Interview with Yaqoob AlAwadhi
Can you give us a brief history of NGN International? What is the main activity and focus of the company? How did it come about?
NGN International, a full-fledged systems integrator and IT consultant, was established in 2015 as part of NGN Group (a global system integrator operating in Turkey and Middle East since 2005). Aimed at Bahrain and Saudi Arabia enterprise customers, NGN International creates technology solutions for complex information, computing, telecom, and engineering systems. With a rich portfolio of SI solutions, NGN focuses on the following cross-industry solutions: AR/VR, information and network security, blockchain, and clouds.
At its Virtual Reality Center of Excellence, NGN International creates VR solutions for international corporate customers and supplies educational VR/AR content and solutions to schools and universities.
Who are some of your most significant clients and partners?
Our team has completed projects for multiple customers, including the Hermitage, the world's second largest museum, and Bin Faqeeh and STC, who were pioneers in the region to substitute traditional maquettes with interactive hologram 3D models. Our portfolio also includes VR developments for large technology companies, for example, virtual simulators of gas distributing plants.
On October 19, 2017, we signed a memorandum of understanding with Bahrain Polytechnic and cooperate with this vernment-owned tertiary education institute to develop virtual reality, augmented reality, and 3D related activities for students and lecturers, facilitate the adoption of advanced technologies, and drive further industrial development in Bahrain.
What excites you most about the future of VR technology? And what inspired you to get involved?
Virtual reality is a powerful research and development tool, the value of which was clear from the very outset 20 years a. Today, in the face of Industry 4.0, Cross Reality (combination of virtual and augmented reality) for manufacturing is one of the key trends.
Personally, I am most excited about augmented reality and the idea of a couple of handy devices being able to replace many displays around us. Augmented reality is a parallel universe where you can easily get and share information for business and socializing.
We have invested $2 million in state-of-the-art VR & AR Centre of Excellence lab and training facilities in our office in the Bahrain World Trade Centre to inspire Bahraini youth to learn and use these cutting-edge technologies.
Can you explain for our readers how VR technologies can improve business education and training?
VR is mainly and most commonly used for manufacturing staff training. Modern manufacturing enterprises are interested in solutions that can prevent any emergency causing personal injuries and costly equipment damage. VR trainings emulate real-life operations and processes faced by specialists in their everyday work. VR simulators allow them to practice equipment maintenance procedures, emergency drills, and master new skills. Specialists train in virtual reality using photorealistic copies of real sites, such as sections of an oil refining plant or gas distribution stations, and employ either 3D and VR apps customized for mobile devices, or VR simulators designed for widescreen visualization systems with high granularity. Having such VR simulator connected via Learning Management System (LMS), you can arrange distance learning and regularly check personnel knowledge anywhere, even in hard-to-reach locations.
As AR/VR personnel training experience has shown, VR tools not only immerse users into a virtual environment to master a variety of skills, but also accelerate the study of materials by 2.5 times.
How can VR / AR be used actually help to sell more?
Today, real estate items are very often introduced to the market as early as at the construction stage. Selling an apartment, which a buyer cannot see, is a challenge unless you use innovative tools that can fully immerse a potential buyer into virtual simulation of their future apartment or house. With a holographic table, customers can get a bird’s-eye view, watch floor layouts and the interior, and even look out the window of a particular apartment. Virtual reality gives an opportunity to feel like being on site and view the landscape and surroundings, thus improving sales efficiency even at the pre-construction stage.
What solutions are there for different sectors like oil and gas, petrochemical, construction industries?
In manufacturing, energy, and hazardous production sectors, VR technologies address two key challenges: training and design. They allow for the natural size design and demonstration of machines, units, and components, and maximum immersion into the training process.
Indeed, the manufacturing sector is most prepared to adopt AR and VR technologies, which reduce the risk of equipment misuse and human errors at hazardous facilities.
Furthermore, AR and VR can greatly optimize product and building design and lifecycle support. Many leading vendors of AR head mounted displays (HMD) and glasses are actively looking into their application at construction sites and integrating their solutions with Autodesk document management tools and modeling products. In addition, virtual testing is in great demand when it comes to the construction of sophisticated engineering sites, for example, to ensure seismic protection of a future building.
What about military activities and programs? How is it useful for that?
In our experience, military sector also uses VR for training and design. Indeed, defense enterprises were the first ones to test VR technology for training purposes and become convinced in its efficiency.
One of NGN International's partners is a company that delivers 3D engines optimized for huge virtual worlds, ideal for designing and testing strategic and tactical solutions for any military operations and simulating joint operations by various branches of the armed forces, while maintaining a high-quality graphics.
Tell us about the benefits that VR can provide for educational process at schools and universities.
Virtual reality can contribute to more interactive, exciting and immersive educational process. An obvious value of VR is a capability to create a unique personal experience for every participant, while ensuring the collaboration between an instructor and students, even if they are far away from each other.
We also cooperate with engineering companies and universities, striving to create the synergy of businesses, educational institutions and manufacturing companies. This triangle works everywhere in the world, including a variety of manufacturing sectors. Although Bahrain still needs some development in this area, I am happy to see more young specialists who are really excited about it.
What do you think are the biggest barriers for AR/VR right now?
One of the key factors that hamper the VR market growth is a limited number of VR content developers and, hence, lack of qualified content. High-quality VR content requires powerful computing capacity and expertise. For example, game developers produce content of acceptable quality, which is however insufficient for using in manufacturing and business. VR content developer is still very young profession and needs time to mature. The more professional VR developers we have the more business-focused VR content reaches the market.
Still seldom use of VR devices also slows down VR application in business. Many people expect too much of VR technology and think it can do anything. HMD devices that can truly immerse users in virtual reality are very expensive and rarely used by businesses. We think this is ing to change. The devices will become cheaper and more cost-effective. Failure-free VR technology operation requires a VR-Ready infrastructure and sufficient number of users and devices that support VR. Just like computers decades a, virtual reality will move beyond military and industrial use and finally reach every household and become very attractive for businesses.
How mainstream is it really ing to be?
I am sure that eventually VR technology will drastically change a variety of sectors, including healthcare, oil production, and automobile manufacturing, and will help reduce costs and accelerate decision-making.
I believe the major growth will happen in the industries where the process reproduction in real life is much more expensive than in virtual reality or impossible at all. Retailers, telcos, oil and gas, and manufacturing enterprises will drive VR development to address their own business needs. Promising targets for VR and AR could be blue collar training, technical visualization for industrial design, and support of real estate sales.
The key factor here is budget and cost effectiveness. For example, an emergency drill for oil and gas site personnel in real life can cost tens of millions of dollars, while VR content production and VR simulator training will be much less expensive. Another case is astronaut training. Even though it is almost impossible to simulate space conditions on Earth, virtual reality allows astronauts to practice docking and other on-board operations step-by-step.
What are some of the general VR trends in the market today?
Nuclear energy, shipbuilding, aircraft engineering, and defense industry became the first manufacturing sectors to implement VR and AR technologies, mainly for design and training tasks, and acquired relevant hardware and are now looking for hardware and software updates, thus adopting VR Ready infrastructure approach.
In addition, it is now evident that companies are eager to use HMD devices and CAVE systems at the same time. For example, HMD is a tool for employee workstations, while CAVE systems are installed in special labs (R&D centers) to enable collaboration, demonstrate research deliverables, and visualize both calculations and certain processes.
Companies are now adopting digital information materials and computer simulators, including Learning Management System (LMS). The next step of this evolution will include so-called Serious Games and VR apps focused on trainings with high granularity. Moreover, standard booklets, computer apps, 3D and VR apps already define operating procedures and alrithms that should be in place at the enterprise.
A lot of people think that technology distracts us from the real world; that it pulls us away from reality. What would you say to them?
People are always skeptical about innovations. However, I am convinced that virtual reality technologies give us much more than take. For instance, with VR, you can simulate how a natural disaster will affect a nuclear power plant to be located in a coastal area, and thus identify challenging points, even before starting the construction. VR technology helps deal with mental disorder and phobias, while surgery simulation in virtual reality is a big aid to physicians preparing for operations. VR is a real dsend for emergency drills at manufacturing facilities, which prevents injury and even death. And it is just the top of the iceberg.
Source: BizBahrain, January-February 2018