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Tech talent with skills suited for the AR/VR revolution are in the perfect position to make their mark

Published on Saturday, 15 Oct 2016
The potential for AR/VR to fill industry voids and unmet customer needs is limitless. (Photo: Thinkstock)

In 2015, 80 per cent of the world’s largest tech companies according to Forbes had invested in R&D related to augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR) technology. In just the first half of 2016, venture capitalist consulting firm Digi-Capital recorded US$1.1 billion in AR/VR investment. Following the explosion of smartphone technology, we foresee that the next technological revolution will come in AR/VR and is presenting an excellent opportunity for professionals with the right skills.

The AR/VR revolution is expected to change our lives and penetrate a broad range of industries. Apart from online games such as Pokemon Go and IBM’s Sword Art, other sectors, ranging from engineering and finance to medical and tourism, are all set to benefit from this new technology.

In engineering, AR allows users to interact with design models and bring ideas to life at the design stage. Similarly, in the architecture, engineering and construction industries, VR allows 2D construction drawings to be converted to 3D building information models. This makes planning, design, construction and infrastructure maintenance much easier.

In fintech, some banks are already experimenting and combining VR with data visualisation, with the aim to improve the customer experience when conceptualising complex wealth management and insurance portfolios. Some are designing apps to attract millennials who prefer to interact remotely; others are using technology to help users visualise their journey towards retirement. Some retail banks are even creating virtual malls, giving customers a whole new virtual shopping and e-commerce experience.

I can imagine the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) developing an iOS and Android-compatible AR mobile phone app to allow visitors to experience Hong Kong before they set foot on a plane. Based on the specific interests of the traveller, the app could recommend walking routes that go past pre-selected restaurants and shops along the way.

The HKTB may also recreate local historical sites, such as Cheung Po Tsai Cave, the Kowloon Walled City and the old busy Tsim Sha Tsui Railway Terminus. With the help of AR/VR technology, tourists would be able to visualise these sites in their original settings. They could even perhaps have a personal encounter with the famous pirate Cheung Po-tsai or the Walled City dwellers, or stand inside the old railway terminus, hearing the trains pull in to the station and watching hundreds of passengers busily walk by.

The potential for AR/VR to fill industry voids and unmet customer needs is limitless. It is thus easy to foresee that AR/VR technical personnel will be in huge demand. The market will be craving for people with relevant skills, including software and content developers, visual software engineers, 3D animation designers, system product designers, data engineers, data designers, and UX/UI designers.

The technical requirements will vary by role. Similar to software developers in general, those who are keen to ride the AR/VR high-speed train will need to be proficient in at least one computer language: HTML, Java, .NET, C++, C#, JavaScript, WebGL, the Unity game development platform, and mobile developer software (iOS, Android). Reasonable knowledge in UX/UI will also be an advantage.

Hands-on experience in head-mounted displays and AR software development kits such as Vuforia, Wikitude and Metaio, and AR-related skills such as object recognition, object acquisition, object tracking and object rendering, will also be a plus.

Candidates with good soft skills, problem solving abilities, the passion to innovate, good teamwork, perseverance, and a proactive and positive working attitude will be even more sought-after.

In five years, we foresee AR/VR to reach technical maturity, meaning technology will move from being an investment to generating revenue. At the initial stage, talent will be in short supply. The remuneration packages for those with relevant job experience will be considerably higher compared to inexperienced candidates.

For example, currently in the US, the annual salary of an AR/VR software developer new to the industry is US$75,000-80,000, while those with relevant experience can earn up to US$200,000.

Hong Kong is equipped with the world’s fastest commercially offered internet speed and 87 per cent smartphone penetration, while 96 per cent of the population are mobile internet users – all favourable conditions for early adoption of AR/VR technology.

Should the Innovation and Technology Bureau, together with tech-focused education institutions, commit to creating a solid group of AR/VR technicians with practical hands-on experience, the AR/VR talent shortage can be eased. A ready pool of such talent will even attract more multinationals to set up offices in Hong Kong.

It has been said that innovation is 1 per cent invention, 99 per cent entrepreneurial action. I hope the entrepreneurial, can-do spirit of Hong Kong can be revived with our visionary talents and companies, working hard together to make this city an innovative hotbed for the AR/VR revolution.


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