A unique three-way partnership, joining the metaverse with education and ecological sustainability, is coming to Averett University.
Last year, the university announced a partnership that will link a digital ecosystem with the metaverse in a move that has never been done before, and in the process teach and train students for a career in the future.
Dalrada Energy Services — a division of Dalrada Corp. — will help with Averett’s goal of designing a next-generation campus experience, according to the university.
The company’s solutions address things like climate change and “technology solutions for a new era of human behavior and interaction.”
Essentially the metaverse is viewed as the internet being brought to life, or a least rendered in 3D, The Associated Press reports.
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The term “metaverse” was minted by the science fiction writer Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel “Snow Crash.” It is described as “a proposed immersive version of the internet accessed via virtual-reality headsets, augmented reality glasses, phone apps or other devices,” according to the AP.
“With the metaverse we will be able to digitally twin such things as the lights and heat pumps to control them,” said John Vigouroux, Averett’s chief of entrepreneurship and innovation. He is credited with bringing the technology from Dalrada in California to Averett in Danville.
Vigouroux is an undergraduate business administration graduate at Averett, a soccer alumnus and member of Averett’s Athletic Hall of Fame, and most recently as a former member of Averett’s Board of Trustees.
Three aspects joined
Digital twinning is described by IBM as producing a “virtual representation of a real-world physical system or product that serves as the indistinguishable digital counterpart of it for practical purposes,” such as turning lights off and on. It’s the internet being brought to life.
Think a movie where characters are able to step into a 3-D dimension and move about.
Vigouroux gave as an example a situation in which cardiologists gather to talk about a patient’s heart and are digitally within it.
He said that Dalrada’s chief strategy officer, Jose Arrieta, has a vision for the metaverse and how that relates to sustainability.
Carbon neutral — reaching a net-zero of carbon dioxide emissions — is a focus of Averett’s partnership. For example, by using the company’s LikidoONE heat pumps and other resources, Averett expects to save up to 20% in energy costs while reducing its carbon footprint.
With the use of the metaverse, Averett says it’s the first American institute of higher learning to create personalized Web 3.0 capabilities while committing to sustainable energy outcomes.
Cassie Jones, vice president of marketing and communications at Averett, explained that although Averett is not the first university to “dabble in the metaverse” or to push sustainability efforts on the campus, it is unique that “innovative integrations of multiple technologies will allow these various components to interface in such a way.”
“Some of the same technologies that will allow for our new heat pumps to react to the environment and adjust accordingly for optimal energy efficiency, for example, are the same technologies that will allow Averett students the opportunity to have a digital twin that can exchange commerce, acquire digital assets and interface with the world in a completely digital way,” she said.
Students will benefit
One of the values to the students will be that the unique digital experiences they will experience while at Averett will position them to think about jobs of the future, even some that cannot be imagined today, she said.
“They will not have to catch up to the curve; they are helping build the model. We see this as innovative and experimental, and what better place for this hands-on learning lab than a university campus?” she said.
Vigouroux said the vision is to showcase how sustainability, the metaverse and education will go together.
“No one else is doing that,” he said. “As we continue to improve the sustainability factor, we can digitally twin the sustainable technology in such things as the light bulbs in order to maximize the efficiency.”
The education part of the initiative will be an internship program of about 20 students, who will be part of the projects that will include development, marketing, computer service and even psychological elements, said Vigouroux.
“We will be announcing a number of technologies and partnerships as we roll this out,” he said.
The program is planned to begin next semester.
“Partnering with Dalrada allows us to set the sustainability bar for colleges across the country and ensures that we are fostering an educational environment designed to propel our students into the digital future,” Averett President Tiffany M. Franks said in a statement. “Like never before, we will be providing students with the tools they need to be successful after graduation and preparing them for the jobs of the future that we can’t even yet imagine.”
Along with cutting-edge technology, plans include “student ownership of digital assets and personalized artificial intelligence, as well as learning and understanding the impacts of digital currency,” the release stated.
Vigouroux said that one of the goals of the program will be to showcase how jobs can be created.
Gino Harris, an Averett graduate student and project manager, is a good example of what can happen with this project, Vigouroux said.
Harris entered an entrepreneurial competition his senior year of 2021-22, which he and his teammates won.
“We learned about the entrepreneurial path and built a business to pitch,” Harris said.
Then in September he gave tours to the Dalrada people who came to visit.
“We then did a big announcement of the partnership opportunity at a football game, then Dalrada brought me on as the project manager,” Harris said. “I also work under John as a graduate assistant in the Entrepreneurial and Innovation Center at Averett.”
Vigouroux called Harris a “success story.”
Vigouroux’s life also changed dramatically because of this project.
“I was a longtime friend with Tom Giles, the president of Dalrada Energy Services,” he said. “I was an Averett alum, but I hadn’t been back in 40 years. Then I turned 60 and my wife and I turned into empty nesters. I had spent 30 years in technology and had run public and private companies.”
But when Averett called, he answered, and he and his wife moved to Danville.
“She loves it here,” he said. Plus one of his daughters decided to enroll at Averett.
He is excited about the new path Averett has commenced.
“We are giving students a chance for an immersive education not being offered anywhere else. This is true entrepreneurship,” he said. “Education is evolving, and we’re doing things in the forefront in how learning takes place, and the students are helping. We are taking an interesting path.”
Elzey is a freelance writer for the Register & Bee. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.