WIRED

Oman 2016 | TELECOMS & IT | FOCUS: VIRTUAL TRAINING

The introduction of virtual reality training at the Sas Center could be a revelation for entrepreneurs and established businesses alike.

The inauguration of the Sas Center for Virtual Reality at Knowledge Oasis Muscat in May 2014 was Oman's first major venture into exploring the possibilities of virtual reality. The project, led by the Information Technology Authority (ITA) and costing over OMR3.7 million, was established to provide infrastructure for virtual reality projects, and was launched in alignment with the Sas Entrepreneurship program, which launched a year earlier. While many institutions around the world have relied on specialists for specific contracts in this area, this center acts as an incubator for a variety of virtual reality projects and programs. The idea has been particularly taken to by BP Oman, whose support for the program has been one of the most significant since its inauguration.

BP's involvement came as part of the BP Social Investment Program. This first initiative was called the Khazzan Vocational Training and Employability Project, and centered on providing fast-track training for students in the usage of digital tools, 3D, and virtual reality. The 40 sponsored students came from universities across a number of different colleges and universities throughout Oman. The first three-month course was very well received by the sponsors, organizers, and students alike, and was celebrated at a graduation ceremony in December 2014.

Virtual reality-led training programs have been utilized throughout much of the Gulf, and the various reports of success have undoubtedly encouraged Oman to follow suit. The Dubai Police introduced virtual reality training back in 2013 to fast track the training of cadets. In Qatar, the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, otherwise known as ictQATAR, introduced a number of initiatives including one for medical students at the Qatar Robotic Surgery Center at the Qatar Science & Technology Park (QSTP). Saudi Arabia also opened a new Interactive Digital Center in Jeddah back in December 2014.

The major advantage of Sas Center is that its purpose is not constricted to one purpose. The intention of ITA for it to be “a regional center that provides the infrastructure needed for developing virtual reality applications and multimedia content" is necessarily open ended in order to fit with the range of demands and possibilities. BP Oman's utilization of the center is a prime example of its potential as part of training and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs in particular.

The number and range of projects available at the Sas Center are indicative of the wealth of opportunities. Tourism and cultural projects include the Grand Mosque Project, which allows tourists to see Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque in a 3D tour, and the Omani Costume Project, an interactive 3D mirror to experience traditional Omani costumes and jewelry. Medical projects include the Human Digestive System Project, which is run for nurses to learn about the digestive system in a more hands-on manner, and the Autism Screening Project that aims to detect autism among infant children. Young students have also had the opportunity to take advantage of the Center, with the Solar System Project aiming to provide children with better information about space.
The Center's establishment also comes in line with the Sas Entrepreneurship program, and thus fundamentally supports entrepreneurs. Those involved in the development of technology-based start-ups will be particularly benefited, due to the state of the art facilities and expertise.

The first anniversary of the Sas Center for Virtual Reality coincided with the Sas Entrepreneurship Program's second anniversary, and celebrated a number of successful graduates and users of the project. In its first year, 320 students were trained from the center, with 26 of them going on to start their own companies. As part of the broader Sas Entrepreneurship Program, the two-year anniversary marked the successful incubation of 19 SMEs that have themselves provided 65 new jobs.

The combination of the center and the program are highly valuable due to the focus on entrepreneurship in particular. However, the extent of the program is much wider, and BP's support for the project could be the necessary inspiration for corporations throughout Oman to take advantage of the possibilities of virtual reality programs. As it can be used by a plethora of professions, the Sas Center for Virtual Reality has the potential not only to facilitate Oman's growing SME sector, but also to support training and professional development throughout the country.