A visionary is often someone who sees what others cannot, someone who imagines a possibility and pursues it. In New York City, the ability to see beyond reality and into a virtual reality is something leaders believe will be one of the next big industries for the city.
On June 27, officials from the city and various educational institutions announced their plans for a virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) lab within the New York University Tandon School of Engineering’s MakerSpace. The idea is to provide a space and “repository” for the collective AR and VR knowledge and allow it to blossom into startups, new opportunities and ultimately new jobs.
Just last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio made headlines with the unveiling of a bold jobs plan focused on drawing in 100,000 good-paying jobs and bolstering the technology sectors within the city, with part of that plan centered on a $6 million infusion in to virtual and augmented reality. This lab is the embodiment of that multimillion-dollar investment.
As Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Alicia Glen said during her remarks, the lab will offer businesses and talent a space to build on the existing foundations within the city.
“I think it is fair to say this is probably the coolest thing happening in technology right now," she said. "It’s catching fire. It’s just amazing the way it touches so many different pieces of the tech world.”
From entertainment to the medical industry, the deputy mayor said the potential for VR and AR technology to grow out of New York-based businesses and startups is very real. “The applications of this are just really endless,” she said.
The center will also have the core mission of making typically cost-prohibitive hardware and workspace available to the greater community, while providing access to the latest in public and private university research and development resources. By offering below-market rent, city officials are hopeful they will be able to attract innovative companies that might otherwise balk at the idea of New York City-based space.
James Patchett, president and CEO of the New York City Economic Development Corp., said despite the rosy jobs outlook, the city and its business community cannot afford to rest on their laurels, and must keep up with the rapid pace of technology.
As he explained, the lab offers the city the chance to keep that pace, rather than fall victim to technological changes. “Our economy is changing at an ever-increasing rate mostly because of technology and technologies like virtual reality and augmented reality," he said.
Worldwide, Patchett cited the VR/AR industry at north of $4.5 billion in investment. According to his figures, roughly $3.7 billion of that international investment resides in the United States, making the case that the industry is, indeed, here to stay.
“It is my view that as long as we are thinking forward about these types of technology changes, we’re going to be the city that wins and gets the best jobs of the future," Patchett said, "and that means more great middle class job opportunities for New Yorkers."
Councilman Daniel Garodnick also voiced his support of the technology lab and associated investment, saying the technology sets the stage for the city — which he referred to as "Silicon Alley" — to go head to head with the likes of California’s Silicon Valley when it comes to the development of VR and AR technology.