Dream Simulator

  • On the final day of the our first fall studio, The Flight Simulator made its debut with a flying success! Inspired by the term’s ‘Flying’ theme, the idea was to build an interactive motion flight simulator, where aspects of video games and robotics are brought together to create something novel and exciting. After much collective brainstorming, the students agreed on a dream-like storyline for the video game, and a physical structure that allows two types of motion: translation (left and right), and pitch (nose tiling up and down). To make the experience of the player more interactive and realistic, the students also decided on adding special effects that can be triggered through the video game. Preliminary ideas for special effects included water mist, heat, wind, and vibrations.

    Students were split into three major groups: Hardware Group, Software Group, and Special Effects Group. The Hardware Group was primarily responsible for building the physical structure within which a player sits. The final structure is comprised of two pillars, connected through two parallel, horizontal beams. On those beams, a moving trolley carries a hammock where the player lays face-down, near horizontally. A motor, mounted on one of the pillars, moves the trolley (through a chain) along the horizontal beams, thereby moving the player left and right. On the moving trolley, another motor moves the hammock’s nose up and down, thereby controlling the player’s pitch.

    On the software side, a team of students used the program Unity 3D to make a short video game that integrates with the physical structure. The game is made up of four levels: a Sky Level, an Ocean Level, a Forest Level, and a Nightmare City Level. The idea was to build a dreamscape-type environment within which a player flies. With the help of their coaches, the students used SketchUp and Unity 3D to create the landscapes, characters, enemies, buildings, and effects. They also programmed the physics, interactions and collisions between all the elements to create a realistic environment.

    The third group, the Special Effects Group, worked on installing the special effects onto the physical structure. A water mist sprayer was placed on the structure holding the hammock, heat lamps were placed on the floor, and small fans were suspended from the metal structure in front of the hammock. After experimenting with different ideas of how the game would be played, the team eventually decided on projecting the game onto the wall in front of the player. The player, suspended in the moving hammock, would control their movement through a joystick in their hands while watching the game unfold on the wall in front of them.

    By the end of ninth day of the studio, the Flight Simulator was starting to come together. The video game was connected to the two motors controlling the hammock’s motion, as well as to the special effects (mist sprayer, fans and heat lamp).

    When the Flight Simulator was unveiled on the final day of the studio, you could hear the ooh’s and aah’s from the audience. Harper Mills, a NuVu Student, hopped into the hammock to be the first flight simulator tester. As the game started, a special soundtrack (composed by the students) started playing. Harper started flying through level one, Sky Level. She flew through a cloud, and a mist of water sprayed in her face. Approaching a cliff, she moved the joystick to the left to avoid it, and the trolley carrying her moved to the left as well. She had advanced to the Ocean Level! Suddenly a blast of wind from the fans blew across her face, and as she slowly descended closer to the water, the hammock’s nose dove simultaneously. The audience offered a roar of applause.