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Virtual reality gives SA students a cutting edge


Virtual reality gives SA students a cutting edge

Soon students in a pioneering Cape Town varsity course will put on a headseat and 'operate' in VR

Senior science reporter

The University of the Western Cape is making sure they don’t start the revolution without us.
Next month, the country’s first accredited postgraduate course in virtual, augmented and mixed reality (VR, AR and MR) will start. These are all vital components of the so-called fourth industrial revolution.
Ruchen Wyngaard, an information systems master’s student who specialises in VR, is part of the first cohort who will be enrolled in the course for skills transfer so that he can lecture on the second intake next year.
The university partnered with a multinational company to deliver the course, and experts from overseas will be training Wyngaard and others to take over from 2019.
“Given the fourth industrial revolution and technological advances, our goal is to move along with the changes happening in international institutions. The corporate industry is demanding skills that are not currently available in South Africa, and we want to change that,” he said.Named the Postgraduate Diploma in e-Skills: Immersive Technologies, it will equip graduates to apply their skills in a broad range of fields in business, education and entertainment, among many others.On the education front, says Wyngaard by way of example: “Before, if you were studying medicine, you would have to physically cut a cadaver open to examine a heart and other organs. Now, with immersive technologies, you could put a headset on and have the same experience, but in a virtual world. This also enables institutions to reduce the costs associated with physical infrastructure and resources such as laboratories.”
In practice, it means students and professionals can go where they have never been before, and “it opens up a world of opportunity” since the experience is quite realistic.
Wyngaard says that while there is a focus on software engineering in the immersive technology field, it is “not just about building solutions but also recreating scenarios where people can practise and learn in an error-free environment”.
For example, if you’re practising health and safety techniques with miners, individuals can get a sense of whether they have vertigo by being in a simulated environment replete with heights.
In education, immersive technologies bring with them “new ways of learning, viewing content and interacting with content”.In entertainment, too, such technologies will probably replace cinemas as people seek a “full 360-degree” experience.
The overall aim of the course is to plug into the “needs for skills” that these industrial changes are bringing about.“What excites me most,” says Wyngaard, “is that using tech among people who don’t normally use it has the ability to take them to a whole new world. People are often blown away, and after stepping out of the virtual world they frequently report that they experience a high level of telepresence, the feeling of being elsewhere other than the real world.”
The diploma is nine-and-a-half months, takes in 40 students at a time, and is starting in-house in mid-September. It will open to the public next year, with an open day scheduled for this month.
The university is hoping to attract students from a wide range of fields, including science, technology, engineering, health sciences, tourism, media, computer science, education, architecture and business.
“Those who have no prior experience we will train from scratch,” says Wyngaard. Those who already have basic IT, programming knowledge and 3D modelling skills will benefit from this knowledge.

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