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Virtual Reality Guru Supports Innovation in NZ

Mark Billinghurst - Innovation Leader

Virtual Reality Guru Supports Innovation in NZ

Virtual reality scientist Dr Mark Billinghurst says innovation needs to be centred at the heart of all business activities. Dr Billinghurst is one of eight New Zealanders participating as an Innovation Leader at the Carter Holt Harvey New Zealand Pavilion at Auckland's American Express Viaduct Harbour.

The multi-media Pavilion developed by Industry New Zealand in partnership with business, showcases successful New Zealand innovators and entrepreneurs.

Dr Billinghurst says: "The New Zealand Pavilion is an excellent forum to showcase New Zealand Innovation. As a country we sometimes don't realise that our ideas and innovation can foot it on a world stage."

Industry New Zealand chief executive Neil Mackay says Dr Billinghurst was an ideal contributor because of his outstanding achievements in making the dream of virtual reality a reality. "He's been working overseas for eight years merging real and virtual worlds so people in different places can share the same reality and work together. It's great having achievers like Dr Billinghurst supporting innovation by participating in the Pavilion."

Last year Dr Billinghurst received the coveted Discover Magazine Award for best entertainment application - science's equivalent to the Oscars. He won the award for his MagicBook, an interface that allows readers to use a real book to explore a 3D model.

Neil Mackay says it is a real coup that Dr Billinghurst has been attracted back to New Zealand. "Dr Billinghurst has been listed in technology trends guru, Richard Wurman's register of the 1000 most creative people in America. To have a world class New Zealander like Dr Billinghurst return home this year to head up a virtual reality laboratory and undertake leading edge research is fantastic.

Dr Billinghurst is now director of the Human Interface Technology (HIT) laboratory in Christchurch. Set up as an annex of the successful University of Washington HIT lab, in association with the University of Canterbury and the Canterbury Development Corporation, the HIT Lab has enlisted a consortium of companies to push the boundaries of virtual reality in medicine, telecommunications, architecture, education and manufacturing.

Dr Billinghurst, 34, will lead a multi-disciplinary team investigating how to improve face-to-face and remote communication through innovative human-computer interfaces which could replace monitors and keyboards. He will work with HIT Lab International Director Professor Tom Furness, whose pioneering work on human interface technology earned him the title of 'grandfather' of virtual reality.

Professor Furness says he has been impressed by Dr Billinghurst. "He is the best graduate student I have ever had, in terms of his energy and creativity. We've worked together more recently on better ways of interfacing people to computing machines. Through Dr Billinghurst's ingenuity, there have been new interface modalities that have been created such as the MagicBook technology."

Dr Billinghurst is a latter-day Renaissance man, says Professor Furness. "What stood out for me was Dr Billinghurst's 'can do' attitude and willingness to tackle almost any challenge. I believe that Dr Billinghurst is truly a world treasure and will end up being revered as a pioneer of our age."

Neil Mackay says the Pavilion represents the epitome of Kiwi creativity and will be one of the most exciting, visible, recognisable and memorable sites during the America's Cup. "It's a dynamic multi-media experience involving over 60 multi-media screens taking each visitor on a personal journey as they move through the Pavilion."

The Carter Holt Harvey New Zealand Pavilion will also feature seven other Innovation Leaders which include: software exporter and programmer Gil Simpson of Jade Corporation, fencing entrepreneur Bill Gallagher of Gallagher Group, literacy exporter Wendy Pye of Wendy Pye Group, multi-media entrepreneur Ian Taylor of Animation Research, special effects wizard Richard Taylor of Weta Workshop, international fashion designer Karen Walker and biotechnology guru Dr Jim Watson of Genesis Research and Development Corporation.

The Pavilion has been developed by Industry New Zealand and represents a partnership between Industry New Zealand and the New Zealand business community.

Carter Holt Harvey is the naming rights sponsor of the Pavilion.

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