proud indian Paarth K. Sharma is a 12th grade student at Shanghai Singapore International School (SSIS) and one of the founders of the Build Your Own School (BYOS) technological organization. They currently run the BYOS 2022 Innovators Tournament, inviting China’s brightest young minds to brainstorm innovative, feasible and impactful product ideas that will help our society during the COVID-related lockdown. We caught up with the impressive 18-year-old to find out more.
When and why did you find BYOS?
In November 2019, just two months before the world suffered the biggest virus outbreak of this century, BYOS was born. With some friends, I started Build Your Own School (BYOS), as a technology organization that would stimulate change and interest in new and emerging technologies.
At that time, my friends and I were all in grade 10 or less, and we knew very well that we weren’t geniuses; we didn’t have the coding skills, math prowess, or analytical brains strong enough to create real “breakthrough technology.” This task was reserved for companies like Apple, Tesla and Samsung.
However, we knew we had the ability to create some products that would at least spark interest in the community. The tough decision we had to make was which emerging technology BYOS would be the ambassador for? We chose virtual reality.
If you’ve ever tried a true virtual reality experience, you know what I’m talking about: the feeling of stepping into a massive new world while standing on the surface of your own room… that’s virtual reality.
Whether it’s flying through space, sliding under a dinosaur, or doing a nuclear chemistry experiment, you can experience it all in a virtual reality experience.
In BYOS, we are always fascinated by how VR technology allows us to realistically experience what is supposed to be “unexperienced”.
That said, our BYOS mission statement, since day one, has been “to accelerate the advent of virtual reality in our community”.
No fancy words there, just a simple goal – to make virtual reality the hot topic in as many places as possible. Since then, we have accomplished quite a bit in this area.
What kind of things?
From November 2019 to December 2020, the BYOS team of six amazing students – Rahil, Gleb, Sastra, Joon, Akshat and I – worked day and night to achieve our goal. This goal was to create a virtual reality tour of our entire school campus that a user could play with inside a VR headset.
After learning four new industrial software programs from scratch – SketchUp, Unity, Blender and Twinmotion – our team acquired enough skills to digitally model every element of our school campus, then texture, render, code and calibrate it for make it a VR experience.
After 14 exhausting – but fun – months! – work, we organized a launch event in our school, with a total of more than 600 people, to present our achievements. We took SSIS to become Shanghai’s premier school with a sophisticated virtual reality tour of our campus!
While other schools offered a Google 360 guided tour, we didn’t use 3D cameras or photo-taking devices. We built our school environment from scratch, with every pixel being pure software. BYOS is proud of it.
Over the past 16 months, it has become a reason for us to be invited to several major events, such as Maker-Faire Shanghai 2020, where we were one of the most popular booths, attracting over 1000 spectators to the total.
We were also the only student club to host a workshop during the Teacher’s ACAMIS Technology Conference 2021, where we shared our insight with leading educators on the importance of integrating virtual reality into education.
And you also have a podcast, tell us a bit about that.
After our period of achievements on the software side, the team felt that we needed to do something that involved the community more. Something that could be easily consumed by the average person, someone not interested in coding, programming, or using a clunky VR headset.
That’s when we launched The BYOS Podcast, an official technology podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and six other global platforms. Through this podcast, our goal was to reach a wider audience, so we decided to broaden our scope and talk about all technologies, instead of specializing only in virtual reality.
In our successful first season, we produced seven episodes, three of which featured highly accomplished technologists who sat down with us to talk about their involvement in technology.
Our guests included a CEO of a consulting company, a software engineer building his own R2D2 robot, and the STEAM director of an international school in Shanghai.
Our podcast is a place for students, teachers, geeks, nerds – or whatever the adjective – to listen to how emerging technologies are affecting our lives.
We will produce season 2 in a few months, in which our priority is to honor the students of Shanghai. We are going to invite many students this season to talk about their relationship with technology.
You can be a coder, a gamer, or even an anti-tech. As long as you think you have something exciting to share with a global tech audience, feel free to contact us ([email protected]) and we’ll have you on the show.
Tell us about the BYOS Innovators Tournament 2022.
In light of the resurgence of COVID-19 in China and Shanghai, it has come to the attention of society that we must always prepare for the worst. The goal of this tournament is for China’s brightest young minds to brainstorm innovative, feasible and impactful product ideas that will help our society during the COVID-related lockdown.
It could be a drone that delivers food, a new breed of hazmat suit or some kind of test kit – the choice is yours. Without the pressure of product manufacturing, this tournament will allow contestants’ imaginations to run wild to create the much-needed solutions our virus-pressured society needs.
The big winner of this tournament will win a free and exclusive summer internship (this summer) with a Forbes Top 50 tech company – Tech Mahindra!
Additionally, the top 5-10 applicants will also be invited to the BYOS podcast; in each episode, we’ll feature one of our contestants, digging deeper into the ideas they submitted for the tournament.
We have already enrolled 42 students from all over Shanghai. That’s already 42 new ideas on the way! We want as many students as possible to participate, and we encourage you to register as soon as possible before the April 25 registration deadline.
And we could very well feature a lot more than 10 students on our podcast too!
Do you participate in other initiatives?
If you’re talking about technology, I was invited by TEDx to give a virtual reality talk a few months ago, which has got to be one of the most exciting experiences of my high school life!
I was also happily accepted by HTC Vive as a summer intern during the summer of 2021, where I created virtual reality courses for schools in Hong Kong.
I’m also a big fan of MUN (Model United Nations), having attended over 12 conferences in Shanghai and Singapore in recent years as a delegate.
Apart from the extracurricular, I did not scatter myself with too many other initiatives, because it is better to specialize than to generalize. But I play drums, watch Marvel movies, and hang out with my friends outside of school, at least when I’m not stuck!
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