Daniel Vogel and Jian Zhao receive unrestricted grants from Meta’s Reality Labs Research to build the metaverse

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Professors Daniel Vogel and Jian Zhao are among a select group of researchers across Canada who are recipients of unrestricted funding from Reality Labs Research. 

Part of the broader Meta Research organization, Reality Labs Research has awarded the two Cheriton School of Computer Science researchers $30,000 each in unrestricted funding, which allows them to put the grants toward projects of their choosing. Meta, the parent company of Facebook, announced that 17 researchers across Canada — with two at Waterloo — are receiving a total of $510,000 in unrestricted grants to support their research.

“This generous support from Reality Labs Research will help us develop new technologies to enhance communication in the metaverse — between people, users and data through the virtual world, blended with the real world,” said Professor Zhao. “Specifically, it will advance our study on the interactions between virtual reality live streamers and their audience, and promote the innovations for supporting various streaming strategies, communicating emotions beyond text, and visualizing streaming behaviours.”

Professor Vogel and his graduate students have been developing research and technology that plays a part in building the metaverse.

In a recent interview discussing the development of technology in human-computer interaction and the work of Waterloo’s HCI Lab, Professor Vogel said, “We’re always setting out to make things people can easily use. People look at new tech in the field of human-computer interaction, and they say it just makes sense. That’s what we want. We want to make technology that’s intuitive and straightforward, but sometimes to do that takes a lot of complex research and sophisticated software.”

photo of Professors Daniel Vogel and Jian Zhao

L to R: Professors Daniel Vogel and Jian Zhao.

Professor Vogel’s research focuses on fundamental characteristics of human input and novel forms of interaction for current and future computing form factors like touch, tangibles, mid-air gestures, and whole-body input, for everything from on-body wearable devices and mobile phones, to large displays and virtual reality.

Professor Zhao’s research focuses on information visualization, human-computer interaction, and data science. He develops advanced interaction and visualization techniques that promote the interplay between humans, machines, and data. His research aims to boost the efficiency of real-world data analytical activities that involve a large amount of data, various complicated models, and a diverse group of analysts. 

Meta is involved in a push to rapidly advance metaverse-related research and technology, and today announced not only the research funding but also its intention to create up to 2,500 new tech jobs in Canada in the coming years. The company says the goal of the funding and job creation is to create the next generation of immersive online social experiences.

A statement on the funding announcement by Daniel Wigdor, director of research science at Reality Labs Research, notes that “the metaverse is the next evolution in social technologies and the successor to the mobile internet.”

“It will be made up of digital spaces, including immersive 3D experiences, that are all interconnected so you can easily move between them, and has the potential to unlock access to new creative, social and economic opportunities. In the future, you’ll be able to access the metaverse from various devices, including VR headsets and AR glasses.”

Some recent projects that have come out of Waterloo’s HCI Lab include the following:

Read the media release from Reality Labs Research for more background on the new funding. Please also Cheyenne Bholla’s March 30, 2022 article titled “Two University of Waterloo researchers receive grants to help build metaverse” in The Record.

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