Environment & Engineering

Turning vision into reality

Published Jul 5, 2018

Associate Professor Taehyun Rhee was recognised last night at the KiwiNet Research Commercialisation Awards 2018 for his innovative and collaborative work in the worlds of virtual and augmented reality. 

Associate Professor Rhee (also known as TJ) won the Research Entrepreneur Award category, recognising his ability to focus on innovation that meets business or industry needs, and to form strong academic and business collaborations. 

TJ joined Victoria University of Wellington in 2012, after 17 years working in research and development for Samsung. During his time with the consumer electronics conglomerate, he oversaw a 3D virtual prototyping and visualisation system that resulted in the creation of over 200 products—and reached out to leading universities in Europe, the United States and Asia to form relationships and work with researchers to solve industry problems. 

“Having experienced firsthand the benefits of joining forces between business and academia, I was keen to do it all again in New Zealand—only this time around I’m the academic!” says TJ, who is based in the Computational Media Innovation Centre (CMIC), in the Faculty of Engineering. 

TJ’s willingness to collaborate and find mutual benefit between the two worlds has resulted in a number of successful initiatives. 

He played a major role in forming the CMIC, which aims to attract world-leading academics to New Zealand to foster cutting-edge research and university-led innovation and entrepreneurship. 

“Our goal is to utilise university research to strengthen New Zealand’s capability in interactive media such as virtual reality/augmented reality—as well as films and computer games,” says TJ who is a deputy director and research director of the CMIC.

He says the CMIC will develop extensive links with international gaming and anime organisations—and incubate potential start-ups from early concept research through to market-ready products. 

TJ has first-hand experience of the struggles that these future start-ups may face, having formed his own, DreamFlux, six months ago with Viclink’s help. DreamFlux provides mixed reality technology that enables realtime lighting and shading to seamlessly blend virtual objects into film, so that users can interact with that object, even pick it up and move it. The technology has already been used in a virtual tour project with Wellington International Airport, Singapore Airlines and Wrestler to create an experience that is first-of-its-kind anywhere in the world. 

TJ also pioneered Victoria University’s Computer Graphics Programme—which offers students the opportunity to gain unprecedented insights into the inner technologies of the creative industries—after talking with Weta Digital about their skillset requirements. “We now have more than 10 interns at Weta, and many of Victoria’s past students are currently working for the world-leading visual effects company,” says TJ. “It’s great to think that they’ve been contributing to some of the biggest blockbuster movies we’ve seen in the past few years. 

So what does his win mean to this entrepreneurial researcher? “I’m grateful for the recognition and excited by the credibility it offers to the work I’ve been doing—I hope it will help me to initiate new relationships and projects!” 

Read about Victoria’s second nomination in the KiwiNet Research Commercialisation Awards.