RLab Turns One

by Justin Hendrix, Executive Director

On December 12, RLab will host Demo Day, the culminating event of our first year of programming. I want to share this community’s growth and progress since we opened our doors in 2018, and set out key goals for the year ahead.

A partnership between New York City and its universities, RLab is the nation’s first city-funded center for research, education and entrepreneurship in XR and spatial computing technologies. A little over a year ago, on October 24, 2018, we celebrated the opening of RLab at Building 22 in the Brooklyn Navy Yard with a host of partners, looking forward to the good work we would do together to develop a facility and a set of programs to spur economic activity and create opportunities in New York City.

RLab’s founding partners gathered for the first time in Building 22 to celebrate the launch on October 24, 2018.

Building a team

On October 24th of 2018, I was the only person working full time on this new center. But in the months that followed, we’ve built a stellar RLab team. Adaora Udoji and Laura Barker lead our corporate innovation and entrepreneurship programs, including our corporate membership program and our accelerator and bootcamp programs. Alexis Seeley and Janice Brown lead our education and opportunity programs. Todd Bryant and Grant Ng run technology and operations. Ilena Parker runs communications, and Jordan Kane does graphic design. This team comes from a range of backgrounds, including innovation, early-stage technology entrepreneurship, higher education, media, workforce development and the arts — a perfect mix of skillsets to advance a project like RLab.

Education programs

One of the most important goals for RLab is to develop a series of education programs that give people the opportunity to get technical training, explore emerging media technologies and new career opportunities, and apply new skills in their careers.

Jelena Kovačević, dean of NYU Tandon School of Engineering, welcomed partners at the RLab launch event. NYU Tandon operates RLab with a consortium that includes Columbia, The New School, and CUNY.

We are now regularly offering master classes and technical courses on subjects ranging from UX design to narrative VR. Some of these opportunities are first of a kind, looking at questions emerging from the application of XR technologies that are relatively new, such as a course on XR in healthcare led by faculty, researchers and developers at leading institutions like NYU Langone, Weill Cornell Medicine and surgical AR startup Medivis. This course looks at emerging research and applications for XR in healthcare — from diagnostics to treatment to training — and included developer workshops, guided demos, lectures and a design sprint for participants to prototype their own product ideas.

The XR in Healthcare master class features guided demos, including a VR training experience for medical students by Greg Dorsainville and Carol DerSarkissian at NYU.

Other courses utilize the expertise of our university partners and experts in the New York City technology scene to provide expert-level training on subjects like motion capture or coding shaders in Unity. And our new series of online courses opens access to these new ideas for learners from anywhere in the world.

But the secret to RLab’s education programs is that not all of them take place on site at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. This is where our substantial partnership with CUNY schools comes in:

At the CUNY Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, we’ve supported the development of training and curriculum in new tools for storytelling.

Students at Newmark Graduate School of Journalism are learning to produce 360 video in workshops facilitated by Matt Macvey. (Credit: Liam Mejia Moran)

Matthew Macvey, the academic program specialist for the Emerging Tech AR/VR Lab at Newmark, runs a range of trainings and workshops on subjects ranging from 360 video to spatial audio, like one series recently delivered in partnership with the Center for Community and Ethnic Media, a consortium of more than 200 local and independent news organizations.

Still from a 360 video produced by Newmark grad student Ariam Alula, as part of an independent study project at the AR/VR Lab. Ariam is exploring how emerging storytelling tools can be used to aid families in her community affected by autism, and sharing her process in a series of blog posts.

The workshops and collaborations with community news organizations have produced compelling 360 video stories on topics like gentrification and food politics, as well as production guides documenting workflows and best practices. Some workshops, like an upcoming Intro to Social VR Storytelling, are open to the public.

At Lehman College in the Bronx, RLab supports the VR Training Academy, which this year became the only Unity-authorized training partner in the tristate area and expanded its offering with a range of continuing education courses focused on developing for XR in Unity.

Graduates of the VR Training Academy at Lehman College include students from past cohorts returning as instructors, and several alumni of RLab bootcamps. (Credit: Lehman College)

All of Lehman’s courses are free or low cost for participants, including workshops run in partnership with Knowledge House, a Bronx nonprofit that works to increase access to tech careers for young people from low-income communities.

Lehman College alumni Anthony Martinez and Tina Cheng exhibit a prototype of . their product at an RLab Bootcamp showcase. Anthony and Tina met in the VR training program and teamed up to develop Kumu, a virtual face for audiobooks that provides a more personalized storytelling experience.

Samira Bahrami and Vincent Navarro, two of our key partners at Lehman, have worked with more than 300 students in their courses over the past year and reached a thousand more through workshops and community events. In the spring, Lehman plans to introduce a full 15-week certificate course on developing for XR in Unity. Several Lehman alumni are advancing entrepreneurial projects in RLab’s bootcamp and other XR startup programs.

Finally, our partnership with CUNY’s Macaulay Honors College, which brings together extraordinary students from CUNY senior colleges in all five boroughs, permits us the opportunity to place talented young people inside organizations and companies across New York City that are working with XR and spatial computing technologies.

The Fall 2019 cohort of RLab Fellows from Macaulay Honors College and Robert Small, director of the Macaulay New Media Lab, at RLab for orientation before internship placements at companies around the city.

So far, we’ve placed twenty students in companies across the City.

Macaulay Honors College students Anthony Astarita, Arvind Dev and Neeru Bhagirath with Alex Sigaras at Weill Cornell Medicine. As interns in Alex’s lab, they worked on a mixed reality tool for HoloLens called ProteinXR. (Credit: Alex Sigaras)

Students in the RLab internship program, who are selected through the Macaulay New Media Lab run by Robert Small, get a stipend and real-world experience working on spatial computing projects that include visualizing cancer gene drug networks at Weill Cornell Medicine, building sample games and demos with Geopipe’s developer tools, and testing Depthkit hardware at Scatter.

Entrepreneurship programs

In just under a year, we’ve launched four new entrepreneurship programs to encourage more startups in this field to start and expand their businesses here in New York City. We’ve worked with more than 44 startups at various stages of maturity, including homegrown teams emerging from university campuses to more established teams from abroad that seek to do business in New York City. A key goal for RLab is to help create new jobs that create opportunities for New Yorkers, and our focus on entrepreneurship is a means to foster job growth and value creation, through programs that include:

RLab Accelerator startups demoed at a recent Science Fair community event. Teams selected for the inaugural Fall 2019 cohort of the residency program include apelab, holo|one, LexSet, Poplar, Vermeer and Virti.

RLab Accelerator
In collaboration with resident venture capital firm Super Ventures, this fall we launched the RLab Accelerator, a three-month program for pre-seed to seed stage startups. Ori Inbar, founder of Super Ventures, has worked closely with the RLab team to design and deliver the program, which currently includes six startups: LexSet, a company using synthetic data to improve computer vision; holo|one, a company with an out-of-the-box enterprise augmented reality platform; Virti, a company with a VR training platform for healthcare professionals; Poplar, a platform for creators that provides AR experiences for brands on demand; Vermeer, a company that uses AR technology to improve aerial photography and drone shots; and apelab, a company building a visual programming tool in VR for use in K-12 classrooms.

The Fall 2019 cohort of the RLab Bootcamp includes teams from NYU, CUNY, City College, and Parsons. Eight teams were selected for the 12-week program, which includes a $10,000 grant and weekly workshops.

RLab Bootcamp
We also want to help more new companies form out of New York City’s university campuses, spinning off novel new ideas and technologies and crossing the chasm between the lab and the market.

Alon Grinshpoon, Founder of echoAR, at an RLab event with his mentor and former professor, Steve Feiner. Professor Feiner, a member of the RLab Faculty Committee, runs the Computer Graphics and User Interfaces Lab at Columbia University.

RLab Bootcamp teams go through an intense lean launchpad program and receive instruction and support to validate early stage concepts through market research and a customer discovery process. We’ve had two cohorts of the bootcamp so far, which gave birth to companies such as Parallux, a team that got its start in the NYU Future Reality Lab which synchronizes and manages shared XR content for large audiences; and echoAR, a concept that emerged from Columbia University to create a cloud-based content management system for AR.

RLab Beta
The Beta program is an incubator for NYC companies working in XR and spatial computing that need space and support to grow. Our first cohort of Beta teams included Luxury Escapism, which just opened an immersive art and technology-based spa and wellness center in Dumbo; Garou, a marketplace for geographic-based VR experiences and a recent finalist in the Verizon Built on 5G Challenge; and Lightframe, a team that is pioneering the new field of volumetric video capture with a studio in Industry City.

Over a hundred community members came to RLab in July for a mixer to introduce XR startups from Finland to New York City. Four Finnish startups spent several weeks at RLab for a collaborative accelerator program.

RLab Global
New York City is increasingly an entry point to the American market for startups from abroad that see it as more attractive and client-rich than competitor cities such as Silicon Valley. We’ve run programs to host and introduce nine companies from Finland and South Korea to the New York City ecosystem in the past year, and more are on the way in 2020.

Corporate Membership

Over the past year, we’ve experimented with a range of engagements with technology companies developing and commercializing new XR software and hardware as well as companies across a range of industries applying these technologies in fields ranging from media to materials science. We’ve hosted developer jams, hackathons and working groups with technology makers, user groups and partners ranging from Verizon to Samsung to Magic Leap.

Tricia Katz from Magic Leap kicks off a workshop for the Magic Leap One developer community at RLab in June.

Now we are launching a new corporate membership program to provide a range of opportunities for companies to engage with the innovative talent associated with RLab and its university and community partners:

  • Strategic partners design and develop a portfolio of custom innovation projects and programs, convene working groups around topics of interest, and engage deeply with the RLab community through unique residency and fellowship opportunities.
  • Corporate partners design and develop custom projects or programs — including R&D challenges, prototyping projects and custom education programs — and engage with the RLab community through events and education programs.
  • Affiliate partners participate in community events and education programs at RLab to join an ecosystem that supports innovation.
HP’s MaryKate Mahoney, Jeremy Bailenson from the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab, and Greg Dorsainville from NYU speaking at the RLab Well convening in June.

We’re also developing specific working groups in key industry areas. For instance, RLab Well, a working group focused on applications of XR and spatial computing health, medicine and wellness, debuted in June, drawing together 130 of representatives from the pharmaceutical industry, hospitals, urgent care, life sciences, the universities and beyond. And, a new working group focused on virtual production, applications of volumetric capture and other 3D capture technologies will kick off in early 2020.

Building a community

One thing we have endeavored to do as much as possible at RLab is to open the doors to the community, especially to meetups and working groups that create opportunities for folks to learn about the industry at all levels of experience. These events range from demonstrations to panel discussions to hackathons hosted by nonprofit and university partners. So far, we’ve hosted over 3,000 people at such events since we opened our doors.

Sam Brewton, an AR/VR experience designer at Apprentice.io, presents his work to a full house at RLab at a Brooklyn Product Design community meetup on designing for XR in August.

We aren’t able to accommodate every event or organizer, but whenever possible we seek to help mission-aligned organizations take advantage of the space. Key partners in our community include:

*AWE Nites *NYVR Meetup *Unity Developer Meetup *Brooklyn Product Design *VRARA *ACM NYC *International Virtual Reality Healthcare Association *NY Magic Leap Meetup *A-Frame NYC *WebGL NYC *Garage Stories *Speculative Futures

Seventy-five developers came to build new applications with Unity at a weekend-long XR jam at RLab in April.

Looking forward to 2020 and beyond

Many of the programs that are substantially underway — including our education, entrepreneurship and corporate member programs — will continue to evolve and expand over the course of the coming year. For instance, the application is open for the Spring 2020 RLab Accelerator cohort. And, we are developing new course concepts regularly. We’re looking for industry input into the types of courses that will help to advance the workforce and the field at large through a brief survey that will inform our 2020 course calendar.

Virtual walkthrough of the plans for RLab. In the spring, RLab will unveil renovated facilities, including two state-of-the-art production and prototyping studios, classrooms, coworking and event space.

One of the things we are most excited about for the year ahead is the completion of the full 16,500 square foot facility on the third floor of Building 22. Construction is underway, and will be complete by the spring. While the space will still retain its open, mutable and industrial aesthetic, we are building two well equipped classrooms, fitting out the space for better co-working and conferencing, and, most importantly, building out two prototyping studios that will serve as the heart of the facilities. A 2,000 square foot studio at eastern side of the floor will provide opportunities for large scale capture and multi-user experiments. A smaller prototyping studio will make way for short term experiments in various forms of capture, or to build temporary sets for experiments with new XR applications.

Another key focus for 2020 is the further development of the RLab Faculty Committee, an advisory group comprised of experts from across our university consortium, who will collaborate on research and education programs, and are currently organized around four key focus areas, including Media, Entertainment & Gaming; Industry & Smart Cities; Healthcare, Medicine & Wellness; and Impact.

Cinematographer Bradford Young was recently announced as the inaugural Eyebeam and RLab Storyteller in Residence, and will be leading education and public discourse around the role of emerging technologies in storytelling.

And, we are set to kick off an exciting partnership with the nonprofit arts organization Eyebeam. Eyebeam and RLab are collaborating on a Storyteller in Residence program, and Academy-Award nominated cinematographer Bradford Young, known for his work on Arrival, Selma and Solo, among others, was named as the inaugural awardee. Working with Eyebeam and RLab in 2020, Young will lead critical thinking and education around the role of new technologies in storytelling. This will create an incredible opportunity in particular for students at NYU Tandon who will engage with Bradford in a course called Emerging Technology in Storytelling, and for the broader community at an open symposium we will host in the spring to debut the work.

Thank you

None of what we do at RLab would be possible without the support of our stakeholders in the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment. Our university partners make our programs possible—including NYU Tandon School of Engineering, our administering institution, and founding partner universities Columbia, The New School and CUNY. This list of institutions will likely expand in the year ahead as we develop new programs. And, we thank the members of the community who have contributed to RLab’s development and programs these past twelve months. There is much more to come, and we look forward to developing our programs with and for you.

On to year two!

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RLab

RLab

RLab in the Brooklyn Navy Yard is New York City’s hub for VR, AR and spatial computing.