HKUST: HKUST to Launch World’s First Twin Campuses in Metaverse

The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) today announced its plan of establishing the world’s first physical-digital twin campuses in metaverse, as the University seeks to ride the wave of the next digital era to enhance teaching and learning experiences for its two campuses in Hong Kong and Guangzhou.

Embracing the rapid evolution of Web 3.0, HKUST is committed to building MetaHKUST – an extended reality (XR) campus for both HKUST and its Guangzhou counterpart set to be open in September. The platform will not just provide an immersive study experience, but will serve as a holistic platform for all students, faculty and alumni to create, innovate and connect across campuses.

MetaHKUST is a long-term development plan. During the initial stage, physical infrastructure such as XR classrooms, sensors, cameras and visualization tools will be installed, while members of the University will be invited to take part in a crowdsourced scanning of the physical campuses to help provide the necessary images for building the campuses’ virtual twins. After an ecosystem is established, the two Universities’ members can generate contents such as their own avatars, NFTs, tokens or virtual art works for the virtual world – some of which may also be viewed or used in the physical campuses with augmented reality (AR) technology. Exchange of information and administrative procedures are also expected to become more convenient, such that blockchain-secured diplomas or transcripts may be awarded in the forms of NFTs, while events like open day or graduation can be staged in parallel or in isolation to their physical ones.

HKUST has always been a pioneer in innovative education – we are among the first to realize interdisciplinary teaching, e-learning, among novel pedagogy and programs. MetaHKUST is yet another major initiative of HKUST to facilitate immersive learning and connect students and research activities across different geographical locations. To make this work, the University will define governance of the physical-digital world, setting standards and regulations for digital assets and unblocking technological bottlenecks to accelerate the development. The University will also select and fund proposals from HKUST members that could best utilize the MetaHKUST platform, and actively look out for collaboration opportunities on metaverse with other institutions.

Prof. WANG Yang, HKUST’s Vice-President for Institutional Advancement, who leads the MetaHKUST project, said, “Hong Kong has all the elements required for the future-shaping development of Web 3.0 amid a fast convergence of our physical and digital worlds. As what I believe as the world’s first University to build a digital twin for our two campuses, HKUST is ready to take the lead to create a sustainable XR ecosystem to better supplement research and learning. The online-offline interaction will not only facilitate a genuine integration of the two campuses under the framework of ‘Unified HKUST, Complimentary Campuses’, but will also help realize the potential of metaverse in education.”

Prof. Pan HUI, Chair Professor of Computational Media and Arts at HKUST(Guangzhou), and Director of the Center for Metaverse and Computational Creativity (MC2) at HKUST, said, “AR, as part of XR, is one of the primary technologies that blends digital content with physical environments. However, most AR applications are currently single-user and present significant constraints in terms of time and location. What we are striving to achieve here is the scaling up of technology to handle large-sized environments and massive multi-user experiences, which not only represents a primary challenge of our physical-digital vision, but also a key factor that differentiates MetaHKUST from other campuses’ metaverse initiatives.”

The MC2 team is now working on the construction of the first mixed reality classroom on the HKUST(GZ) campus. The approximately 2,400 square feet state-of-the-art classroom – set to be completed by September 2022, will complement a similar classroom that will soon be constructed on the Clear Water Bay campus. The facilities will allow faculty and students of the two campuses to attend the same lecture at the same time in two paralleled physical spaces. Meanwhile, the team will also continue to enhance the virtual world’s display details in order to offer the best metaverse experience for the HKUST community.