Ready Player

Drawing on its state-of-the-art 5G infrastructure, Qatar wants to be an early adopter of immersive technologies.

Qatar has become an early adopter of almost all new technologies. The 5G was one well-publicized example, among many, which made the headlines back in 2018-19.

Immersive technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality have come to the foreground of IT discussions since the pandemic, when many noticed the importance of VR to merge the physical and virtual worlds. Now, after those challenging months, companies and researchers in Qatar are experimenting with the use of VR in interactive education, e-commerce, and enhanced entertainment.

The country’s flag carrier airline, Qatar Airways, launched a metaverse experience called “QVerse” in which participants can wander around the premium area at Hamad International Airport (HIA), examine the interior and the seating area of the airline’s various aircrafts, and even interact with cabin crew.

The national carrier is employing immersive technologies to show off its quality features to win the hearts of travelers.

“With physical boundaries beginning to be challenged by the metaverse on an increasingly larger scale, it is exciting to embrace a technology that enables all travel enthusiasts to enjoy a unique immersive experience of our award-winning products and services,” says the group’s chief executive Akbar Al Baker. Now is an excellent time to keep a virtual presence for Qatar Air, as there are upwards of 1.7 million potential customers who want to fly to Qatar in November and December during the FIFA World Cup2022.

The aviation industry is not the only sector in the Qatari economy that will have a busy year in 2022, because many who will not make it to Doha will be on the lookout for immersive streaming services to enjoy the games. A Qatari startup called Amazing Reality View Experience (ARVEX) is using AR for entertainment purposes, “providing high-quality 360° video content.” Using virtual reality glasses and headsets, the company offers a live 3D video feed of the games.

The experience is something between watching the event in person and following it on television. Mega-events, whose tickets are extremely difficult to obtain, are the main focus of ARVEX. With the kickoff day of the FIFA World Cup 2022 approaching fast, the startup is hopeful to draw on the mega-event’s attraction to establish itself. The startup comes out of the Qatar Science and Technology Park.

Qatar University, too, is supporting researchers who want to focus on the many uses of immersive technologies. The university runs a virtual reality lab that focuses on the potential applications of VR in the education sector. The university itself will soon experimentally use VR to assist the students of engineering, architecture, and medicine in their studies.

Qatar University will likely be among the first in the world to use VR to let medical students be part of advanced medical procedures in a risk-free manner.

The use of VR for training is not limited to formal education. Companies based in Qatar are taking advantage of immersive technologies to train their workforce. “Immersive training using VR provides resource-efficient ways to educate and onboard employees in exciting, stimulating scenarios,” according to DHL, a logistics company, which uses VR to train its future employees in Qatar.

To name but one example, the company trains its warehouse workers to operate forklifts using virtual reality headsets and simulators in the early stages of training.

A certain VR-powered innovation called “cave virtual environment,” yields itself particularly well to public education purposes. A VR cave is usually made of several interactive walls, which are in reality extra-large digital screens.

The installation of at least four walls (2 on the sides, 1 in the front, and 1 on the ceiling) can create the illusion that one is in a chamber of imagination, and no VR headsets are needed. A VR cave opened its doors to the public in a mall in Doha Festival City in March 2022.

The augmented reality experience on offer is designed to give you “a virtual tour of the cosmos and learn about the different planets, the sun and stars, as well as constellations and comets.”

In March 2022, the same mall in Doha Festival City drew on a different VR technology for “showcasing the latest collections from its wide range of homeware brands from across the globe.”

The organizers complemented their furniture and homeware display with AR features such as pop-up displays created with the help of augmented reality. AR headsets are much like VR headsets, but while relaying the external world to the user more-or-less truthfully, visual features are augmented to the video.

Thus, while visiting a real exhibition in person wearing an AR headset, one can also see, say, additional information hovering around each item on display.

Indeed, entertainment and public education are among the most typical applications of VR in Qatar. The wide availability of 5G makes it easier to implement VR solutions which require a stable internet connection with high bandwidth to instantaneously download the 3D graphics from the cloud. Although the application of VR and AR in Qatar is currently experimental and limited, it is still more than what many countries have to offer.

The country is adopting immersive technologies at an accelerating pace. “The AR/VR market was estimated at US $37.7 million in 2022 and is projected to grow at 13.8% annually to reach USD63.2 million in 2026,” according to Tasmu Digital Valley, an innovation cluster backed by the ministry of communications and information technology (MCIT). In addition to a conducive economic and technological climate for VR to flourish, the adoption of VR is also accelerated by initiatives such as Smart Qatar.

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