By Michelle Fredrickson, Voiland College of Engineering & Architecture
PULLMAN, Wash. – Washington State University intern Blake Rowe recently was tasked with a unique challenge: Give a real-life demonstration of NFL football in the heart of England, where “football” can only mean one thing – soccer.
The mechanical engineering student interns at VOKE Virtual Reality, a technology company started by former WSU professors Uma and Jay Jayaram. VOKE is partnering with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars to promote American football overseas.
Prior to a recent matchup with the Buffalo Bills at London’s Wembley Stadium, the company asked its intern to showcase to English fans what the experience is like on the other side of the world – in Jacksonville, Fla. In his first trip to Europe, Rowe represented VOKE at an NFL exhibitors fair on London’s busy Regent Street.
At VOKE’s customer booth, he used virtual reality headsets to provide hundreds of fans with tours of Everbank Field, the home stadium of the Jaguars. From footage collected in Florida the week before, booth visitors could see a 180-degree view of the stadium – just as if they were actually in Jacksonville.
“People had one of two reactions to our virtual reality experience,” Rowe said. “Either ‘This is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen’ or ‘This is really weird because it feels like I’m really there.’”
The London demonstration is VOKE’s latest move in an industry that is expanding quickly. Virtual reality has been described by digital moguls like Mark Zuckerberg as the technology of the future.
The Jayarams began VOKE in Pullman but the company soon became so successful that it established a growing presence in Silicon Valley. VOKE found success in Pullman due to the confluence of faculty expertise, student talent and entrepreneurship opportunities prevalent in a university town.
In his second semester interning with VOKE, Rowe has accepted a full-time position with VOKE upon graduation.
“Working with the Jayarams and VOKE has been a great opportunity,” he said. “When you think about what is important in an engineering mentor, Jay and Uma fit that mold perfectly. They are both wonderful professors and care deeply about the work that they are doing.”