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 ecosystem 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) whereby the user can interact with and among the real world together with digital objects.
The next quantum leap in this ecosystem is Extended Reality (XR) which revolutionizes spatial computing.
Extended Reality (XR) refers to all real-and-virtual combined environments and human-machine interactions generated by computer technology and wearables.
Most importantly, interactivity, presence and immersion 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 is most commonly understood as the feeling of being in a place or environment when physically located elsewhere.
Immersion is commonly explained in terms of both presence and interactivity.
Diversity of extended reality technology
So how is Extended 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 and education, entertainment, healthcare, tourism and many other industries.
These technologies have been deployed in diverse applications such as service delivery in fitness and telehealth; clinical assessment and surgical procedures; maintenance and 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$45bil and US$35bil respectively in 2025.
Aside from the popularity and increased use of VR/AR/MR applications in the business and public sectors, consumers have also become a major part of this ecosystem.
The predicted market size of VR/AR software for different use cases in 2025. Source: Equity Research
The phenomenal growth, diverse adoption across businesses and 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: first among higher education institutions in Malaysia
To develop talents for the AR/VR/MR ecosystem, the Asia Pacific University of Technology & Innovation (APU) has invested RM2.25mil to set 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 propriety 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 the 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 and leading to assurance of high employability for APU graduates.
APU 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.
Developed in partnership with Ministry XR, XR Studio – a first-of-its-kind facility among universities in Malaysia – built at Asia Pacific University of Technology & Innovation (APU) provides students hands-on experience of Extended Reality.
Mixed Reality smart glasses in the form of Microsoft HoloLens (left) and Oculus Quest, a virtual reality (VR) headset developed by Oculus (right), are wearables provided at APU’s XR Studio.
“The XR 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 at APU’s School of Computing.
“The studio is 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 said.
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.
The EDEX (extended education experience) station at XR Studio.
This initiative provides an invaluable opportunity for students and staff to interact and share knowledge, interests and development with a global network of VR/AR peers and professionals.
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.
In addition to this groundbreaking XR studio, APU had earlier launched and now hosts the VR/AR International Association (VRARA) Malaysian chapter. 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 related to 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-week internship in Year 2 of their degree studies.
Several options are available for an internship with APU’s industrial partner Ministry XR, and other VR/AR companies, or 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 to 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 Higher Education Ministry, 100% of APU graduates were employed upon graduation.