First Day of VK Fest: Sports of the Future

St. Petersburg is host to the annual VK Fest. Bloggers, artists, athletes, craftsmen and musicians  made popular by the Internet perform onstage and hold workshops. ITMO University participates in VK Fest as well, setting up its own interactive zone. This year, the theme dominating ITMO University’s space is virtual sports. Visitors can try boxing and hang gliding, riding a bike and diving into the water - all in the same spot - just by putting on VR-goggles. Within its interactive zone, the University has also organized workshops on beginner robotics, 3D-printing, drones, gigantic spinners and hacking practices inspired by the “Mr. Robot” TV series.

VK Fest is too vast to describe in a few words: it has nearly everything. It brings together popular bloggers who come to answer their readers’ questions; there are sports competitions, concerts, workshops and eco-movement contests. Here you can try on trendy outfits, facing painting and food, and take part in all sorts of entertainment events. But, most importantly, VK Fest is about innovation. Major universities of St. Petersburg all gather in a special zone to present future technologies to the guests.


Innovation Zone at VK Fest

ITMO University has organized one of the biggest interactive areas for the audience at VK Fest. The first thing that visitors see is the symbol of ITMO - a bike. It is attached to a podium, but as soon as you put on VR-goggles - you are already on a real bike ride: spinning pedals gives you an even more realistic feel of the scenery around. We move on with the sports adventures: the bravest can do pull-ups on a bar equipped with an electronic counter meter. Why bravest? Because at the moment of maximal tension, the person’s face is caught by a camera; those with a perfect poker-face and a record for the number of pull-ups should expect prizes. Here you can also try an extreme sport and ride a virtual hang glider. Those willing need to fix themselves on special hang straps, put on VR-goggles, and hold on to a control pole: once flying, the person must follow arrows that they see in virtual reality.


VR hang glider

Yet, ITMO University has got more sports to present. Using VR-gadgets and special controllers, visitors can play virtual basketball, shoot a gun or bow, and box with a digital opponent. However, the latter will not hit back: as volunteers say, the reason for such design is in that, following Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, robots may not injure human beings. Those who visit ITMO University at VK Fest can challenge their min, too. With help of a neural interface made by TuSion company (a resident of the Future Technologies accelerator), visitors can use the power of their mind to make a virtual swimmer dive into the water. The more focus - the easier to do it.

Why did our technical university choose sports as a theme in 2017? It is because ITMO University has become champion at ACM ICPC, held in the USA, for the seventh time this year - an absolute world record. The competition gathers more participants than Olympic Games; though here, it is not physical abilities that are tested, but strength of mind, algorithm-building skills and teamwork.


The "innovative" pull-up bar

Besides presenting sports of the future, ITMO University does its best to introduce technological trends to guests of the festival, and uses fun ways to engage them in science. For example, one may try to escape from an optical maze, look into the inner workings of a 3D-printer, use Arduino blocks to construct their own robot, control a multi-direction mini-car, see how smart housing systems work, and many other things. All the developments are presented by the OLYMP Lab, which is open to school students as well, and by the FabLab of ITMO University - a workshop and lab providing students with the opportunity to implement their technological ideas. In the ITMO area you can also learn about drone design and see them in action. Anyone can try to be a hacker from the show Mr. Robot and attempt to break into a remote computer or buggy website. One can do that either with help of instructions, or on their own.


Vladimir Vasilyev versus a giant fidget spinner

 “The audience of VK Fest is slightly different from the type that we are used to seeing at different technological festivals - the event has a different format. You can see from the get-go that there are lots of young people interested in modern technologies - they come up and they try it out. Those who are older seem to be more excited about VK Fest entertainment. This way, festival audience is completely different, but on the other hand, it makes the festival more interesting. Personally, I enjoyed experimenting with the neural interface in our University’s zone. I did not try out the VR hang glider, as I’ve already made a similar flight 20 years ago – using a different technology, of course. The ITMO University interactive zone presents a lot of virtual and augmented reality developments, and it is definitely for a reason. VR and AR are a trend today and will remain a trend tomorrow. Those are technologies of the future that use machine learning; they also act as an important stage to creation of artificial intelligence,” – shares Vladimir Vasilyev, Rector of ITMO University.


ITMO's MemeCube

On nearly all University spaces, visitors had the chance to speak to its students who told them more about applying and studying at ITMO University. As always, an Admission Board operated at the Festival, so entrants could not only receive information on the application process, but submit their documents as well.

At VK Fest, not only can you have fun, learn more about innovations, trends, fashion, sports and beauty, but you also have the opportunity to listen to presentations given by popular science personalities, aircraft designers, astronauts, journalists, filmmakers and other specialists in various creative and technological fields. The speakers discuss modern-day problems of culture, education, the startup movement and other hot topics. For instance, Dmitry Grishin, CEO of “Mail.ru” gave an open lecture on the first day of VK Fest. Among other things, he covered certain aspects of creating a new innovative product.

 “We need to try and use simpler technologies as it takes less time to develop them. Let’s say there is a company producing electronic locks opened with a smartphone. The guys were able to collect a significant amount of money on “KickStarter”, but afterwards it took them three years to develop the product: some things were hard to handle, other things needed reworking. What is more, one should clearly understand who is it that needs the product; who will be using it. Robots are consumer devices: besides performing their functions, they must also please their users; that is, they’ve got to be pretty. Such products don’t release themselves - they take a lot of work to make,” – points out Mr. Grishin.

In the evening, VK Fest enjoys performances by rock and pop artists. On the first day, Mumiy Troll, Zveri, Neuromonk Feofan, Dolphin and other artists played their songs onstage. Second day of VK Fest promises to be even more fun.

Translated by Ksenia Starodubtseva

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