Unveiling RLab: the First-City Funded VR/AR Center in the Country Opens Doors at Brooklyn Navy Yard


New York City’s Virtual and Augmented Reality Center Will Fuel Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Education, While Creating Hundreds of Well-Paying Jobs

New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME), the NYU Tandon School of Engineering and the Brooklyn Navy Yard today announced the launch of RLab – the first City-funded virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) lab in the country. Administered by NYU Tandon with a participating consortium of New York City universities, including Columbia UniversityCUNY and The New School, RLab will operate out of Building 22 in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and will cement New York City’s status as a global leader in VR/AR, creating over 750 jobs in the industry.

Fueled by a $5.6 million investment by NYCEDC and MOME, the center will support startups, talent development, and research and innovation, along with a workforce development center at CUNY Lehman College in the Bronx. RLab will also be home to an early-stage fund, administered by leading venture capital firm Super Ventures, to support startup companies accepted into RLab accelerator program which are creating solutions using virtual and augmented reality. This competitive program will attract talent from around the world and complement a range of RLab entrepreneurship programs to commercialize ideas and technologies emerging off of the City’s university campuses, as well as corporate innovation programs designed to help companies adopt these technologies.

When complete in 2019, RLab will house 16,500 square feet of co-working labs, classrooms, studios, and more on the third floor of Building 22, a former manufacturing facility at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

“EDC is charged with building and diversifying our economy for the present and future, and investing in virtual and augmented reality gives us an opportunity to do just that,” said NYCEDC President and CEO James Patchett. “With RLab, we’ll be able to fuel homegrown startups and grow a diverse talent pipeline of New Yorkers – all working in an industry with high growth potential in New York City. Thank you to MOME and all of our incredible partners who have already made major contributions to make this a world class institution.”

“VR and AR have been making their marks on so many industries that call New York City home: media, entertainment, live events, and even education, surgery, healthcare, and real estate—and the possibilities are only beginning,” said Media and Entertainment Commissioner Julie Menin. “We’re thrilled that RLab, the first publicly funded facility of its kind in the nation, will build on this meteoric success in a way that connects New Yorkers from across the five boroughs to the growing opportunities of this technology.”

“RLab is a compelling addition to the Navy Yard and will provide a new path to quality, good-paying jobs, through innovation,” said David Ehrenberg, President and CEO of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. “Connecting students from our neighboring communities and across the borough to precisely those types of good-paying, sustainable opportunities is a core part of our mission. The City is right to invest in training and developing the jobs of the future and the Navy Yard is proud to welcome RLab.”

A variety of RLab programs are up and running this fall:

  • An XR (extended reality) startup bootcamp includes ten teams from NYU, Columbia, CUNY, The New School and Pratt Institute developing startup concepts ranging from 3D modeling to the intersection between VR and robotics.
  • RLab training programs include a partnership with the Lehman College VR Training Academy in the Bronx, which is partnering with Eon Reality and The Knowledge House to help local businesses and entrepreneurs learn about virtual and augmented reality technologies and how to employ them in their operations.
  • The Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY is developing a series of trainings and workshops in applications of virtual and augmented reality for journalism professionals and news organizations, including independent media from across New York City.
  • Macaulay Honors College at CUNY has recruited ten student fellows from across CUNY’s eight senior colleges who will participate in a fellowship program in partnership with RLab, creating work-study and training opportunities in partnership with New York City technology firms.
  • Eyebeam, a Brooklyn-based platform for artists to engage society’s relationship with technology and RLab are partnering to launch a prestigious “Storyteller in Residence” award. This fellowship will better equip VR/AR for telling the stories of our time, taking into consideration the ethical and societal implications of this technology and its potential for widespread adoption, with the broad goal of greater inclusion and increased sophistication in content.

RLab’s university partners bring a range of research and expertise to the center, from electrical, mechanical, and civil engineering, to computer science, architecture, and medicine, as well as the arts, film, journalism and game design. Justin Hendrix, Executive Director of the NYC Media Lab, will serve as RLab’s interim executive director.

“At NYC Media Lab we’ve played a role in helping to build a community of practice in New York Citydevoted to advancing future interfaces across a wide range of applications. RLab will give a new home to this growing community, and will serve as a platform for a range of partners to advance what’s possible,” said Hendrix.

RLab is part of the New York Works plan, which Mayor Bill De Blasio launched in 2017 to generate 30,000 well-paying technology jobs in the city.

RLab will focus on four areas to create a sustainable model:

  • New Ventures — In addition to the support of promising startups by Super Ventures, RLab will manage programs to support early-growth-stage VR/AR companies by connecting them to one another and to resources and will provide workspace, equipment, infrastructure, and grants, as well as a broad community of mentors and investors.
  • Corporate Innovation — RLab will offer a suite of membership and consultative services to companies, including access to startups and R&D projects, technical and commercialization expertise, and corporate innovation programs designed to prototype new solutions and launch new ventures.
  • Education and Opportunity — To expand the talent pipeline for a rapidly evolving market, RLab will build a curriculum of executive, professional and technical education, training, and workshops to complement degree-granting programs. A career opportunity program will offer hands-on learning focused on practical skills. Scholarship resources will be available to students from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds from New York City universities and schools.
  • Community and Outreach — RLab, in concert with local partner organizations, will host community and outreach programs for New York City communities to learn about the activities of the center and take advantage of opportunities.

“Thanks in part to striking advances in technologies such as artificial intelligence and wireless, VR/AR platforms will revolutionize how we live, work and play. Here in New York, it also promises to open very real doors to opportunities in a vital new sector that will impact fields as diverse as design and architecture, education, entertainment and medicine,” said Jelena Kovačević, dean of the NYU Tandon School of Engineering. “We are honored that the city, as part of its New York Works program to generate high-paying jobs for residents, is lending its support to RLab. Located on Brooklyn’sInnovation Coastline, it will prove to be a major hub for research, entrepreneurship, and opportunities for NYU Tandon, CUNY, Columbia, The New School and the private sector.”

“We are excited to join forces with RLab to support the creation of a hub for the AR and VR industry and help startups raise funds and succeed in the fledgling market. New York City has the necessary ingredients – corporations in a variety of industries, smart capital, and diverse talent – to become the center of gravity for AR and VR in the USA and the world,” said Ori Inbar, Founder and Managing Partner at Super Ventures. “Super Ventures is eager to engage RLab with our extensive worldwide network of 250,000 AR/VR professionals and thousands of startups. Our vision is to make it a destination for every startup corporation, and investors who wish to join the next wave of spatial computing.”

AR/VR applications have the potential to impact a wide range of industries that are crucial to New York’s economy. Globally, experts predict that worldwide revenues for the augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR) market will increase by 100 percent or more over each of the next four years, with total spending on AR/VR services leaping from $11.4 billion in 2017 to nearly $215 billion 2021, led by the U.S.

Partner Quotes:

“We are seeing tremendous interest from journalism organizations in experimenting with VR and AR,” says Sarah Bartlett, dean of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY. “As a public institution, we’re excited to help expand the community that participates in that experimentation, and to make sure that it is highly accessible to diverse constituencies.”

“Columbia is pleased to be part of this collaboration that will bring together talent and technologies from institutions across New York City,” said Mary C. Boyce, Dean of Columbia Engineering. “RLab will accelerate the adoption of AR/VR as a critical cross-disciplinary research and innovation platform, advancing industries from media to medicine, and preparing talent to propel this technology in the many industry sectors across the City.  This is yet another step in solidifying New York City’s position as a leading technology hub.”

“This opportunity far exceeds anything our students have had available to them in the past,” said Robert Small, Director of the Macaulay New Media Lab at Macaulay Honors College. “New York’shonors students are committed to performing with the highest of standards and in need of business engagement at this level.  RLab is the perfect place, at the perfect time – for students who deserve it most.”

“RLab is a great opportunity for students, educators and makers to explore new technologies and their applications, and to ensure that New York remains at the forefront of new media developments,” said Vladan Nikolic, Dean of the School of Media Studies at The New School.

“Lehman College School of Continuing and Professional Studies is pleased to support promising startups and early-growth-stage companies by introducing them to the opportunities VR/AR offers through training and workshops given by EON Reality at CUNY on the Concourse in the Bronx,” said Jane Mackillop, Dean, School of Continuing and Professional Studies, Lehman College at City University of New York. “Lehman’s Small Business Development Center will assist entrepreneurs in accessing capital and will provide support services such as counseling, social media marketing, business planning and mentorship. Space, equipment and services are available at CUNY on the Concourse. Lehman’s partner, The Knowledge House, will host community and outreach programs for community residents to learn about VR/AR and take advantage of the opportunities that these new technologies offer. Over 2,000 community residents in the Bronx will be impacted annually.”

“The utility and applications for augmented and virtual reality are rapidly growing and will soon be a part of everyday life for many New Yorkers. We must take steps to ensure that New York City becomes and remains a global leader in this field,” said Council Member Vallone, Chair of the Committee on Economic Development. ” RLab at the Brooklyn Navy Yard is a unique public-private partnership that will create hundreds of new jobs and kick start the research and innovation necessary to put our city at the forefront of this tech sector.”

“The Brooklyn Navy Yard is the ideal location to continue the expansion of New York City’s tech infrastructure via RLab. With hundreds of new jobs supported by startups, research and innovation, RLab will build on an exciting and burgeoning new tech industry in the VR/AR sector,” said Council Member Peter Koo, Chair of the Committee on Technology.

“New York City leads the way in creating job opportunities for the future.  New York City is the home to countless blockchain companies and has led the way in 3D printing, RLab ensures we will be the global leader in AR/VR technology. The Mayor, NYU Tandon, Columbia University, CUNY and The New School recognize the importance to expand New Yorkers competitive edge in the marketplace.  We continue to position ourselves to train leaders of the future and there is no better place than the Brooklyn Navy Yard for RLab.  The Navy Yard built the ships that made us a global force and now in the same place we will train AR/VR leaders to ensure we continue to be a global force in the technology sector,” said Assemblyman Joseph R. Lentol.

“We’re excited to be collaborating with NYCEDC to strengthen connections between New York Cityand London’s VR/AR ecosystems. London and New York are free thinking cities with a culture of innovation and disruption that has helped to create some of the most exciting VR/AR companies. This partnership will strengthen the links between both our city’s tech hubs and help to encourage more breakthroughs in the latest cutting edge VR/AR technologies,” said Laura Citron, CEO of London & Partners.


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