UMD Awarded U.S. Department of Commerce Grant to Launch Immersive Media Innovation Ecosystem
From catching Pokémon in the real world to donning a virtual reality headset to see and feel what it was like to scale the Berlin Wall before its fall, advancements in immersive media have set the stage for the next digital revolution. The University of Maryland will lead this revolution with the launch of the Mixed/Augmented/Virtual Reality Innovation Center, called MAVRIC, which has been awarded a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration (EDA).
“We are already leaders in this dynamic, growing field, and the project promises to make our entire region a national hot spot for immersive media development,” said University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh. “It will become an economic and technological boon to Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.”
Co-funded by the university and the EDA’s Regional Innovation Strategies (RIS) program i6 Challenge Grant award, MAVRIC will build on university assets such as the new Brendan Iribe Center for Computer Science and Innovation, as well as other relevant assets across the region. The center will aggregate and accelerate the research and training capabilities of universities in region, the direct needs and projects of the corporate and public sector, and the innovation engine of startup and small businesses to advance mixed, augmented, and virtual reality technologies in three select verticals: media, simulation and training, and arts and entertainment.
Immersive media is used to describe virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality. Many industries are using immersive media as the next iteration of their business, as evident in the surge of 3-D video and virtual reality use in industries other than gaming. For example, immersive media has the potential to change the way viewers experience the news, a movie, or a sporting event. Beyond media and entertainment, immersive media technology is being used to transform training for medical clinicians, manufacturing operators, military, and public safety professionals.
UMD is home to a robust research and technology infrastructure to support MAVRIC, including the Mid-Atlantic Crossroads (MAX), which provides high-speed access and cutting-edge network capabilities; the Augmentarium, an interactive computer visualization lab; the Virtual Reality Cave, which is used to advance the integration of wearables and sensors, and study human performance and human error within high-stress situations; and the forthcoming Brendan Iribe Center for Computer Science and Innovation(link is external), which will feature six floors of specialized labs to support groundbreaking research in virtual and augmented reality, 360-degree video, artificial intelligence, robotics, computer vision, algorithms, programming languages and systems.
“Innovation is a significant driver of growth for the U.S. economy, and immersive media technology is poised to disrupt several key industries,” said UMD Associate Vice President for Innovation and Economic Development and MAVRIC Principal Investigator Julie Lenzer. “MAVRIC is well-positioned to emerge as the east coast hub of immersive media, and we will power that drive with a community-based, collaborative approach to commercializing these technologies.”
The center also aims to ensure a strong pipeline of diverse talent in the region. To stock this pipeline, the center will partner with higher education institutions such as Morgan State University and Coppin State University to promote and support school-based and community special interest clubs related to the field to harness the creativity of science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) students in underserved urban and rural communities. Additionally, MAVRIC will partner with the university and local businesses to shape the creation of a new immersive media curriculum to prepare graduates for jobs in the field.
“MAVRIC will foster the development of immersive media technologies by building a network of influencers and executive champions, supporting the participation of traditionally underrepresented groups, and providing the strategic support needed to build a successful technology cluster,” said MAVRIC Program Director Lucien Parsons.
In addition to Lenzer and Parsons, the MAVRIC team includes collaborators UMD Interim Vice President for Research and Professor of Computer Science Amitabh Varshney and Philip Merrill College of Journalism Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Master’s Program Director Rafael Lorente. Associate Professor of American Studies Sheri Parks serves as MAVRIC’s community engagement liaison.
Externally, the team was able to collect a record 54 support letters from regional and national stakeholders. Interest and support was offered from investors, other universities, and the state as well as private sector companies of all sizes, from startups to multi-national corporations.
The i6 Challenge grant was awarded through the Regional Innovation Strategies (RIS) program, a national and highly competitive program which is led by the EDA’s Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The i6 Challenge competition fosters the development of centers for innovation and entrepreneurship that accelerate the commercialization of innovations and ideas into companies, jobs, products, and services.