Round-the-table: a sustainable academia via Phygital exchanges

Provides Ng, Alberto Fernandez

Rational Energy Architects Collective (@R.E.Ar_)
United Kingdon

Round-the-table was a series of experimental roundtables in Web-based virtual-reality (VR). It invited 18institutions/companies, 37guests, with over 700participants/viewers to provoke intercultural and interdisciplinary discussion on the future of education and academic practices. Took place during the pandemic, which accelerated digital exchanges, this event series experimented with communication beyond the 2D frame to enhance immersiveness, interactivity and inclusivity. It questioned whether academic activities that take place in physical rooms and zooms may migrate to VR to enhance quality in education, innovate pedagogical industries, support digital equality and literacy, sustain international communities, and reduce carbon footprints (SDG4-9-10-11-13). Round-the-table took place in 20 different VR spaces, all customised as per content of the discussions, produced collaboratively between guests and organisers; participants were able to decorate the space with 3D assets. There are four objectives: phygital exchanges, 3D education, collaborative production, and crowdsourcing. First, promotion of exchanges between the physical and digital. Neural-networks and photogrammetry were used to reconstruct physical environments and 3D avatars with just a single image. 3D assets were then composed into VR spaces for the roundtables, and the digital events manifest physically through a reduction in carbon footprint by transportation and commute of both humans and objects. Second, use of computer graphics (CG) enhance digital communication experience; web-based technologies bring inclusivity to VR – students would not have to pay a considerable amount for headsets in order to participate, anyone with just a phone/computer and internet can interact in this multi-accessible space with others in real-time. Third, design of CG pipelines assists multiple contributors to collaboratively produce VR spaces, thanks to standardisation of algorithmic components and coordination interfaces. Fourth, open-sourced data formats like .json help in crowdsourcing soft infrastructures; voxels standardise data structure, reduce geometry complexity during real-time communication over a network, and upsample low-resolution space when needed.