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Brooklyn’s role as tech powerhouse surges with coming of virtual reality lab

Unreal: VR/AR growing ‘at breakneck speed’

July 7, 2017 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
A student demonstrates virtual reality goggles at a demonstration at NYU Tandon. Photo courtesy of NYU Tandon
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Another step in Brooklyn’s evolution as a tech powerhouse comes with the announcement that the borough will soon be home to the country’s first ever publicly funded virtual reality/augmented reality (VR/AR) facility.

The city recently announced the selection of New York University Tandon School of Engineering (formerly Polytechnic University) to develop and operate a hub for VR/AR at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, with a workforce development center at CUNY Lehman College in the Bronx. It is expected to open late in 2017.

VR and AR are hot and getting hotter. The city says the new lab will directly create more than 500 jobs over the next 10 years, and “further position New York City as a global leader in the VR/AR industry.”

Virtual reality is a computer-generated, three-dimensional environment that can be entered into by a person using technology such as special goggles or headsets and gloves. For example, a person might learn to skydive with a few stomach-lurching virtual jumps before attempting the real thing, or play a superhero battling aliens while immersed in a VR universe.

Augmented reality superimposes computer-generated images — viewed with special headsets, smart glasses or a cellphone — on top of the real world. For example, Facebook recently previewed an augmented reality social world where you can interact with your friends as if they are in the same room as you, no matter where they actually are. Or, a shopper might use AR to preview how a piece of furniture will look in their living room before they buy it. Soldiers can wear AR headsets showing data such as enemy location.

During a demonstration of the technology on June 27, Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen tried out NYU Tandon’s virtual reality app to take a virtual trip to Mars.

“Augmented and virtual reality represents a huge new industry, and we want New York City to be second to none,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a release. De Blasio said the plan was part of his strategy, called New York Works, to spur 100,000 good-paying city jobs in 10 years.

The lab received an initial $6 million investment by the NYC Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME). It will boost research, talent development and workforce development initiatives, the city says.

The lab will also help to fuel the city’s emerging VR/AR sector with early-stage capital, and allow investors, researchers and organizations to collaborate.

“The world of VR/AR is growing at breakneck speed — and the implications for businesses across New York City are incredibly exciting,” Media and Entertainment Commissioner Julie Menin said in a statement. “This new facility will ensure that we’re doing our part to spur innovation, create talent pipelines, and make New York City the home of these emerging industries.”

The lab will “further strengthen the Brooklyn Navy Yard’s thriving media sector, anchored by Steiner Studios, and create high-quality, middle-class job opportunities for New Yorkers,” said David Ehrenberg, president and CEO of the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation.

According to a 2016 report by Citigroup, the global VR/AR market could grow to $2.16 trillion by 2035 as different industries and applications make use of the technology.

Hundreds of startups and tech companies have set up shop in Brooklyn.  The Tech Triangle — made up of Downtown Brooklyn, DUMBO, and the Brooklyn Navy Yard — is now home to more than 1,350 “innovation companies” —22 percent more than three years ago, according to the Tech Triangle consortium.

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