Several junior boys at Van Horn High School have turned their keen interest in virtual reality into a chance to produce an in-depth program.

The Van Horn Virtual Reality Club took home first place at VRofKCs Fall Hackathon, held two weekends ago on the campus of the University of Missouri-Kansas City. With that, the group received sponsorship from the DeBruce Foundation to develop their virtual reality prototype into a usable program.

The students, like all other high school teams, learned of the problem idea, then had to build the whole game prototype on Saturday and make their presentation on Sunday.

“We had to design a program that kids entertained or attracted to construction,” Brandon Rector said. “It's a virtual-reality project for heavy machinery operators.”

“Going into the competition, we didn't care if we won or lost. There were a lot of good projects.”

One who puts on a headset for the students' project has a simulated view seemingly from the top of the building or piece of large machinery, looking out at other buildings. The next steps will involve using the hand controls to simulate various construction machine tasks.

“Ours had a prototype of a crane, a vehicle prototype,” Kennith Julo added as the boys gathered after school one afternoon to explain their project. “We pushed our presentation more (than perhaps other groups). It showed our passion.”

“The next step will be augmented reality,” he said, explaining that as opposed to virtual reality, where one feels like they're in a completely different setting, augmented reality is something imposed into a real setting. (Think Pokemon Go.)

Classmate Juan Rios explained that many construction workers who operate machinery, a crucial part of the industry, are nearing retirement age. The students' project simulates what one might see in trying to obtain a commercial driver's license.

“There's a lack of incoming knowledge and experience,” Rios said. “This will help with the experience at a young age.”

Rector and fellow group member Thomas Sheets have a particular knowledge or experience with construction. Combined with other group members' interests in computer graphics, coding or virtual reality, and they had a good mix to put together a stellar project.

“We will take turns using it and giving feedback,” Rector said.

Scott McQuerry, the group's faculty adviser at Van Horn, said the project is very much ongoing.

“At the beginning of the day, this was a blank screen. It has a lot of potential.”

“(The DeBruce Foundation) were really talking us up. They've been given the opportunity to refine the prototype over the next three months. What that looks like in three months, nobody really knows.”