Nehemiah Thomas spent part of the day in his own virtual world along with his friends Woody and Buzz Lightyear.
The 8-year-old swayed, raised his arms and smiled as a virtual reality-based roller coaster took him through parts of the Toy Story world.
It was one of the first times the boy had tried the technology.
“It’s a new way for these kids to experience things,” said Standeline Thomas, Nehemiah’s mother. “With technology’s reach increasing, you want to expose them to it as early as possible. It’s a way they can learn about these things over time.”
The digital experience was part of Walt Disney World’s contribution to Otronicon, a four-day conference at the Orlando Science Center.
The building’s four floors were overrun by video games, vehicle simulators, actors dressed as Star Wars characters and robots.
Small video game-development firms and engineering companies took their place alongside industry giants including Lockheed Martin and The Walt Disney Company.
Events such as Otronicon can help encourage young people to pursue tech-based careers, said Kim Wheeler, a program planning manager for The Walt Disney Company.
“It’s important to inspire future engineers, mathematicians and scientists,” said Wheeler, who has an engineering degree. “There is no better way to do that than getting them into something they can relate to like toys and (Disney’s) iconic themes.”
Otronicon started in 2006, establishing itself quickly as one of the science center’s more popular annual events.
Initially, it featured motion-capture technology, digital art galleries and game play on the Xbox and PlayStation platforms.
This year, the show highlighted high-tech flight simulators, a small Mars escape room and a full-motion dome that carried riders through a rocky virtual world.
“One of the great things about it is the level of access we provide people to this technology,” said Jeff Stanford, director of marketing for the science center. “We want to spotlight the technological innovations happening here and show people what is happening.”
Central Florida’s video-game community showed off what it was building, too.
Angel Gonzalez of Grimpo Studios has been building his first game “Lethal Forces-Active Defense,” a side-scrolling fighting game.
“It’s a great opportunity for anybody to show off something people can interact with,” Gonzalez said.
Or, in some instructional sessions, they learn how to build those interactive experiences.
Mary Kerllenevich said she was surprised her 11-year-old son, Ben, chose Otronicon over a trip to Universal Studios for his birthday, especially because the family’s annual pass is set to expire this month.
However, considering Ben helps the family with computer problems, perhaps it should not have been.
Otronicon is “a way to interact with technology he can’t get anywhere else,” Kerllenevich said. “The programming is the one thing he can do independently of me. He’s basically our IT guy at the house.”
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