ZeniMax cofounder talks developments in VR, AR with students

Lucien Parsons presents to the UMD AR Club and discusses his career working for video game design companies. Photo by Morgan Politzer

By Morgan Politzer

The director of the virtual reality innovation center at the University of Maryland spoke to students about the changing landscape of technology and the rise of augmented and virtual reality on Feb. 28 in the Edward St. John Learning and Teaching Center.  

Lucien Parsons is the co-founder and former Vice President of Operations of ZeniMax Online Studios, the company owner of Bethesda Softworks, a video game company based in Rockville, Maryland, which created the popular role-playing game franchises “The Elder Scrolls” and “Fallout.”

The Mixed/Augmented/Virtual Reality Innovation Center (MAVRIC), which Parsons leads at UMD, is a forum for the creation of immersive media that focuses on three initial goals: promoting under-represented groups’ involvement, facilitating networking and increasing exposure amongst potential customers, Parsons said.

“The idea behind MAVRIC is to help start-ups, entrepreneurs, whether they’re from the university or not, to succeed in this environment,” Parsons said.

While augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are similar, the major difference is what the user sees when using the technology.

“VR is when you put on the goggles and you can’t see your surroundings, but you see a new environment, like another world,” said Emily Gong, a sophomore computer science major and AR Club President. “But AR is like Snapchat. You put on a digital element like a dog or a cat on your face, but you see your real world.”

Parsons spoke to students about the rise of AR and VR technology, and how they have changed and enhanced various fields across the workforce.

“There are so many applications, especially on a business to business level, as opposed to business to consumer level, for mobile AR,” he said.

While a large percent of technological innovation occurs on the West Coast, Parsons said MAVRIC is focused on creating AR and VR jobs and opportunities in the mid-Atlantic region. By working closely with entrepreneurs, they are able to grow their businesses and create jobs on the East Coast, he said.

However, MAVRIC can also benefit government organizations and major corporations such as NASA, as big businesses learn how they can use VR to further their missions.

At this university, AR and VR technology is being developed across multiple fields, including medical training, technological advancements, journalism applications and machine intelligence, Parsons said.

Gong reached out to Parsons in the hopes that he would come speak to the club.

“I messaged him, but I wasn’t sure if we would be getting TED Talks from faculty because there’s a few on campus that could talk about their project, but I figured he would be a good idea,” she said. “I like to get more tech people who can show more real-world applications besides gaming, because AR’s not just about gaming.”

MAVRIC was created after the United States Department of Commerce awarded the university a $500,000 grant to fund the program in September 2017. Many companies within the private sector, such as Booz Allen Hamilton, Nvidia, Samsung, AT&T and Gannett, have since reached out and expressed support for the project, Parsons said.

Throughout the project, UMD will work with other universities, including a partnership with Coppin State to bring 360 video training and equipment to their college and high school students. Parsons said UMD is also discussing plans to collaborate on projects with Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

“I’ve been trying to look into potential career paths at this point, and I feel like I really learned a lot at this presentation,” said junior information science major Cade McCormick. “…the potential with this sort of technology kind of blows my mind. I feel like this is the next frontier: we’ve had television, the internet, AR seems like it’s the next thing.”


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