IIT-Bombay held its 58th convocation on Sunday, and it was no ordinary convocation. For the first time in history, students collected their degrees in virtual reality mode.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, students and staff members from Indian Institute of Technology Bombay attended the annual convocation in their VR avatars. While the students were not physically present at the dais, they could be seen getting on and receiving their graduation degrees with the same enthusiasm. According to the institution, it wanted to provide the student with the same experience as an in-person event despite the restrictions posed by the pandemic.
The personalised avatar of each graduate accepted the degree certificate from the personalised avatar of the Director Prof. Subhasis Chaudhuri. All medal winners took their medals from the personalised avatar of the Chief Guest. The whole event was telecast on DD India and DD Sahyadri channels and also streamed on social media including YouTube and Facebook Live.
The students’ avatars brisk walk to the stage, their glistening smile after receiving the degree certificate and the virtual ambience was nothing less than spectacular. Many people on social media even argued it was better than a real event. This is for the first time in India’s history that a college presented awards and degrees to the virtual avatars on convocation day. It took the team of 20 organisers over two months to prepare for the event, from creating personalised digital avatars to the procession.
Since the last ten years, VR has taken the world by storm. In recent years more practical applications have been released, including many conferences around the world. There are some neat instances of VR that have been disrupting how an event engages the audience. In virtual reality, the computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment can interact within a seemingly real or physical way by a person using special electronic equipment, or just spatial imagery and avatars.
At present, standard virtual reality systems utilise virtual reality headsets which typically includes auditory and video feedback, but may also provide other types of sensory feedback through haptic technology. The other kind of VR is multi-projected environments that create realistic images, sounds and other scenes that mimic a user’s physical attendance in a virtual setting. The convocation at IIT-B was the latter. With avatar image-based virtual reality, people can enter the virtual scene in the form of real video and also as an avatar. One can engage in the 3D distributed virtual environment as a form of either a standard avatar or an actual video.
IIT-Bombay helped connect the college mates virtually and provided viewing of hostel and campus videos on the previous night of the convocation. A link was sent out to the students helping them access the campus map and visit their respective departments as well as walk through the campus corridors virtually.
P Sunthar, co-convener of the ceremony told the media that the most challenging part of the preparation was to bring together the convocation scene where the complete delegation of 38 members was supposed to sit and stand together with the national anthem. All the individual videos were shot and aggregated to make it seem that the delegation was present during the virtual event. To make this happen, each delegate was asked to come separately and walk on the dais and take their individual position.
Using VR To Inspire Graduates
Speaking at the event, the Director said, “Producing top-quality graduates who would be the future leaders in the industry, research and academia is the principal goal of IIT-Bombay. The skill they acquired, the work culture they formed and the friends they made during their education at IIT Bombay will support them to attain success in their lives. The whole country will forward to their contributions in taking our nation ahead”.
He further said, “Giving a virtual reality experience to all our graduates was not only a very innovative step but also a great effort by our professors and staff. They did it for the students. Hopefully, this will enthuse our graduates and also other engineers in India to think high and innovatively”.
In the engineering field, virtual reality has confirmed to be very beneficial for both engineering instructors and learners. An earlier expensive cost in the education department is now much more accessible. It has proven to be a handy tool for educating future engineers.
The most significant factor lies in the ability for the students to be able to interact with 3D models that precisely respond based on real-world instances. This added tool of education provides the immersion required to follow complex topics and be able to apply them. As noted, future architects and engineers will benefit considerably by being able to form understandings within spatial relationships and implementing solutions based on real-world future applications, sitting from their home.
Showcasing India’s Young Tech Talent With IIT-B Nurturing
Prof. Duncan Haldane, co-winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics, and a Professor of Physics at Princeton University, was the Chief Guest at the virtual convocation. Stephen Schwarzman, the Chairman, CEO and Co-Founder of Blackstone, a renowned investor and philanthropist, joined the convocation as the Guest of Honor. Presenting the Institute’s Report for 2019-2020, Professor Subhasis Chaudhuri, Director of IIT Bombay, told that the institute continues to be a much sought-after place for undergraduate and postgraduate studies.
In his speech, Stephen Schwarzman stated, “India remains in a unique position in the world now, particularly when it comes to technology, where it has built global leadership with its talent. Out of the 72 Indian-origin engineers who have founded unicorn startups over the world, 50 per cent are IIT alumni. IIT engineers are setting the global innovation landscape, and the newest alumni will be the next generation of prospective leaders who will drive that mission”.
He also said that with a young, ambitious and tech-savvy population, a forward-thinking government that promotes entrepreneurship, and the fourth-largest startup ecosystem in the world, India is poised to stake its title as one of the world’s preeminent innovation hubs.
The graduating students this year included 381 PhDs, 18 Dual Degrees (MTech/ MPhil + PhD) and 27 Dual Degrees (MSc+PhD). Of these, 39 research scholars were chosen for the award of ‘Excellence in PhD Research’ for the year 2018-20. Plus, 33 joint PhD degrees, in association with Monash University were also bestowed by the Vice-Chancellor and President of Monash University Professor Margaret Gardner, during the event.
In addition, 621 MTech, 11 MS (by research), 6 Dual Degree (MSc+MTech), 20 MPhil, 110 MMgt, 64 MDes, 225 two-year MSc, 2 five-year integrated MSc, 684 BTech Degrees, 6 Dual Degrees (BS+MSc), 342 Dual Degree (BTech + MTech), 10 Interdisciplinary Dual Degrees (BTech/ BS+MTech/ MSc), 20 Dual Degrees (BDes+MDes), 16 BS, 15 BDes, and 16 PGDIIT, were awarded at the Convocation.
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Vishal Chawla is a senior tech journalist at Analytics India Magazine and writes about AI, data analytics, cybersecurity, cloud computing, and blockchain. Vishal also hosts AIM's video podcast called Simulated Reality- featuring tech leaders, AI experts, and innovative startups of India.