A new virtual reality program, being developed in the Capital Region, has the potential to transform how sports referees are trained.

EmpowerU VR plans to release a training app for taekwondo officials this fall. The team behind the service says this is only the beginning.

Virtual reality allows users to learn by doing. It’s the philosophy EmpowerU VR is built on.

“I’ve always believed in the power of real time experience. There’s something you can’t get from a lecture,” said Jarell Pryor, lead VR developer for EmpowerU Virtual Reality.

The startup company aims to offer training through immersion.

“Based on our research, we found the things we do, we remember 90 percent of that content,” said founder and CEO Yumi Kageyama.

Yumi Kageyama is a 23-year-old recent Siena College grad. 

Kageyama, who runs Risen Taekwondo in Malta, originally set out to make a self-defense program. Instead she narrowed her focus on taekwondo. With the help of lead developer Jarell Pryor, they created Summit Referee Training.

“You are doing exactly what the referee would be doing in this scenario. You are sitting down with a scorer in your hand, pressing buttons to judge this person who is performing in front of you,” Pryor said.

The two produced the training videos using a 180 degree camera. A friend assembled a custom-made controller to work with the Oculus Go.

“By physically doing what they’re training to do, they’re more likely to be prepared because they’re in that situation over and over again,” Kageyama said.

Although the focus right now is taekwondo, both recognize the framework they’ve created for referee training in VR could be used for numerous other sports.

“Even in karate, boxing, or even wrestling, there are so many things we can do in the martial art world but then beyond that we have tennis. And I think the coolest thing would be like umpire training to be in that role, and calling those strikes and balls,” Kageyama said.

The training program is set for release this fall. These entrepreneurs hope a mix of ambition and continued learning will unlock opportunities and make their vision a reality.

“This is the perfect way to kind of establish ourselves and have that initial product and then be able to move on with the experience we’ve learned while doing this,” Pryor said.