Tallinn University of Technology

Until now, state-of-the-art technology has mostly been available to the wealthy or big. Soon, however, virtual and augmented reality technologies will become accessible to smaller companies and universities. The researchers of TalTech have a huge role to play in it.

VR virtuaalreaalsus
Photo: Pixabay

Namely, the VAM Realities project, which is funded by the European Commission via the ERASMUS+ funding programme, establishes that products and services are also offered to small and medium-sized companies and universities to facilitate their access to virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), i.e. the field of XR technologies.

TalTech researchers of the Centre for Intelligent Systems of the Department of Computer Systems, Head of the Centre Professor Eduard Petlenkov and Senior Researcher Aleksei Tepljakov, participated in the project.

‘This project was very ambitions and also difficult,’ states Petlenkov, who also says that it is a very promising technology. ‘Today, intelligent systems cannot exist without the involvement of so-called digital twins. It is possible to ‘interact’ with the latter in augmented reality, which is why this project interested us so much. I believe that the results speak for themselves: there are several very good results in which the role of our researchers was huge.’

Until now, only the so-called beautiful and wealthy had access

Aleksei Tepljakov notes that the power of the results of the VAM Realities project becomes evident when we look at the current situation. ‘Then, it is easier to understand why the results of the VAM Realities project are so important in general,’ Tepljakov adds.

According to him, it can be summarised that by now, probably a lot of people have heard of virtual reality, but it has only been accessible to a limited number of companies, who are also pioneers in developing and manufacturing virtual and augmented reality devices. ‘Facebook officially became Meta, which was quite a bold move and caused controversy within the public, and they did that mainly to advertise the metaverse – a virtual space which can be accessed via Facebook Quest, the company’s own virtual reality headset. The latter offers a high-quality VR-experience and is also relatively affordable.’

XR technologies are here to stay

It is not easy to bring users into the metaverse, however. ‘The actual perception of the users differs quite a lot from the idealistic vision of Meta: although it may be fun to chat in VR for a few minutes or hours, it is still far from what is being advertised in the film Ready Player One. For clarification: this film talks about a chaos happening in 2045, where people find a possible way out from a virtual reality universe created by one of the characters.

There is a risk that when the first excitement about VR has faded away, the users go back to chatting digitally on social media platforms. So, what does it all mean? And will the metaverse be ‘forgotten’ and bring the XR (augmented and virtual reality technologies) down with it?

‘Very unlikely,’ states Tepljakov. According to him, one of the main misconceptions lies in the wish to force people to constantly wear ‘boxes’ on their heads to use augmented and virtual reality technologies. The level of comfort achieved that way is still far from what most users would accept, considering the current content and choice of activities of the metaverse.

‘Therefore, it is smart to use XR sustainably, offering the users certain advantages regarding the content and services. XR is clearly here to stay and there is no reason for it to disappear – the companies just need to make reasonable investments to support introducing XR where it really matters.’

Although so far, most users have clearly experienced VR and AR in games and entertainment, both technologies also have attractive industrial uses. ‘Examples can be found in flight simulations, practical industrial trainings, recruitment of new employees, education, maintenance, industrial design, and virtual tourism,’ Tepljakov counts.

Real examples can be shown about XR applications, for which investments definitely pay off. If the technology is used moderately and people’s interests are taken into account, it is possible to keep the users interested. ‘Therefore, XR is gradually achieving the approval of the public and it is used in the same way as we use flat-panel monitors today,’ Tepljakov makes the comparison.

Another positive aspect is that there are already a lot of information materials which spell out for the company or university what the technology allows and how useful it can be for the company.

Companies that are interested get training

According to Petlenkov and Tepljakov, the aim of the VAM Realities project is to offer users instructional materials that cover those exact aspects, and additional training, when necessary.

Virtual, augmented, and mixed reality technologies are becoming increasingly important in many areas of life and economy, especially in manufacturing. Due to the speed of technical development and the huge amount of available information, products, and services, small and medium-sized companies often have difficulties with keeping up to date with technology and using its possibilities. In order to change that, the VAM Realities project groups together universities and companies all over Europe to encourage them to use VR and AR technologies more actively than before and find ways to integrate them into their business activity.

Aleksei Tepljakov adds that in relation to this, they created a resource kit during the project which is meant for universities and includes:

• a report that provides an overview of the most important and efficient VR/AR/MR technologies that are available to the company and which hardware and software is successfully being used with various technologies;

• an account of a European study, including the results of 300 European companies, to map the knowledge and needs of companies in regard to XR technology and to clarify how companies already benefit from those technologies;

• a web platform which offers unique networking options in the field of XR technologies. The platform has the VAM Realities Network, an online repository which consists of more than 350 registered XR experts and enthusiasts from Europe and all over the world. The platform also has a presentation of the XR projects of Europe, which provides access to more than 40 XR-related projects from all over Europe, financed by the EU;

• a web-based self-assessment tool which allows companies to find out how ready they are for the increasing importance of those technologies in their respective industries;

• a practical manual about how universities can support production companies in the successful deployment of XR technologies.

‘Additionally, the project involves a guidance programme, through which universities and other educational institutions support their national companies in the deployment of XR technologies. Two trainings have already taken place – one in Bilbao, Spain and the other in Milan, Italy. More information about the VAM Realities project is available to those interested on the website of the project: https://vam-realities.eu/,’ Tepljakov emphasises.

* This article was published in the Novaator science portal.