, but we like to explore different places!

Siddhesh Lele is working towards his MS in Information Systems, set to complete his degree in 2016.