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Saudi creative program sees first immersive tech ideas brought to digital life

DHAHRAN: The first fruits of a special creative program launched in Saudi Arabia to generate innovative ideas using the latest immersive technologies are being showcased at the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture.

Visitors to Ithra in Dhahran will be able to test prototypes of the first five winning projects from the centre’s Creative Solutions initiative.

Using augmented, virtual and extended reality, haptics and immersive audio, the products will remain on public display until April 23.

Speaking at a recent demo day, Ithra’s Head of Programs Ashraf Alfagih said: “Innovation takes center stage at Ithra. This is where the imagination is fueled, ideas are born and knowledge is shared. At Ithra, we aim to support, inspire and nurture the growth of Saudis, both locally and internationally.

Program participants have spent the last 10 months working to bring their visions to life and from thousands of potential ideas, five have been selected to be developed into prototypes.

One was Alqatt XR, featuring the traditional Al-Qatt women-centric art form from southern Saudi Arabia. The other creations consisted of a mixed reality, a geolocated experience focusing on the sensations of heavy rains, the interactive and playful visit project of the Jawaab museum, a storytelling experience on great scientists involving holograms, virtual reality and sound. immersive multi-speaker, and the Wamdah virtual journey through time and space in Saudi Arabia.

Some of the finalists had no prior experience with immersive technologies, while the program’s judges focused on finding original ideas in storytelling with marketing.

In addition to receiving up to SR375,000 ($87,400) to develop their prototypes, the innovators behind the selected projects gained access to Ithra’s ideas and immersive lab equipment, including a haptic suit for physical VR experiences, a special VR treadmill, one of the highest resolution mixed reality headsets in the tech industry, and a state-of-the-art VR camera.

Hamish Jenkinson, the program’s creative director who also served as a mentor, connector and one of the judges for the 30 selected cohorts, told Arab News that he got involved with the program in 2019 after being encouraged by the large number of applicants and the potential of technology to promote gender equality in the Kingdom.

He said: “Saudi youth are more digitally connected than most in the region, so this program represents a huge opportunity. This speaks to other major changes taking place in the country. When it comes to things like esports, there’s a big tie there – it’s how fast you can think and move your thumbs.

“When it comes to immersive technology, there’s no reason Saudi women can’t lead – just look at the cohorts. There are three prototypes led by female teams and two by men. C This is a great example of how women in Saudi Arabia are really engaging,” he added.

The Ithra initiative aims to enrich, educate and inspire creative individuals by developing immersive digital content that connects participants with global experts and investors to promote and develop new and innovative products.

Through interactive projects, workshops and conferences, the center hopes to help build a national ecosystem of innovators working on realities that go beyond the physical.

Candidates in the next cohort have until April 30 to apply online.

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