To Mars and Beyond: NYU Tandon and partners selected as new hub for VR/AR in NYC

Levi Mollison, B.S. in Integrated Digital Media (May 2017), demonstrates his VR project

Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Alicia Glen may have thought she was just coming to Brooklyn, but her visit to the NYU Tandon School of Engineering took her all the way to Mars and back.

Mark Skwarek, CEO - Semblance AR, displaying his project to the crowd gathered at NYU Tandon on the occasion of VR/AR Lab Plan Release, while Alicia Glen, Deputy Mayor for Housing & Economic Development tries it with the VR headset on.

Mark Skwarek, Lecturer of Integrated Digital Media, displaying Tandon’s VR application (Tandon Vision) to the crowd, while Alicia Glen, Deputy Mayor for Housing & Economic Development tries it with the VR headset on.

The occasion was a celebration of a new partnership between the school and the NYC Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME), which selected Tandon to lead a virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) hub at the Brooklyn Navy Yard (see the press release). The VR/AR facility will cement New York City and NYU Tandon as leaders in these technologies by fostering innovation, supporting startups, and creating more than jobs as soon as next year and into the next decade.

Tandon was chosen from numerous contenders as it’s established an unprecedented partnership network with a range of university, industry, civic and cultural organizations, which will ensure the lab is accessible to a diverse array of New Yorkers with a specific focus on job creation. Tandon is home to the Future Labs incubators, which provides support and resources for growing ventures, and is also a founding member alongside NYCEDC and Columbia University of the NYC Media Lab – the consortium of universities and companies that drives innovation in the areas of media, design, and technology. Tandon’s selection also speaks to its groundbreaking work in virtual reality and augmented reality (see box below). 

“This facility will bring new members into the innovation economy and will ensure that VR and AR applications are used by all,” Dean Katepalli R. Sreenivasan said of the country’s first ever publicly funded VR/AR facility. Sreenivasan and Glen were joined by NYCEDC President and CEO James Patchett, MOME Commissioner Julie Menin, and Council Member and Chair of the Committee on Economic Development Dan Garodnick, among other dignitaries.

Adelle Lin (a graduate student in the Integrated Digital Media program) demonstrates her virtual reality project, Moor

Adelle Lin (a graduate student in the Integrated Digital Media program) demonstrates her virtual reality project, Moor

At the June 27 event, held in Tandon’s state-of-the-art MakerSpace, Glen and the audience got a firsthand look at the exciting possibilities of the technology when she donned a 3D headset to take a virtual trip to Mars using Tandon’s VR application Tandon Vision. (The mobile app debuted in 2016 to encourage attendance by admitted high school students.) Operating the NYU Lunabotics Rover as it collected soil samples on Mars’ surface, Glen – who noted the city’s deep commitment to and $6-million investment in the new hub – expressed a sentiment shared by many in the room that “the applications of VR and AR are endless.”

Her words were borne out by the demos on display at the event. Created by innovative companies, startups, and students who are melding VR/AR with healthcare, art, entertainment, storytelling and human interaction, these included:

  • Semblance AR is a company launched by Mark Skwarek, a Tandon faculty member and founder of NYU’s Mobile Augmented Reality Lab, who showcased his innovative approaches to gaming, industrial, geographic, and creative uses of AR
  • Holojam, a product from NYU Courant, is a software platform that allows anyone to create a multi-user, interactive VR/AR experience where virtual and physical worlds blend together – such as a mixed reality (MR) multi-player video game
     
  • Medivis, a tenant in the Digital Future Lab, is a collaborative startup founded by members of Tandon, NYU Langone Medical Center, and the NYU Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) and is using AR and 3D holographic imaging to revolutionize medical visualization, education and patient engagement
  • Two NYC Media Lab-supported startups displayed their AR mobile apps. One, VillageLIVE, is an AR walking tour created by NYU ITP students that traces the queer history of the West Village through narrative storytelling. YOU ARE HERE, developed by Jere Hester and Sandeep Junnarkar of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, explores Times Square across time, from the 1900s until now, using AR and image archives.

Menin described VR/AR’s immense impact on the global economy and predicted that the new hub would generate revenue and jobs across such diverse industries as entertainment, healthcare, tourism, and engineering. “This [center] is a place for people to come together to learn, to collaborate and to really grow these important technologies,” Menin said. “This hub, under the leadership of NYU, will be that unifying space.”

“Twenty years from now, we’ll look back at today, probably through headsets, and think that this was the day we launched our success in virtual reality,” Patchett asserted.

The new facility will be unveiled later in 2017 and also features a partnership with CUNY’s Lehman College, in the Bronx, which was selected to run a workforce development center.


Tandon at the VR/AR Forefront

Camila Ryder
Graduate School of Arts and Science
Master of Arts in English Literature, Class of 2018