Fontys ICT and BUas join forces in research group DIGIREAL-XL

26 November 2021

Put two educational institutions that are partners of MindLabs together in one space, and what follows is a wonderful partnership. One that sets up a network where companies from the south of the Netherlands can collaborate in the field of VR, AR and AI. And this under the name DIGIREAL-XL. With this, Fontys ICT, Breda University of Applied Sciences and MindLabs are building a research, development & innovation center with other parties. The theme here: Digital Realities for socio-economic impact. Kartrekkers of the project are Fontys ICT-lector Mark de Graaf and BUas-lector Igor Mayer.

Mayer kicks off, "Technology is developing at a lightning pace and is already incredibly complex. Companies realize all too well that they have to do something with it. But what? They don't know yet. That's where DIGIREAL-XL comes in." De Graaf adds: "With DIGIREAL-XL we want to set up a strong research group that focuses on Digital Realities. One where agencies, organizations and companies can knock on the door when they have ambitious questions about mixed realities. In this way, we will build a bridge between companies that are good at a particular aspect of Digital Realities. From making games and digitizing to processing data. By bringing those specialties together within one large network organization, we can develop innovations that are needed to succeed in the digital realm."

Perfect collaboration
According to De Graaf, the collaboration between Fontys, BUas, and MindLabs is a perfect combination: "We are in the same networks with our schools and with MindLabs and can strengthen each other enormously thanks to our different expertises. Practice shows: it's a good match."

This is confirmed by Mayer: "Many parties, such as Chronosphere, Digishape, Tilburg University, Province of Noord-Brabant and of course MindLabs, are part of DIGIREAL-XL. And thanks to the collaborations we set up from our research group, we make much smarter use of the resources at our disposal. For example, at one company we can collaborate in different labs, while another company has different spaces at its disposal to do digital research. Thus, with DIGIREAL-XL, we are creating with and within the MindLabs ecosystem a beautiful and effective research group in the field of mixed realities in the region."

What can we expect from DIGIREAL-XL?
De Graaf and Mayer give a number of examples: "Just imagine: you won't be having meetings through Teams anymore, but in a digital environment where you can actually see your discussion partners sitting next to you. Because everyone wears VR glasses at home. We can make these technological developments a reality." So too in the leisure or events sector. "Who knows how long it will be before we can go to a festival again. Thanks to the collaborations within DIGIREAL-XL, you will soon experience the ultimate festival feeling from home and it will seem as if you are walking on the grounds, without being physically present."

De Graaf adds: "For example, municipalities are developing a need for a digital drawing of the underground situation in their city, which can be viewed with VR glasses. We can realize that too." And that's not all: "In these cities, a virtual guide will soon be walking around to whom visitors can ask all their burning questions."

Mobilize, deploy and grow
The Fontys ICT lecturer is involved in DIGIREAL-XL as a project manager: "I make sure that the research we do runs smoothly. I am already mobilizing people for this. We really have the ambition to grow this network, and we can only achieve that if we work well and efficiently with each other."

And this efficient cooperation is already in place, according to Mayer: "Mark and I are the ones responsible for this project. But with our efforts alone, we are not going to make it. That's why we have some ongoing projects carried out by students, or specialized researchers."

Setting up such a research group as DIGIREAL-XL does not happen without a struggle. Therefore, the two colleges entered into a collaboration as SPRONG group. With SPRONG, which stands for Stimulating PRactical Research Groups, the Innovation Alliance Foundation is making a major investment in the research infrastructure of applied research at universities of applied sciences. Each group will receive one million euros for the first four years of the SPRONG trajectory. And if the interim evaluation shows that the group is well on its way to becoming a powerful research group, another one million euros will follow for the same period.

According to the two professors, this incentive is therefore a perfect opportunity: "Thanks to the SPRONG program, we can set up one joint center for Digital Realities in Brabant, applied to solving societal challenges. And if we can enhance reality with the help of digital techniques, that is really more than worth it," says Mayer.

Making strides
De Graaf concludes: "With DIGIREAL-XL we have the potential to really build something that counts internationally. And because we will be sharing information within our group with each other and with affiliated companies and institutions, we can really make progress. A great opportunity! In this way, DIGIREAL-XL does not go for profit, but for helping society move forward.