Accelerating immersive tech with university research in NZ

 

By Hansol Cha, UniServices Business Development Manager

Here’s an impressive stat from the NZ XR Market Report: By 2025 the augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and extended reality (XR) industry is projected to grow to more than $40B USD globally by 2025, from $15B USD in 2020. 

The consumer market is the largest sector presently and Facebook’s recent introduction of the Oculus 2 VR headset is making VR hardware more accessible than ever. Meanwhile, COVID-19 has triggered enormous growth in the B2B market. As an example, just look at how the Consumer Electronics Show (the world’s largest) seamlessly transitioned to an all-digital show this year, leading to questions regarding the ongoing convergence of virtual and physical worlds beyond the pandemic.

In New Zealand we have the skills and the ambition to seize this opportunity. The time for New Zealand to stake its claim in the AR/VR/XR market is now and from UniServices, we are in a unique position to both see this potential and facilitate activity to support it. 

Last year (COVID-19 hurdles aside) I had the privilege to work with Professor Mark Billinghurst, who is world renowned in the XR industry. He was commissioned by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) to write a report on this very topic and navigate a pathway for researchers, government and business to join forces and make good things happen. 

Now heading up a world-leading AR/VR/XR research lab at the University of Auckland called the Empathic Computing Lab, Mark’s global network of like-minded experts are keen to work with New Zealand partners, but they are not sure where to start. 

Fortunately, with the establishment of a national network led by the University of Auckland spanning researchers from all New Zealand universities, and an Australasian consortium (ARIVE), we are now creating these entry points into the ecosystem and identifying ways to foster collaboration with research institutions, governments and business partners.

The NZ XR market summary report highlights the benefits to New Zealand, as well as how others stand to gain from collaborating with New Zealand partners. From a domestic perspective, the report points out that only 10% of New Zealand’s revenue in the AR/VR/XR market comes from overseas, while those companies with an international focus enjoy revenue which is three times higher per employee. 

A look at the AR/VR/XR capability in New Zealand

Within the University of Auckland we possess world leading capabilities in extended reality, which includes Associate Professor Suranga Nanayakkara’s Augmented Human Lab, Associate Professor Uwe Rieger’s Arc/Sec Lab and Professor Bruce MacDonald’s Centre for Automation and Robotic Engineering Science

Beyond the University, New Zealand is regarded as a global leader in creating XR applications with indigenous communities.   Associate Professor Hēmi Whaanga from the University of Waikato is leading a project called Ātea. The project will  build and design an immersive experience that will draw on Māori protocol and world views as well as new technologies to preserve and share knowledge, language and culture in the digital realm. 

The gaming sector is another rapidly growing industry, including companies like Beyond, ARA Journeys, GEO AR Games. New Zealand has also been leading innovative solutions for the Future of Work and education sectors: AllTerra (Trimble’s geospatial portfolio) has been conducting R&D with New Zealand universities to create solutions for industry; ImmerseMe creates solutions for immersive language training; and RemotelyHQ is offering solutions for gamified interactive remote offices for collaboration. 

There are just too many creative minds and innovators in New Zealand to list them all here, so make sure you check out the NZ XR Summary report and the Interactive Aotearoa Report prepared by NZTech & NZGDA. Many were also involved in the inaugural NZ XR Summit last year, and you can watch their presentation replays here. 

The opportunity now

The opportunity now is to piece common agendas together. It isn’t always obvious how university research can contribute directly to market growth, but with the right combination of capability and innovative leadership our university labs are the perfect places to develop transformative new technology, knowledge and talent for the future. Research and Development is a long-term investment for those that want to make history, and at the University of Auckland we do basic, applied and experimental development research – yielding ground-breaking results that have a real world impact today.

If you are interested to learn more about what this really looks like, I encourage you to:

At UniServices, we like to think and act out of the box and we see a lot of potential for New Zealand collectively to think big (global) and avoid over-competing domestically. We want to help New Zealand companies and researchers to grow and to work on solutions for the tough and ‘crazy’ ideas and challenges. UniServices is here to help facilitate new partnerships and technology with the potential to be transformative in shaping tomorrow. So, if this sparks ideas for you, please get in touch and let’s see what we can do. 

Contact UniServices Business Development Manager Hansol Cha: Hansol.cha@auckland.ac.nz