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 to emerge from the center’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: “At Ithra, innovation takes center stage. Here is where imagination is powered, ideas are born, and knowledge is shared. We at Ithra aim to support, inspire, and nourish 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 were selected to be developed into prototypes.
One was Alqatt XR, featuring the women-centric traditional Al-Qatt art form from southern Saudi Arabia. The other creations consisted of a mixed reality, location-based experience focused on the sensations which come from heavy rainstorms, the Jawaab interactive gamified museum tour project, a storytelling experience about great scientists involving holograms, virtual reality, and multi-speaker immersive sound, and the Wamdah virtual journey through time and space in Saudi Arabia.
Some of the finalists had no previous experience of immersive technologies, while program judges focused on looking for original ideas in storytelling with marketability.
As well as receiving up to SR375,000 ($87,400) to develop their prototypes, the innovators behind the selected projects were given access to Ithra’s ideas and immersive labs housing equipment including a haptic suit for physical VR experiences, a special VR treadmill, one of the technology sector’s highest-resolution mixed-reality headsets, 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 became involved in the scheme in 2019 after being encouraged by the large pool of applicants and the potential for technology to foster gender equality in the Kingdom.
He said: “The Saudi youth is more digitally connected than most in the region, so this program represents a huge opportunity. It speaks to other great changes that come to the country. When it comes to things like esports, there’s great equality there — it’s how fast you can think and move your thumbs.
“When it comes to immersive technology, there is no reason why women in Saudi Arabia can’t be leading — just look at the cohorts. There are three prototypes that are led by female teams and two by men. It’s a great example of how women in Saudi Arabia are really stepping up,” he added.
The Ithra initiative aims to enrich, educate, and inspire creative individuals by developing digital immersive content that connects participants with global experts and investors to promote and nurture new and innovative products.
Through interactive projects, workshops, and talks, the center hopes to help build a national ecosystem of innovators working on realities that expand beyond the physical.
Applicants for the next cohort have until April 30 to apply online.