The rapid rise in the use of emerging technologies to manage and adapt to the current pandemic for operational efficiency, customer interaction and business sustainability has been simply phenomenal. An eco-system of technologies that facilitates interaction and allows for veritable engagement with customers and clients in a seemingly real or physical way is Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR). When combined as a hybrid mix of physical reality and digital content we get Mixed Reality (MR) where the user can now interact with and among the real world together with digital objects. The next quantum leap in this eco-system is Extended Reality (XR) which revolutionises Spatial Computing.
Most importantly, immersion, presence and interactivity are three linked touchstones that allow us to distinguish between the three types of simulated application technologies. Interactivity can be understood as ‘the extent to which users can participate in modifying the form and content of a mediated environment in real time’; Presence most commonly understood as the feeling of ‘being there’ in a place or environment when physically located elsewhere. Immersion commonly explained in terms of both presence and interactivity.
The Diversity of Extended Reality Technology
So how is Mixed Reality (XR) helping businesses, universities, consumers and people in general? The answer to this is the ubiquitous use of immersive technology in virtual shopping, learning & education, entertainment, healthcare, tourism, and many more industries.
These technologies have been deployed in diverse applications such as service delivery in fitness and telehealth; clinical assessment & surgical procedures; maintenance & machinery training; medical education; audio-visual entertainment and gaming; trying out fashion designs before buying; virtual help assistant; virtual museum visits and virtual country tours. Many of these activities are performed in the comfort of one’s home or workplace without the need for physical travel.
Goldman Sachs Inc. estimates that the uptake for VR/AR hardware and software is estimated at US$45billion and US$35billion respectively in 2025. Aside from the popularity and increased use of VR/AR/MR applications in the business and public sector, consumers have also become a major part of this ecosystem.
The phenomenal growth, diverse adoption across businesses, the increased investments in VR/AR/MR have led to a critical requirement for talent and skills now and in the near future.
XR Studio @ APU – the 1st among Higher Education Institution (HEI) in Malaysia
To develop talents for the AR/VR/MR eco-system, the Asia Pacific University of Technology &Innovation (APU) has invested RM2.25 million in setting up its XR Studio – a first-of-its-kind Spatial Computing facility among universities in Malaysia. Developed in partnership with Ministry XR, the studio is equipped with state-of-the-art equipment and facilities which include a 360 Degree Volumetric Video Capture Zone, EDEX (Extended Education Experience) Station, VolCap proprietary software, Mixed Reality Smart Glasses in the form of Microsoft HoloLens and high specification gaming standard workstations.
The EDEX Station serves as an XR/Spatial Computing laboratory, designed for shared and collaborative education experiences that Excite, Inspire and Stimulate. This immersive space enables technological experiments, research and teaching developments within Instructional Design.
This partnership is part of the academia-industry collaboration which continues to be APU’s primary strength in having industry-on-campus driving its offering leading to assurance of high employability for APU graduates. APU’s Chief Innovation Officer, Prof Ir Ts Dr Vinesh Thiruchelvam led the APU’s XR Studio project and has jointly developed the VR/AR education blueprint together with Ministry XR.
“The Studio comprises four stations with engagements designed to generate interest across multiple disciplines and it is the only lab where students can experience and build on with professional tools to create immersive AR, VR and MR applications,” explained Ts Dr Siti Azreena, the Creative Interactive Technology (CIT) Lecturer, School of Computing at APU. “The XR Studio is a studio for lessons related to XR development. However, it is not limited to class and lab lessons, the studio is also accessible for research purposes. Currently, we have several research grants associated with XR technology and in prototype development,” she continued.
Assignments carried out at XR Studio further provide inquisitive minds with the advantage of distinctive exposure, practical application and knowledge. With the integration of multiple technologies, the skills of students are honed – technically and creatively, to ultimately generate high-value creative technologists for the new digital economy.
In addition to this groundbreaking XR studio, APU had earlier launched and now hosts the VR/AR International Association (VRARA) Malaysian Chapter. This initiative provides an invaluable opportunity for students and staff to interact and share knowledge, interests & development with a global network of VR/AR peers and professionals.
A Bachelor Degree with a Specialism in VR/AR
The journey to acquire knowledge, skills and a professional qualification in VR/AR begins with the BSc (Hons) in Multimedia Technology with a specialism in VR/AR. Specialised modules in this programme include Introduction to VR/AR, Digital Image Production, Audio Visual Technology in Year 1; VR/AR Design Principles, Advanced VR Technology in Year 2; and VR/AR Design Project, Investigations in Multimedia Technology in Year 3, which is the final year.
The student projects and assignments carried out at the XR Studio are focused on developing skills in Spatial Computing that are set within the categories of XR Technical Expertise, Integration of Other Courses and XR Creative Expertise. Through unprecedented collaboration between APU and its industry partners, students are inspired to design compelling stories via the creation of interactive spatial computing systems that are supportive of the increasing industry demands.
To enhance their practical skills alongside their academic knowledge, students also undertake a 16 weeks’ internship in Year 2 of their degree studies. Several options are available for internship – with APU’s industrial partner – Ministry XR; with other VR/AR companies; through an internship at APU’s XR Studio with guidance from the respective lecturers and industry XR Engineers.
With XR technology in demand especially in the Asia Pacific region, VR/AR graduates can look forward to exciting careers in many industries. APU’s Career Centre helps facilitate the transition from a professional graduate to a working professional through career fairs, links to career preparation services, job opportunities and links to employers. APU’s graduates are highly sought after not only within Malaysia but also overseas. According to the latest Annual Graduate Tracer Study by the Ministry of Higher Education, 100% of APU graduates were employed upon graduation.
– Asia Pacific University of Technology & Innovation