The first time Tyler Roach got his hands on a virtual reality headset, he was up all night in his Bucks County basement, flipping from one app to the next in amazement. Still just a sophomore in high school, he had the sense that the Oculus Rift he held was going to change everything — the world around him and his role in it.
“That night, I was trying every app, every demo I could find, just trying everything,” said Roach, an entrepreneurship and innovation major in Drexel University’s Close School of Entrepreneurship. “At the end of that, I had a lot of inspiration. I thought I could create something out of this.”
A few years later, he’s found that something. Well, a lot of somethings, actually. Perhaps most notable is a VR app that gives medical students a chance to train before entering the operating room, improving their knowledge of the World Health Organization’s required safety measures so when they do scrub in, they can minimize mistakes. There’s also StudyVR, which helps children connect with scientific concepts by controlling the pressure of a VR hot air balloon or a fish’s swim bladder, as well as Speak AR, an augmented reality app that produces visual translations of speech so deaf users can have conversations without lip-reading or sign language.
The list goes on. Roach may be a student, but in true Drexel University fashion he’s also an innovator and entrepreneur whose choice of major couldn’t be more apt. His sights are set on building tools and experiences that take advantage of the latest technology and push toward the wide-open possibilities that are quickly becoming reality.
“I’m all about the future and what’s next, the next big thing,” said Roach. “It’s just the way I think.”
After he got his first taste of virtual reality, Roach couldn’t stop dreaming up new ideas and new ways to explore this burgeoning technological world. So he decided to teach himself, learning to code using the game engine Unity. But he never had much interest in games, not when he could find ways to impact people’s daily lives. At an internship with BrickSimple, an app developer with a hand in virtual and augmented reality, he was able to develop his skills and realize some of his ideas. And then came the hackathons.
Beginning when Roach was a student at Monmouth University (he transferred to Drexel last September), he estimates he’s won awards in something like 10 of the 12 hackathons he’s entered. SpeakAR came out of PennApps XIV last fall, where it won the grand prize and earned Roach an invitation to a hackathon at Facebook’s headquarters. StudyVR won the Best Human Well Being award at last October’s Reality, Virtually event at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. At Philly Codefest 2017, held this February on campus in Drexel’s Behrakis Grand Hall, Roach’s team took both the first place grand prize and the first place medical innovation awards. Roach also has his own company, Virtual InSynergy, where he’s working on a tennis training simulator that reflects his love for the sport.
For the most part, though, the work he’s already done is a precursor to what Roach hopes to accomplish down the road. The visit to Facebook expanded the scope of his aspirations.
“In the future I really want to be doing things on a much, much bigger scale,” said Roach. “I want to be able to create applications on the scale of a Facebook or a Windows. I want to create the next operating system, the next platform that people use on a daily basis, using augmented reality.”
As he looks to take the next step, he knows that being at Drexel is the best preparation.
“The big reason I came here is because I feel like Drexel is a place for people who are more motivated than the rest, who think of themselves as leaders and think of themselves as successful,” said Roach. “That’s why I’m here, and I’m glad I found this place.”