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DHAHRAN, Saudi Arabia: The white walls of the innovation lab at Ithra were once again illuminated as it served as a physical backdrop to the digital blank canvas that will bring to life some of the most ambitious projects to date.

The new cohort of Creative Solutions kicked off on June 2, where selected cohorts gathered to team up and be introduced to the program. Creative Solutions is a yearly thematic innovation program that invites professionals in art, science and technology to develop viable solutions using extended reality technologies such as augmented reality, virtual reality, mixed reality, immersive audio and haptics.

Upon arrival, the chosen cohorts unboxed their starter kits, which included Ithra memorabilia and the much-prized Oculus Quest 2, a pricey VR headset developed by Facebook Reality Labs. The group of Saudis were selected from a competitive pool of applicants and got straight to work, with 14 masterclasses, guest speakers and plenty of facetime with one another, the cohort went all in.

Simon Benson, the leading technology consultant at Ithra, who has over 25 years of commercial immersive experience and has previously founded the PlayStation VR project, said he was looking at what is possible with immersive technology while getting this current cohort together.

“They will enter the program already with an idea about something that they want to use immersive technology for, and what we’re here to do now is to take them on a journey to refine the idea of making the best possible use of immersive,” Benson told Arab News.

This means that the Creative Solutions staff will guide the cohort members to ensure they are using the “right technology for the right purpose.” The aim is to create an ecosystem in which members of past and present can collaborate and support one another.

Simon Benson (Supplied)

Abdullah Alosaimi, a registered nurse from Jeddah, is creating an immersive VR game that promises to use humor and realistic storytelling to attract teens to join him and his colleagues in the healthcare industry. Benson singled out this project by expressing how vital this field is and how this immersive experience could change lives, as well as save them. “Many healthcare organizations around the world are suffering from the shortage of healthcare workers. So the idea of the program is immersive virtual reality. The idea was: How can we address this challenge in this healthcare setting, especially after COVID-19?” Alosaimi said.

Abdullah Alosaimi, a registered nurse from Jeddah (Supplied)

Mutaz Basharahil had an epiphany in 2017 after graduating from King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals with a degree in computer engineering. He realized that while he enjoyed the thrill and challenge of being completely submerged in a narrative unfolding on his screen, he wanted to go a step further and create his own fantasy world.

After being a developer of immersive experiences and game applications, he decided to jump right in, and to bring us along with him. For Creative Solutions, he intends to produce an interactive VR narrative experience that takes place in a fantasy setting.

“I remember during the years in college and even before — when I used to play different games — and how I was like a few centimeters from the screen. So I was close to the screen. I was so immersed in it and with the story, the environment, the audio and the sound — to the point that even when I hear a sound cue, I look at myself as if moving the mouse. Then I noticed, I love that sense of being immersed in this,” he told Arab News.

Mutaz Basharahil (Supplied)

Fatima Alnammi was similarly engulfed in a field that she is now a part of. Over the decades, the arts educator from Dhahran has acquired an extensive background in architecture and interior design and intends to utilize color and the principles and elements she has learned throughout her practice to develop an immersive narrative universe that provides insight into the artistic and creative processes.

For Creative Solutions, her VR experience was inspired by artists who temporarily lost their mojo, perhaps during the pandemic, and hopes this experience will help ignite the spark they once had in the field of art.

The story she created starts with a 10-year-old boy named Ahmed who takes us on an unexpected journey to learn from the great art masters, to reconnect with our own identity and heritage, as well as to use art to find our way back to art.

Fatima Alnammi (Supplied)

The remaining cohort lead members include: Abdulkarim Alanazi, Abdullah Alqahtani, Ahmad Morsy, Ali Al-Eid, Ali Altattan, Amal Alkinani, Atheer Alharbi, Fahmi Farahat, Fatima bin Dawood, Maryam Aloudah, Jumanah Saklou and Huriyyah Alqahtani. This cohort is made up of eight men and seven women, with representation from the central region and the two coasts of the Kingdom. Ten of the projects are in VR, three are in AR, and one each in MR and Artificial Intelligence. The nine industries represented are education, art, healthcare, tourism, game, film, museum, energy and environment.


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