VR is at the gate – Virtual & Augmented Reality in the Greater Zurich Area
Companies involved in spatial computing technologies such as virtual, augmented or mixed reality encounter outstanding conditions in the Greater Zurich Area: highly qualified technical workforce, research facilities with global recognition and worldwide technology leaders such as Facebook, Google, Magic Leap and Microsoft, which are developing VR/AR solutions in Zurich. What success story would your company like to write from Switzerland?
The Zurich economic region belongs alongside Silicon Valley as a global hub in the field of Computer Vision, the base technologies for VR/AR and other future applications. The Greater Zurich Area offers concentrated technology expertise in the most stable environment in Europe. Swiss companies such as Coop, Ringier, Homegate, Zurich Insurance, Helsana, Geberit, Migros, Cailler and Comella all have one thing in common: They have taken the step toward virtual reality (VR). Zurich even has a Virtual Reality Festival - VRDAYS Zürich, which will be held this year on September 21 & 22, 2019.
Tech giants conduct research in Zurich
Greater Zurich’s film industry is also right at the top of the international marquee. The Disney Research Lab in Zurich is the sole location that the American media company is actively involved in research and development outside the USA. Disney has been researching and developing new technologies for film production for more than ten years. Management of the Disney Research Lab is under ETH Professor, Markus Gross, and hence provides the best options for cooperative efforts and promotes an exchange of ideas. As a result, Disney Research Lab also has access to a broad spectrum of expert knowledge. Microsoft also has a lab here for mixed reality and artificial intelligence under the management of Professor Pollefeys and in close cooperation with ETH Zürich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich). While Disney made stylized fantasy figures using geometric recording of human faces and expressions (facial motion capture) in the film and entertainment industry, Microsoft was updating its augmented reality glasses, HoloLens. With HoloLens2, it is clear that augmented reality and mixed reality (virtual elements are connected seamlessly to the real world) are used in order to observe the user’s gestures. This allows for the user to be integrated with the virtual contents. Among other areas, HoloLens2 can be used in architecture and medicine. The goggles are intended to help people solve problems better in complex operations and repair work. Virtual reality stops at nothing before social media. Facebook was enticed to Zurich to leverage the expertise at ETH in the field of computer vision, devices and computers to perceive its environment precisely. The group invested in virtual reality and integrated the Oculus headset. Facebook is continually expanding its research facility and, together with ETH, has worked out the core technology for the next Oculus gear.
Whether Disney, Facebook or Microsoft; they are all pursuing one goal: Advancing the technology for the next generation of VR and VR headsets and perceiving all movements of the real world.
Greater Zurich – ecosystem with research facilities
A system with research facilities, start-ups and established companies has evolved within Greater Zurich. ETH Zurich is among one of the biggest drivers, as well as serving as a catalyst. All technical areas of the ETH are renowned, from Engineering to Computer Science. Thus, tech giants including Microsoft and Disney Research benefit alongside ETH in Zurich.
Virtual reality ushers in a new era
Virtual reality is no longer just for gamers. Medical practitioners, architects and designers are already using the new technology, for example in treating phobias or rehearsing difficult operations. Buildings can be planned virtually, and customers can be taken on virtual tours. Even filmmakers and journalists are discovering 360° videos. In contrast to classic VR content, these are not created on the computer, but rather are filmed using special cameras. Virtual reality takes users to places where access would normally not be possible, like the aorta for a heart surgery or the streets of a war zone.
Even Swiss media outlet, Blick Online, has quickly recognized the creative advantages of virtual reality and is among the companies to get on the VR bandwagon early on. An increasing number of readers are enthralled with 360 degree videos. That’s why virtual reality is now a routine component at the editorial office.
ETH Zurich as a think tank for virtual reality and augmented reality
ETH Zurich has become a think tank and successful innovator for virtual and augmented reality. In an internal study, robotic people have successfully learned rowing and demonstrated how a training session with a robot could be used in the future. The robotic trainer collects data and analyzes it in real time. The robot uses tones or touches to call out errors in training. Another research group at ETH Zurich and EPF Lausanne have developed an ultra-light glove that allows the wearer to “touch” and manipulate virtual objects. The glove, named DextrES, weighs less than eight grams and provides the wearer with extremely realistic, haptic feedback. Thus, the high level of expertise at ETHZ and EPFL in the areas of virtual and augmented reality are an added bonus to IT companies like Microsoft and Facebook, when setting up subsidiaries in Greater Zurich.
As the first augmented reality agency in Switzerland, Xtend offers customers a full complement of services. From strategic consulting to content production of videos, 3D objects and apps, up to the development of augmented reality apps and virtual reality solutions—it’s all available here under one roof. Swiss media firms and pharmaceutical companies such as Sandoz, but also small and mid-size companies in Greater Zurich utilize the advantages of the agency in implementing augmented reality content management and virtual reality in their daily business. Another VR company in Greater Zurich is Afca. Afca works with the City of Zurich’s Office of Urban Development among other clients to develop an application with virtual 3D models, which can be used to help simulate city development.
Growth in Zurich – tech city
The odds are good that the number of tech firms will continue to increase. Switzerland and the Zurich economic region have held peak positions for years in talent recruitment, innovative force, competitiveness and quality of life. The Greater Zurich Area’s first-class research institutes, functional exchange of knowledge, world-renowned “Made in Switzerland” designation of quality, high investments in top research, dual education system with extensive practical know-how and, last but not least, a high quality of life are appealing factors that make it ideal for companies, researchers and technical experts.