Winning University of Rhode Island team designs VR training for police

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The winning team at the University of Rhode Island’s Immerse-a-thon event on 2 March for students from all majors designed a virtual reality (VR) police training programme for breaking social bias.

Fatima Issa, Joshua Gyllinsky and Nathan Ankomah-Mensah (pictured, from left to right) designed an application to be used for implicit bias training for police and law enforcement personnel. They took home a $500 prize for the best design.

“Our concept was a VR police training for breaking social bias,” said Ankomah-Mensah. “By having police run through challenging scenarios in which they have to make split-second decisions and are more likely to rely on previous experience or social/implicit bias rather than logic, we can use artificial intelligence to grade if their actions were bias or not.”

Ankomah-Mensah is a double major in computer and electrical engineering, with a minor in mathematics and computer science. Issa is a biomedical engineering major, who is also minoring in mathematics and Africana studies. Gyllinsky is a doctoral student in the University of Rhode Island’s electrical engineering programme and has a master’s degree in computer science.

All three students work in assistant professor Kunal Mankodiya’s Wearable Biosensor Laboratory, within the College of Engineering.

Held in the makerspace in the University of Rhode Island’s Robert L. Carothers Library, 13 students competed for the $500 prize for the best design.

“The energy and enthusiasm of the students, judges and mentors who showed up to immerse themselves in VR/augmented reality (AR) design was inspiring,” said Deedee Chatham, director of entrepreneurship, innovation and undergraduate research at the University of Rhode Island.

College of Engineering assistant professor Bin Li and several students from his Smart Networking and Computing (SNEC) Laboratory organised the event and provided demonstrations of how VR and AR technology could be implemented.

“My main objective was to get students to realise that virtual/augmented reality can be used for purposes well beyond gaming.”

College of Engineering assistant professor Bin Li

“My main objective was to get students to realise that virtual/augmented reality can be used for purposes well beyond gaming,” Li said. “It has applications in education/training, healthcare, transportation, social networking, manufacturing design and much more.”

After watching the demonstrations, the students formed teams, brainstormed ideas and consulted with mentors. The mentors, who provided technical advice, included University of Rhode Island professors, graduate students and industry professionals.

Mentors such as Bin Li and Deedee Chatham met with the teams before they started the design process. Credit: University of Rhode Island

After going over their presentations, each team had three minutes to pitch their concept to the judges. The judges based 50% of their scores on design ideation and originality and 50% on scalability and market value.

A few of the concepts included architecture visualisation for building design and implementation and style designs for hair salons.

One project proposed an AR-based textbook visualisation, in which a student uses a smartphone to recognise a two-dimensional image in a textbook, which then automatically generates a three-dimensional (3D) virtual object. The student then sees the 3D object in the smartphone using VR glasses.

The losing teams didn’t go home empty handed thanks to Rhode Island Virtual Reality (RIVR), a non-profit initiative dedicated to cultivating a VR and AR industry cluster in Rhode Island. The organisation donated Google Cardboard VR headsets as prizes.