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Future is bright for graduates in $21.4 billion AR/VR industry

SAE artificial reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) lecturer, Dr Scott Roberts gives his insight into Australia's multi-billion dollar industry, the opportunities available to graduates, and the potential the technology has to make meaningful change to people’s lives.
Hi Scott, can you explain a bit about your career?

I first started within the digital design space, but I always knew there were going to be opportunities in the immersive and emerging technologies space in the future. During my PhD I focused on designing photorealistic 3D virtual environments and simulations, which gave me the opportunity to learn first-hand the experiences that can be cultivated through this technology.

While studying, I was given the chance to be involved in building an interactive virtual pharmacy environment for higher education students to learn about the chemical compounds of different drugs – you could say it was a gamified examination.

Another experience I’ve been working on, has been with the Menzies Foundation – to assist patients with spinal cord injuries. Extending the concept of the mirror box technique, and utilising the power of immersive technologies to provide visual signals to the patient, we’ve created an experience for the patient where their avatar is walking in a virtual environment, all through arm swing and hand movement.

To create this, we produced an algorithm that learned the patient’s arm swing pattern, how fast they were moving, and how quickly the legs had to animate. We’re now doing a longitudinal study to see how much improvement there is in patients.

What’s exciting about the AR/VR industry?

I think the ability to change people’s lives through immersive technology is quite exciting. With technology advancing so quickly, you’ve always got to have your finger on the pulse. There are always going to be new opportunities, and it’s about being able to react to those.

Is there a company out there that’s doing great things with the technology?

One of the most impressive companies out there at the moment is Sandpit – they’re not afraid to break boundaries, and are doing some impressive work telling the history of Indigenous culture and prehistoric Australian history using interactive media.

I’ve been helping them create immersive experiences that are built on thousands of years worth of Aboriginal and prehistoric Australian history for Western Australian Museum, South Australian Museum, and Museums Victoria.

Is there a concern that AR/VR could just become a novelty?

It is an issue where some of the designs feel gimmicky, and businesses are just using AR/VR for the sake of it, but I don’t foresee that as a systemic problem. The experiences, from my perspective, have got to have meaning and purpose, otherwise it’s not going to have any impact in the industry.

What sectors can AR/VR graduates get into?

There isn’t a single endpoint, given the industry is constantly evolving and more doors are opening. The games and VFX sectors are probably the most obvious and easiest connection to AR/VR, but you’ve also got serious games and simulations which feed into the education and health industries. Given the amount of investment in these technologies, there are opportunities in architecture and engineering as well, so there’s really is no limit to where graduates can end up.

What do you bring as an educator to the classroom?

When you’re teaching concepts to students, what makes the information stick is the anecdotal evidence of how I’ve overcome an obstacle first hand in the industry. When students come across those same issues themselves, they’re going to have the knowledge from my experience in the industry, as well as the problem solving skills to move forward with their projects.

What attracted you to SAE as a lecturer?

I’ve always been interested in the way everything at SAE is so interconnected with professional practice. As educators, we’re not just talking about theory for the sake of it, we’re actually experiencing it and doing things as we would out in the industry, so students can hit the ground running as soon as they graduate.

Man operating a VR set

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