Environment & Engineering

Living the dream

Published Sep 28, 2020

Concepts like teleportation—that once only existed in the dreams of science fiction writers—are now fast becoming a reality thanks to innovators at Victoria University of Wellington’s Computational Media Innovation Centre (CMIC).

The Centre’s postgraduate students and researchers are working to transform their academic research on immersive reality technologies—i.e. Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR)—into a range of cutting-edge services and products (including Augmented Virtual Teleportation or AVT) that will fundamentally change how people connect with information, experiences and each other.

Wellington UniVentures is working right alongside them to help protect their intellectual property, find funding opportunities, and connect them with industry partners.

“Our relationship with Wellington UniVentures adds significant value to what we do here,” says Dr Taehyun Rhee, Director of the CMIC and Associate Professor in the Wellington Faculty of Engineering. “Whether it’s connecting us to their extensive industry networks or helping us to determine the best commercial pathway—via a licensing deal or a spin-out company—they are the link that enables us to get our research out into the market where it can really have impact.”

Taehyun says that those connections not only enable his team to clearly establish what issues industry are facing and get vital feedback for product development, they also enhance the learning experience for his students.

“Industry engagement intensifies the value of students’ learning when they realise they are not just writing a paper, they are using what they write to pitch their ideas to businesses,” he says. “Some students say they learn just as much from commercialising their research as they do from writing a thesis.”

Liam Sutton—the Wellington UniVentures Commercialisation Manager responsible for helping CMIC to commercialise its prototype-stage projects—says the team has some industry-leading projects on the go.

“Lighting and shadows are what sell realism and believability in the world of MR,” says Liam. “So one of the products they are developing focuses on creating immersive lighting for content creators to build perfectly lit—and therefore incredibly realistic—mixed reality experiences using real-time 360° video footage.”  

He says the second product he’s helping them to commercialise involves taking the limited input of a phone and inferring what the lighting should look like in as close to real-time as possible—allowing content developers to blend the synthetic and real worlds seamlessly together for a fully immersive, interactive MR experience on a smartphone.

“MR and AVT technologies have the potential to address problems and bridge distance like never before,” says Liam. “Applications could include everything from film production, architectural design and broadcasting, right through to education, engineering, entertainment, healthcare and e-commerce.” 

Having worked for Samsung for 17 years, Taehyun says he’s no stranger to industry, but enjoys the opportunities that academia offers him. “If your work is focused on one company with one problem, that’s all you’re ever going to help. Being an academic in an entrepreneurially-minded university means I can deliver output with impact on a much wider scale—and Wellington UniVentures plays an essential part in that.”