In Focus - Issue 35 (Spring 2023)

15 IN FOCUS Wearing a headset and represented by their avatar, the students in MetaHKUST’s November trial were able to enter the University’s virtual reality classroom remotely, take a seat, move around, and go up to the professor and talk to him or her. “As they don’t see their own avatar, psychologically, they feel part of that environment,” Prof. Hui said. “You can just turn your head and see other students. You can move around. Education users want some self-presence. You feel the experience is better. With videoconferencing, I cannot move to see another person.” In a mixed reality classroom where a real person can be projected, the “immersive presence” will be even stronger, he noted. Such work involves a host of cutting-edge technical challenges for his team of postdocs, postgraduates, and undergraduates, from over di erent countries (he is a rm believer that diversity sparks creativity and new perspectives a er his own multicultural experiences at Cambridge and in Berlin, among others). System architecture for mixed reality classrooms, user interactivity and perception challenges, and latency issues are just some of the topics being tackled. HKUST academics from a range of disciplines are also participating. These currently include Prof. WANG Yang, Vice-President for Institutional Advancement, who is the leader and driver of MetaHKUST development at the Clear Water Bay campus, Prof. Kani CHEN, Industrial Engineering & Decision Analytics and Mathematics, and Prof. Tristan BRAUD, Integrative Systems & Design and Computer Science & Engineering, both in the School of Engineering. At HKUST(GZ), Prof. WU Jingshen, Vice-President for Teaching and Learning, has been pushing forward the mixed reality classroom construction and development and many students from his Red Bird MPhil Program have chosen MetaHKUST as their MPhil research projects. The aim is to expand the project to more faculty and students at both campuses to accelerate advances. But technical issues are not the only ones covered in a growing number of publications, and postgraduate theses’ topics alongside implementation of the physical and virtual classrooms of MetaHKUST. The initiative is also spurring the exploration of societal questions arising from the extension of virtual and augmented reality technologies into di erent areas of people’s lives. A particularly popular contribution is the comprehensive “All One Needs to Know About Metaverse: A Complete Survey on Technological Singularity, Virtual Ecosystem, and Research Agenda” ( ), a paper available to specialists and non-specialists via the Creative Commons. In one of the rst publications of its kind, Prof. Hui and his co-authors consider not only the impact of metaverse-related technologies but the broader ecosystem such a development encompasses: the virtual economy and content creation, social acceptability, security and privacy, trust and accountability, and the behavior and potential immortality of people’s avatars. The paper has attracted more than citations and over , individual user reads, and brought many invitations from di erent sectors for Prof. Hui to discuss the metaverse. Among recent speaking engagements, Prof. Hui was invited to join a panel discussion in October at the th INTERPOL General Assembly. INTERPOL’s membership Seeing the future Early MetaHKUST demonstrations include an animated dragon entering a mixed reality classroom (scan QR code, or available on YouTube). Meanwhile, large-scale virtual reality was in action at the opening of the HKUST(GZ) campus in September , attracting great media attention. Guests, including overseas higher education presidents and senior management, business leaders and long-term University partners, could either attend in person or send their avatar – a useful as well as memorable way to be present given the di culties of traveling during COVID- .