June 17, 2021

MAGICS has landed!

Aalto University, Tampere University and the University of the Arts Helsinki have received a research infrastructure grant of 2.4 million euros from the Academy of Finland for the MAGICS infrastructure. MAGICS is headed by Professor Mikko Sams of Aalto University, with Professor Atanas Gotchev of Tampere University as the deputy director.

MAGICS (https://magics.fi/) is a joint effort to accelerate research into the virtualization of humans and their surroundings, and using results, e.g., in immersive and naturalistic remote presence. MAGICS’ unique research platform utilizes and develops the latest digital technologies, which can be used in innovative ways to create artistic performances, lifelike games and remote-presence solutions to communicate with far away colleagues and machines. The infrastructure’s services are widely open to the needs of academics as well as industry. MAGICS infrastructure provides access to world-leading expertise in
1) Measuring, analyzing and digitizing human behavior and experiences in naturalistic conditions (Aalto University, Tampere University);
2) Constructing and utilizing highly naturalistic virtual realities and remote presence (Tampere University and Aalto University);
3) Applying virtual and remote-presence technologies for creating digitally augmented practices for art, artistic research and research into arts education (University of the Arts Helsinki, Aalto University, Tampere University).

MAGICS is both a distributed physical and virtual infrastructure. Every consortium member hosts a physical MAGICS node on their campus. This physical node contains a MAGICS coordination office and existing laboratories, extended and repurposed with complementary investments for their role in MAGICS. At Aalto University, MAGICS is an integral part of Aalto Studios infrastructure. In Tampere University, MAGICS node is hosted by CIVIT (Centre for Immersive Visual Technologies), TAUCHI (Tampere Unit for Computer-Human Interaction), and Centre for Practise as Research in Theatre, T7. In the University of the Arts Helsinki, MAGICS node is anchored in the Research Hub on the Sörnäinen campus (CfAR, Centre for Artistic Research). These nodes will offer interconnected physical facilities and on-campus services to MAGICS’ PIs, other researchers and industry. Efficient communication between the nodes and industry collaborators is guaranteed by a committed scientific director and academic coordinator of MAGICS activities, who can advise how to use MAGICS and help in find contacts with appropriate professionals.

Collaboration plays a key role in MAGICS. Shared operating models are being created with companies, services are offered while the best practices are learned. A list of cooperative partners includes companies and organizations such as Angel Films, Business Tampere, Design Forum, the Espoo City Theatre, FIMA, The Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE, the Finnish National Opera, FIVR, Glue, the Helsinki Swedish Theatre, Huawei, Keho, Kone, Planmeca, Ornamo, Varjo technologies, Valo Motion, Valofirma, Zodiac …… The list, based on previous collaborations, is not comprehensive and hopefully continues to grow in length. All interested in various possibilities MAGICS could provide to their work, please contact the Academic Coordinator Antti Ruotoistenmäki.

Building MAGICS

The creation of MAGICS has been a long and winding road. In 2018, I was asked to be responsible for writing a proposal to the Academy of Finland to set up a new type of research infrastructure specializing to digitalization, virtual reality and human experiences. However, even this proposal had its predecessors. Because there were similar visions in the University of Tampere, Tampere University of Technology and University of Arts Helsinki, it was from the beginning clear that this application will be an integrated effort with conviction that together we are stronger both in applying and also in working together in this emerging, exciting and increasingly important field. In the 2018 research plan we wrote: “Artificial Intelligence (AI) solutions utilizing perceptual data will transform human interactions, design, learning, media, arts, robotics, healthcare, etc. The transition is so holistic that a single research group or one university cannot study it alone. MAGICS creates a national network infrastructure of complementary cutting-edge facilities to accelerate research into these complex phenomena. Aalto focuses on measuring and digitizing human experience, UTA on multimodal and embodied interaction and game culture, TUT on representing visual data and reconstructing and visualizing digital worlds, and Uniarts Helsinki illuminates all this from the perspective of arts, focusing on augmented artistic practices and art-related interaction across physical, virtual and hybrid contexts. Together we will research and facilitate shared digital spaces and remote-presence.”

Our 2018 proposal was scored high, but not funded. On the basis of the feedback from the reviewers, we heavily improved the plan in 2019, but the score went down! Taking into account the new feedback from the new reviewers, we again heavily improved the application in 2020, but the score went further down! But luckily in 2020 there was an additional call (Research infrastructures as collaborative platforms), we modified our application to fit it, and this time the new reviewers were enthusiastic about our plan and we got the funding. I was privileged to have an outstanding team writing the application, and now we are collaborators.

For very practical reasons we have now concentrated on spending money. After three years of joint planning and preparation we received around three million euros (Academy funding + universities own share) to use wisely for purchasing new technologies. To make good buys you have to think a bit, and that’s exactly what we have been doing for the past months. Luckily, we have actively discussed with the potential users from the beginning of planning MAGICS in 2018, and therefore we have been well aware of their needs. You will soon find information of the facilities open for the interested users on our web site. We have excellent systems for accessing the equipment (for example, see https://takeout.aalto.fi/). If what you need is not in Aalto, it might be found in Tampere University or Uniarts. Only your imagination (+ skills and other necessary resources) limits the scope of what you can do in MAGICS. But you can trust that you will get help to get started with from the excellent experts having profound knowledge of all the devices we have. In MAGICS, we firmly believe in collaboration as the best way to search, research and create.

All MAGICS sites are of their own kind, because of their different histories and traditions of doing things. I hope that MAGICSians from Tampere University and Uniarts will use this forum to tell of their facilities and activities in MAGICS-Tampere and MAGICS-Uniarts.

Visions

I am the scientific leader of MAGICS, and welcome any suggestions for research collaborations. At the moment, Aalto MAGICS is located in the present premises of Aalto Studios at Otakaari 7, and some of the measurement devices are placed in the Aalto Behavioural Laboratory, where a skillful research engineer Veli-Matti Saarinen provides his services.

I will coordinate collaborative functions of MAGICS and act as a scientific leader of MAGICS-Aalto activities. Now the primary task is to take care that researchers, students and collaborators have adequate access to the state-of-art equipment. MAGICS does not have its own focused research program, it basically is what researchers and others using MAGICS facilities do. MAGICS is also shaped by various collaborations with our partners. My vision is that MAGICS will eventually be one of the most attractive transdisciplinary expert communities in the world, where scientific and artistic research meet, fertilize each other, and explore phenomena of common interests. What this means and how it will look like remains to be seen. At least unique, excellent and brave science and art, in various combinations. Step in!

Mikko Sams
mikko.sams@aalto.fi
Scientific Leader
MAGICS

 

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