ISU students make Cyclone gameday experience accessible to fans everywhere with virtual reality

An ISU student smiles and holds seven virtual reality headsets in his arms. The headsets are cardboard and colored cardinal and gold.

ISU entrepreneurship student Christopher James created True360, a business that facilitates virtual reality experiences that promote Iowa State. His business utilizes cards with QR codes that allow users to experience virtual 360-degree views with a smart phone placed inside a cardboard viewer. Photo by Christopher Gannon/Iowa State University. Larger image.

AMES, Iowa – It feels so real you’ll swear you can smell the Jack Trice Stadium turf.

True360, a startup company created by Iowa State University students, offers Cyclone fans the opportunity to experience ISU traditions like never before with virtual reality. With a VR headset or a smartphone to pair with one of True360’s light cardboard headsets, you can run shoulder to shoulder with the ISU football team as they storm out of the tunnel and onto the field before kickoff.

Or you can stand on the Hilton Coliseum hardwood just moments before tipoff, pump your fist alongside members of the Cyclone cheer squad or tour Central Campus and other iconic ISU locations. The technology immerses the user in the action in a way 2D video can’t, allowing you to take in the sights in every direction.

“You can experience the heart-pounding sideline thrill right in your living room,” said Christopher James, a junior in entrepreneurship who founded True360. “Our headset is a gateway, immersing Cyclone fans in the thrill and adrenaline of the game.”

Making virtual reality as simple as possible

The idea for True360 grew out of James’s passion for scuba diving.  He wondered if virtual reality technology could offer a way for people to experience diving without getting wet or having access to all the necessary equipment. So, he started using a 3D camera to capture underwater environments in aquariums. The camera connects multiple lenses to capture overlapping wide-angle images. A computer stitches the images together to create a nearly spherical field of vision.  His underwater experiments proved the technology had the potential to enable people to live out experiences that go far beyond their everyday lives.

James, a native of Stillwater, Minnesota, came to Iowa State in 2016 and enrolled in the entrepreneurship program. He quickly learned just how much Cyclone fans cherish the gameday experience at Jack Trice Stadium and Hilton Coliseum. He formed True360 with some classmates who shared his interest in immersive technology and entrepreneurship and started creating ways to put Cyclone fans in the heart of the action.

James participated in CYstarters and the ISU Startup Factory, programs designed to help innovative ISU students launch their own businesses. The programs put James in touch with a network of ISU alumni and other connections who provided critical guidance as he built the foundation for True360.

James contacted ISU athletics to get credentials to football, basketball and cheerleading events, allowing the startup to gather the necessary imagery to create the VR experiences. And they came up with a design for their cardboard headsets that can be manufactured affordably and shipped easily to Cyclone fans. James said he and his partners have made it True360’s mission to make virtual reality as simple to use as possible so Cyclone fans everywhere, even those who aren’t tech enthusiasts, can get closer to the action. That mission informed the design of the headsets, which arrive in a small cardboard sleeve and easily fold into place.

The True360 website allows visitors to order the football experience and headset for the cost of shipping. Upon receiving the headsets, which are made from durable, lightweight cardboard with a distinctive cardinal-and-gold color scheme, a QR code provides a demo reel showing off some of the other experiences the technology creates. Fans can purchase the full 5-minute experiences they want on their smart phones, insert their phones into the headsets and immerse themselves in the excitement. Those who already own VR headsets can view the experiences for free on Meta Quest TV, an app that allows users to view a library of entertainment options in virtual reality.

Building for the future

James has big plans to push the True360 technology into new applications. He envisions a future in which he and his team can record the big moments from ISU sporting events as they happen and then make them available to fans watching the games at home. Imagine watching a Cyclone football game on TV then putting on your True360 headset during a commercial break to relive a thrilling touchdown pass from moments earlier. It’s a tantalizing possibility that James is working to make a reality.

True360 has also partnered with ISU admissions to create experiences that give a taste of what campus is like to international students considering enrolling at Iowa State.

“I'm super stoked about how we can take people on these wild trips into virtual worlds, places they haven’t gone to in real life,” James said.