I’ve led a successful Research Capital Fund at UON to help the university invest in key areas that can extend its research and innovation impact leading to the next REF submission.
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The Fund will support the first-phase development of a Metaverse Lab for health services, education, training, and industrial innovations within but not limited to the Faculty of Arts, Science and Technology (FAST), Centre for Advanced and Smart Technologies (CAST), and Centre for Active Digital Education (CADE).
The Metaverse Lab will address the single biggest challenge of VR/XR work at the university: many colleagues who want to experiment with immersive technologies for teaching and research simply didn’t have the resources and technical skills to set up the technology for their work. We’ve witnessed how this technical barrier has blocked so many great ideas from being further developed. My aim is to build an environment where researchers can simply walk into the Lab and start experimenting with the technologies, conducting user experiments, and collecting research-grade data.
The Lab will include an end-to-end solution, from content generation to distribution and consumption. At the centre of the Metaverse Lab sits an audio-visual volumetric capturing system with several RGB-depth cameras and microphones. This will allow us to seamlessly link virtual and physical environment for complex interactive tasks. The capturing system will link up with our content processing and network emulation toolkit to prepare the raw data for different use scenarios such as online multiparty interaction. Needless to say, artificial intelligence will be an important part of the system for optimisation and data-driven designs. There will be dedicated VR/XR headsets added to our arsenal to close the loop.
We envisage multiple impact areas including computational psychiatry (VR health assessment and therapies), professional training (policing, nursing, engineering, etc.), arts and performance (UKRI just announced a new framework “Enter the metaverse: Investment into UK creative industries”), social science (e.g., ethical challenges in Metaverse), esports (video gaming industry), etc. We are also looking forward to expanding our external partnerships with industrial collaborations, business support, etc.