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HKUST to Set Up World’s First Twin Campuses in the Metaverse

Image Credits: HKUST, Press Release

The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) recently announced that it plans to set up the world’s first physical-digital twin campuses in the metaverse, as the University aims to enter the next digital era to enhance teaching and learning experiences for its two campuses in Hong Kong and Guangzhou.

To embrace the rapid evolution of Web 3.0, HKUST is building MetaHKUST – an extended reality (XR) campus for both HKUST and its Guangzhou counterpart set to be open in September. The platform will not just provide an immersive study experience but will serve as a holistic platform for all students, faculty and alumni to create, innovate and connect across campuses.

MetaHKUST is a long-term development plan. The initial stage will consist of the physical infrastructure including XR classrooms, sensors, cameras and visualization tools being installed; members of the University will be invited to take part in a crowdsourced scanning of the physical campuses to help provide the necessary images for building the campuses’ virtual twins.

Once an ecosystem is established, members of the two universities will be able to generate content such as their own avatars, NFTs, tokens or virtual artworks for the virtual world – some of which may also be viewed or used in the physical campuses with augmented reality (AR) technology.

The exchange of information and administrative procedures are also expected to become more convenient, such that blockchain-secured diplomas or transcripts may be awarded in the forms of NFTs, while events like open day or graduation can be staged parallel to or in isolation from their physical ones.

HKUST has always been a pioneer in innovative education – it is among the first to realize interdisciplinary teaching, and e-learning, among novel pedagogy and programs. MetaHKUST is another major initiative of HKUST aimed at facilitating immersive learning and connecting students and research activities across different geographical locations.

The University will define the governance of the physical-digital world, setting standards and regulations for digital assets and unblocking technological bottlenecks to accelerate the development. The University will also select and fund proposals from HKUST members that could best make use of the MetaHKUST platform, and actively search for collaboration opportunities on metaverse with other institutions.

HKUST’s Vice-President for Institutional Advancement, the lead on the MetaHKUST project, said that HKUST is ready to take the lead to create a sustainable XR ecosystem to better supplement research and learning. The online-offline interaction both facilitates a genuine integration of the two campuses under the framework of ‘Unified HKUST, Complimentary Campuses’ and helps realise the potential of a metaverse in education.

The Chair Professor of Computational Media and Arts at HKUST (Guangzhou), and Director of the Center for Metaverse and Computational Creativity (MC2) at HKUST that while AR, as part of XR, is a primary technology that blends digital content with physical environments, most AR applications are currently single-user and present significant constraints in terms of time and location.

What HKUST aims to achieve with this project is the scaling up of technology to handle large-sized environments and massive multi-user experiences, which not only represents a primary challenge of the physical-digital vision but also a key factor that differentiates MetaHKUST from other campuses’ metaverse initiatives, he said.

The MC2 team is now working on the construction of the first mixed reality classroom on the HKUST(GZ) campus. The approximately 2,400 square feet state-of-the-art classroom – set to be completed by September 2022, will complement a similar classroom that will soon be constructed on the Clear Water Bay campus.

The facilities will allow faculty and students of the two campuses to attend the same lecture at the same time in two paralleled physical spaces. Meanwhile, the team will also continue to enhance the virtual world’s display details to offer the best metaverse experience for the HKUST community.

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