Arnis Cīrulis wears many hats at Vidzeme University of Applied Sciences (ViA), embracing academic, research, and administrative roles. But there is one thing that defines all his work, his specialty — augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) technologies.
Alongside his own research work, which is dedicated to dynamic 3D visualization in outdoor augmented reality modes, Arnis shares his insights with students, working as an Associate Professor at ViA. He has also developed and now heads up the one and only Master’s program specializing in AR/VR in Latvia “Virtual Reality & Smart Technologies“.
As for Overly — well, we’ve had the pleasure of working with Arnis in organizing the annual AR/VR Hackathon. Over the years, we’ve also been happy to call his students our interns and colleagues. In this interview, we’ll drill down on Arnis’ own career path, and find out what the future holds for his students — AR and VR virtuosos.
Augmented reality work grounded in long-term interests
Arnis holds both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in Computer Sciences from the University of Latvia. Before his post-doctoral research career took him to explore augmented reality, Arnis obtained a Ph.D. in Information Technologies from the Latvia University of Life Sciences and Technologies. His doctoral research work was immersed in virtual reality as he looked at its applications in industrial training. As we speak, Arnis remembers to thank his Ph.D. supervisor, Egils Ginters, for opening up new horizons during his research work.
“During my Ph.D. I was given the opportunity to go to the Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation in Magdeburg, Germany. They have a campus called “Virtual Development and Training Centre” and it is wholly dedicated to similar things I was doing for my research work. This is where I saw for the first time how smart technologies are used in logistics and mechanical engineering and was able to grasp their potential.”
As we glimpse even further back at Arnis’ career, he reveals that his interest in 3D visualization, which illustrates his work today, goes way back before his study years. “Visualization and computer graphics were key to the scientific research project that I worked on in the last two years of high school. Our geometry teacher made us cut things out of cardboard for demonstrations, and I was struck with the idea of making these visuals available digitally. And that is precisely what I went on to do.”
“Back then, you had to code entirely from scratch, and the resources were sparse,” Arnis reflects. “I was going to my local library to use a computer and was learning to code from some books that were available only in Russian. I did get there in the end and created my 3D world with geometric figures, cubes, pyramids, and other objects that could be rotated and moved around.”
University — a workplace that bolsters career development
Arnis joined Vidzeme University of Applied Sciences as soon as he earned his Master’s degree. “University provides a great platform for growth, and that is what I do at ViA — I keep reaching and building on my professional goals.” He emphasizes that although his initial role as a lecturer has transformed into that of an Associate Professor, Researcher and Program Director, his work with students is still fundamental. “I think it is the best way to go about being a researcher. If you keep working with students, you can share your scientific findings and knowledge directly and involve them in exciting projects whenever possible.”
Arnis’ research interests that once consisted of creating a digital 3D learning platform for geometry classes have also matured significantly over the years. “I’m still interested in data transmission networks, cybersecurity, operating systems, open data, and pretty much all else that is trending in the IT sector. But then there’s this other, more refined, part of my interests in visualization technologies, virtual reality, and interactivity.
“Augmented reality tech has developed most in terms of smaller solutions, like visualizing furniture and electronics. On the other end of the spectrum are objects, where details aren’t at the essence and GPS can deliver the desired results by showcasing objects at a distance. My post-doctoral research addresses an area, which sits somewhere in the middle. I look at 3D visualization for large scale projects, like sporting stadiums or open-air museums. Given that we are talking about city planning of large scale objects in outdoor settings, detailed visualization, and precision here are at the crux of everything. I work alongside industry partners to develop a solution that hones in on those needs.”
Another theme that characterizes Arnis’ work since his PH.D. studies is training solutions using 3D visualizations. “This is where I work to develop solutions that provide interactive training opportunities for factory, manufacturing, and warehouse workers. Often people work with expensive and dangerous equipment and cannot explore it during the on-boarding process in any other way than by reading instructions and scrolling through presentations. This inconsistency with real-life scenarios and written instructions can be replaced by realistic training in virtual reality. We have already delivered such learning options for the Mechatronics students at ViA. We provide visualizations and experimental environments where virtual hands-on training can take place and prepare students for real-life settings.”
Response to industry demand: Master’s in “Virtual Reality and Smart Technologies”
When asked about the idea to set up a Master’s program specializing in AR/VR, Arnis points to the industry: “One of the strategic priorities of ViA is to work with science that can be applied. We want to deliver initiatives that are demanded by the industry and produce results and graduates who add value to whichever sector they enter.
“I work with AR/VR for around ten years, and the situation in Latvia has really changed since my early days. Thanks to the activity of such businesses as Overly or Anatomy Next, and the development of our tech community, I am getting a second breath of fresh air and I want to contribute. The Master’s program that I developed aims to prepare more experts who can bolster and drive the industry forward.”
Talking about the benefits for individuals in getting a Master’s qualification, Arnis highlights that his overall goal is to develop experts who have the skills to both design and develop AR/VR projects. “Not just develop on paper, but actually bring quality projects to life. Such specialists are in great demand across the globe,” he notes. “When you get a bachelor’s degree in information technologies, you are equipped with a vast range of skills, and I believe it is an excellent basis for exploring where your interests lie. When you go for a Master’s degree, you must be motivated to go in-depth in an area you want to specialize in. Specialization is where the most value lies.”
Arnis also credits the Master’s program at ViA as an opportunity to gain expertise in a select industry in a short timeframe. “The program lasts just 1.5 years, and students get access to education, laboratories, equipment, industry contacts, and mentors. And 1.5 years to develop a competitive expertise and deliver valuable projects for their own work-place or our industry partners is quite a fast-track scheme if you ask me.”
All Master’s students also have the opportunity to take part in the annual AR/VR Hackathon at ViA, where participants create new virtual and augmented reality solutions from scratch in 48 hours. 2019 saw the winning team establish and register a company based on the idea brought to life at the event. Getting solid results from the learning process is crucial, and Arnis points out that his Master’s program is based around modern learning solutions that add value to learners and in return help to address industry demands.
If you want to find out more about Arnis’ research work in augmented and virtual reality or are interested in joining the Master’s program he’s developed, connect with Arnis on LinkedIn.
*Featured photo: Reinis Hofmanis