In March 2021, Eon Reality, a California-based augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) leading company, announced a partnership with the University of West Indies (UWI) Open Campus in Trinidad and Tobago. The agreement provides a $25 million grant to the UWI to launch a new EON-XR rollout across the Caribbean. This initiative will develop an interactive digital lab, reaching 5,000 students and 750 trainers over a five-year period.
“The donation will facilitate the launch of a physical lab based in Trinidad and Tobago. We’ll also have two cloud platforms allowing us to deliver classes and programs anywhere in the world,” said Dr. Luz Longsworth, Principal of the Open Campus and Pro Vice-Chancellor of Global Affairs
Though the UWI has collaborated with prominent international corporations such as Huawei, the Microsoft Corporation and Cisco in the past, this is the largest collaboration in decades for the university in terms of the scope and monetary value. In a context where the current Covid-19 pandemic-induced economic crisis is generating a severe negative impact on Caribbean countries, this agreement presents an opportunity to develop broader technological competences and enhance the relevance and resiliency of the region’s economies.
AR and VR Capabilities to Boost Caribbean Economic Diversification
Augmented and virtual reality technology has recently showed a maturing state of development. With hardware and software applications constantly evolving, and the promise of improved connectivity through 5G networks, there is now a wider range of its use for business improvement. Major AR and VR benefits for organizations include the training of employees and testing of procedures, such as simulation training for IT services or even for hazardous environments.
“We understand the significance of these resources for the private sector. And we have a track record of working with industry to develop customized programs on demand. We can now create better simulations and training courses with a new global reach,” added Dr. Longsworth.
AR and VR also assist in the acceleration of product development, reducing costs and boosting efficiency. Various industries are using VR technology to create new revenues streams and grow existing ones. Retail and hospitality are sectors already exploring the potential to sell and showcase products via both VR and AR.
With the help of cutting-edge technology, the island’s workforce can diversify and protect itself against the worst of oil price fluctuations
As an economy heavily reliant on oil-based revenues, Trinidad and Tobago is susceptible to shocks when commodity prices fluctuate, but with the help of cutting-edge technology, the island’s workforce can diversify and protect itself against the worst of oil price fluctuations.
“This deal provides an opportunity for many people to receive very specialized training and opens the possibility to market Trinidad and Tobago as a country with an attractive workforce pool. It broadens the profile of Trinidad and Tobago as a place with strong IT service support capabilities,” said Sekou Alleyne, president of InvestTT, the country’s foreign investment promotion agency.
According to PwC research, AR and VR will cause a significant boost to global economic growth over the next decade and is predicted to reach a value of US$1.5 trillion by 2030. The global VR market size was valued at US$15.81 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 18 % from 2021 to 2028. With the UWI’s newly acquired VR capabilities, the Caribbean should now enjoy see gains from this predicted growth.
Trinidad and Tobago Increasingly Attractive as Business Outsourcing Destination
As the BPO industry shifts from basic call centers towards innovation-driven higher value services, Trinidad and Tobago now has a stronger case to promote itself as a center for business outsourcing. A tech-savvy English-speaking workforce, stable infrastructure and quality higher education institutions all strengthen its case.
“Investors’ interests in the region for Nearshore services is growing. We’re located in a very competitive region where countries like Jamaica have many advantages. But with appropriate training for our labor force, incentives and other measures like improving infrastructure, we can become more attractive,” said Alleyne.
The country’s government has been working to find new ways to improve productivity and competitiveness under a strategy of diversification. That means attracting more foreign investment, enhancing infrastructure and prioritizing certain services and exports. The UWI’s AR and VR platform, now provides a unique selling point.
“The original motivation for this grant was the Covid-19 pandemic and the fact that we all recognized that educational institutions needed to reimagine themselves. However, now we’re seeing the prospects beyond education. We’re planning amazing things for our programs in climate change modelling, environmental management and engineering. We have met with JAMPRO, for example. They have programs to support outsourcing, we will demonstrate soon how we can assist them,” Dr. Longsworth said.
As many Caribbean economies find themselves with low growth and high debt, the introduction of cutting edge technology to support professional services could reinvigorate heavy flows of foreign direct investment in the post-Covid era. “That’s a very exciting promise. This allows us to move ahead of the curve and improve the economies in the region, while operating as a global university but rooted in the Caribbean,” concluded Dr. Longsworth.