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Arts et Métiers: at the heart of VR/AR research

The Arts et Métiers institute trains future experts in immersive technologies at its branch in Laval.

Crédits photos : Arts et Métiers

Arts et Métiers is a higher education institution that trains engineers and managers for industry and research. The Laval branch focuses its education programme on immersive technologies and 3D. In 2023, its Presence & Innovation research team created the “iPerform” research chair on collaborative performance via immersive technologies and virtual worlds. Arts et Métiers will be present at Laval Virtual on April 10-12, 2024, on booth A52. Interview with Benjamin Poussard, Research Engineer at the Institut de Laval.

Can you introduce your company?

Arts et Métiers, a founding member of the Alliance for the Industry of the Future, has 8 campuses and 3 institutes. The Arts et Métiers institute in Laval has a research and teaching team, “Presence and Innovation”, from the LAMPA laboratory, and an AMVALOR development team which promotes partnership research and technology transfer activities between Arts et Métiers laboratories and companies. AMVALOR also manages the CARNOT ARTS label on behalf of Arts et Métiers, which brings together the multidisciplinary skills and cutting-edge equipment of 23 public research laboratories to help businesses innovate throughout France.

At the Institut Arts et Métiers de Laval, our team of XR researchers and engineers has access to state-of-the-art technological equipment. It is capable of developing interactive simulations and deploying full-scale immersive experiences to meet all the use cases of our industrial partners.

At Arts et Métiers, research and industry partners collaborate to develop, implement and evaluate projects and skills to achieve innovative advances in research, applications and technologies in response to rapid technological change. This approach enables the school to maintain the highest levels of expertise. In addition, Arts et Métiers has been involved in numerous European projects, both as partner and coordinator.

What will your company show at Laval Virtual 2024?

We offer three services: research, training and development. We offer services to companies to contribute to the excellence of applied scientific research in France. In the area of research, we will be presenting the mechanisms we use to support companies (collaborative projects, supervision of CIFRE theses). We will be presenting work in progress on virtual agents and avatars, and on assessing technological acceptability in a training context.

In terms of training, we will be promoting work-study contracts for our 2 masters degrees: the Master’s in Management of 3D Interactive Technologies (MTI3D), which trains XR technology experts who are capable of managing XR projects from start to finish; and the Master’s in Emerging Technologies for Education and Training (TEEF), which trains educational engineers specialising in emerging technologies such as XR and generative AI.

On the value-added side, we will be offering our R&D and engineering services to companies looking to make progress with real-time 3D technologies, through consultancy, support and customised studies. Our cross-disciplinary approach enables us to address all sectors, from manufacturing to health, culture, sport and training. We will be showcasing two products developed at the institute: Bimeo (an AR application for 3D augmented reality scanning of parts and reconstruction of a BIM model) and Cycleo (a connected bike that helps people with reduced mobility and senior citizens get back into sport).

What is your company’s current innovation?

Our laboratory has very quickly taken the lead on subjects related to generative AI and virtual agents. We have a number of developments and experiments underway that will take us a step further in supporting users in immersive virtual environments or mixed reality.

What innovation do you think has most transformed the world of VR/AR?

Without question, generative AI because it provides tools at every level of the chain. Firstly, I believe that if we use language models correctly, they can be very powerful tools for inspiration. Just as the generation of images can illustrate concepts and facilitate communication within a project team. Secondly, it is now possible to populate virtual worlds by creating 3D objects from simple text requests. This is still not the same as a 3D model specifically designed for real time, but it does make 3D creation accessible, something that was previously reserved for artists.

Finally, virtual characters in video games and professional immersive environments often lack spontaneity and naturalness, because their behaviour is coded in advance. Language models let us develop uses where behaviours are not pre-written and allow us to go further in interacting with the user, fostering the feeling of presence and potentially performance in these virtual environments. It’s a technology that we need to understand and be able to integrate to develop the uses of tomorrow.

The baseline of our 26th edition is “Act For The Future”. In your opinion, how can immersive technologies impact the world of tomorrow?

This baseline is very accurate, and emphasises the fact that we need to be responsible. I think that the innovations that are presented should reflect the challenges facing society today, i.e. technologies that help companies and individuals to move in the right direction, but also in relation to the capitalisation of knowledge, health, or practical tools such as we are doing with the Bimeo application, an essential tool for the housing renovation policy. These projects must be carried out in response to identified needs, and not just for the sake of it.

On the other hand, I remain convinced that the wrong directions are always possible. We could talk about cloud rendering or technological replacement. For example, I’m not in favour of the intensive use of cloud rendering technologies, which once deployed would have a considerable impact, even if I admire the technological performance. Responsibility means that these technologies can exist, but certainly not on a mass scale. And unfortunately I’m not sure that the industry is of the same opinion.

I believe that immersive technologies disrupt the way we see things or the way we work and think. And I see them as useful tools for a specific moment, for a specific task. I don’t think we’re anywhere near a technological replacement for everything immersive, for example doing away with your TV, your smartphone, your tablet, your PC, and just keeping a headset or glasses that integrate everything. And I also think that this replacement could have harmful consequences for social relations. So to act for the future, let’s preserve our human links, let’s stay down to earth, let’s preserve our planet and let’s use these great technologies where it makes sense to use them.

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