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Capital city invests in 'virtual skills'

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The Interactive Digital Centre in Tshwane aims to provide VR, AR and 3D technology skills.
The Interactive Digital Centre in Tshwane aims to provide VR, AR and 3D technology skills.

The City of Tshwane claims it will be home to the first virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) content training centre in continental Africa.

California-based software company EON Reality is partnering with the city to launch the Tshwane Interactive Digital Centre (IDC), which aims to enhance the local business and investment environment while creating high-skilled, sustainable jobs.

EON Reality specialises in VR-based knowledge transfer for business, education and edutainment. The company has similar centres operating in the UK, France, the UAE and Mauritius, to provide equipment and training in VR, augmented reality (AR) and 3D technology.

The VR technology has been around for decades, but what is exciting now, said a representative from EON Reality, is that the hardware is finally catching up with the software.

The IDC is a central part of the city's long-term plan, Tshwane Vision 2055, which aims to "break the cycle of generational poverty, inequality and underdevelopment", the city says in a statement.

"VR-based knowledge transfer will be crucial to the future of education in South Africa, particularly in Tshwane," says Dumisani Otumile, Tshwane group CIO.

"The city has taken a policy position to prioritise investments linked to education and development of young people. This explains our quest for state of the art technologies that assist the city to ignite excellence when delivering services. The IDC will propel vocational skills training and development to unprecedented levels in South Africa," says Otumile.

City vision

The centre was located in Tshwane because of the city's skills-building vision and the 17-year relationship between EON Reality and local company, the Naledi3d Factory, which is based at the Pretoria Innovation Hub.

EON Reality expects global AR and VR markets to reach $150 billion globally within the next few years and the 3D market is estimated to top $227 billion in 2017. The software company says content creation has to expand to keep up with local and global consumers' needs.

"We're extremely excited to partner with the City of Tshwane and build an IDC in South Africa," says Dan Lejerskar, chairman of EON Reality.

The Interactive Digital Centre in Tshwane will be the first of its kind in continental Africa, says the city.
The Interactive Digital Centre in Tshwane will be the first of its kind in continental Africa, says the city.

EON Reality says the IDC will not only enhance the local business climate and create jobs, but the content and applications created by the Tshwane IDC will help with vocational skills transfer and improve local STEM education.

The city tweeted at the IDC inauguration event yesterday that it hopes the centre will become a major player in the emerging global VR/AR market.

"#TshwaneIDC will build 3D technical capacity in the city and anchor its drive towards a smart digital and knowledge economy," the city also tweeted.

After the inauguration event, EON Reality declined to provide further information on funding, the student profile, particulars of the training provided, or public access. The company says it will provide further details at its official media briefing in May.

Digital skills push

The Tshwane centre opens at a time when other tech companies are increasingly making similar investments in digital skills in Africa.

This week, Google announced it would train one million young people across Africa in digital skills, over the next year.

The skills include social media and content creation, as well as training on Google Search, AdWords, YouTube and Analytics, with the aim of making participants more employable. The training will take place in face-to-face workshops and through a dedicated online portal, digifyafrica.com. The courses will be free to anyone in Africa.

US-based networking giant, Cisco, has also taken up the training challenge and this week rolled out a training programme looking to upskill South African networking experts.

The initiative, referred to as the Cisco CCIE 360 Learning Programme, is part of the bigger Cisco Legacy project, which focuses on driving innovation in the ICT sector by growing access to technology and by offering long-term support to SMEs.

Citing recruitment specialist Adcorp, Cisco says in SA there are an estimated 829 800 positions for highly-skilled workers that need to be filled. Of these, Cisco estimates 30 000 to 70 000 of these fall within the category of skilled technology workers.

"These skills are just not available," says Vernon Thaver, CTO at Cisco SA. The programme will focus on specialisation in the Internet of things.

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