Auckland’s virtual reality evolution

Last Updated : 22 Jul 2016
Virtual Reality
Nigel Jamieson - Senior Lecturer Digital Design, Auckland University of Technology. Photo credit: Amy Ninnes

Enter the ‘virtual reality evolution’. It’s here, it’s growing and it’s going to be powerful.

According to keynote speakers at the recent Magnify Conference held at MOTAT, this year, 2016 is set to become the ‘year of virtual reality’, with a number of providers releasing hardware platforms. These include top end immersive headsets through to the more affordable Microsoft Cardboard glasses.

The uptake of this technology has huge implications for content creators across the creative industries: from gaming and film, to telepresence videoconferencing (which creates a realistic experience of being in the room), to using virtual experiences for stakeholder engagement, advocacy and educational messaging. Potential for these tools is limitless.

Auckland’s ‘virtual reality evolution’ is an example of the potential for growth in the creative industries. Goal six in Toi Whītiki- Auckland’s Arts and Culture Strategic Action Plan focuses on the contribution of the creative sector to Auckland’s economic growth as well as fostering education, collaboration and professional development for the creative sector.

At this year’s Tripartite Summit and Magnify Conference in Auckland, presentations highlighted the potential of digital media to drive economic growth. In particular, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) look set to revolutionise the digital landscape. Augmented reality refers to the overlay of digital information on top of a live, real-world environment. Virtual reality, in contrast, is a fully immersive computer-simulated experience.

Auckland's Virtual Reality Evolution

Gameplay image sourced from

Alongside the release of accessible platforms like the cardboard glasses that will retail for about twenty-five dollars, and combine smart phone technology, and virtual reality apps to create an immersive virtual experience, other sophisticated technology has been developed.

There is excitement regarding the upcoming release of Microsoft’s HoloLens, Magic Leap’s retinal projection and ‘smart glass’ technology that signals augmented reality is also set to take off.

Auckland is well placed to become a Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality hub. Auckland University of Technology (AUT) have been teaching courses experimenting in this field for the last few years. AR/VR content development requires trans-disciplinary collaboration to develop the new language required for image, sound and narrative creation. This collaborative approach led AUT to invest in local AR/VR start-up company Imersia. One of the founders, Dr Roy Davies, also regularly guest lectures at the university, demonstrating a new partnership between universities and the private sector.

It is likely that gaming will kick off virtual reality content creation as games often have three-dimensional layouts, so it is a natural progression to make them stereoscopic. Students are looking at starting up their own gaming companies, and need support in order to be successful. Nigel Jamieson, a senior lecturer at AUT’s School of Art and Design, says that education offers this support as it is also essential to experiment and make mistakes in the safety of a learning institution, where students can push the limits without it costing them their start-up.

This support for young entrepreneurs is evident in the development of new programmes at AUT such as the Master of Visual Arts, Master of Design, and Master of Culture and Creative Practice programmes. These programmes allow students to take papers in entrepreneurship from the business school as part of the qualification, meaning they are able to develop a strong foundation for a start-up before they leave university. Students can then enter the AUT Kickstart Competition and win up to $6000 to get their start-up off the ground.

The GridAKL innovation hub at Wynyard Quarter, sponsored by ATEED, provides crucial space for creative entrepreneurs to build their companies, and AUT are talking with GridAKL and industry partners to see how they can collaborate to create a supportive environment for young entrepreneurs.

For more information on AR/VR at AUT contact Nigel Jamieson at

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