XR Creator Spotlight: Mennat Allah Salama, Multidisciplinary Designer & Educator

Please give us an overview of your background, what inspired you to get into immersive tech, and your journey into the VR industry.

I originally studied architectural engineering and was first introduced to VR during my bachelor’s degree, when I used Google Cardboard. I found it fascinating to be able to immerse myself in a space and understand the built environment better through VR.

Later, I pursued a master’s degree in digital culture, which gave me a newer introduction to extended reality (XR) technologies. We learned about applications like using VR/AR in museums, galleries, and storytelling – it opened my eyes to many more uses of these technologies beyond architecture.

For my master’s thesis project, I worked on an augmented reality game/app called AUGI that was meant to be implemented in the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization. The goal was to create an interactive experience for visitors to engage with the exhibits and spaces in new ways. Unfortunately, this project ended up being stolen and turned into a TV series without my team being given any credit.

Currently, I am working on my own augmented reality product called AR Cards, which can be used for education, habit-building, and more. I taught myself Spark AR to build this project. I aim to find innovative ways to make spaces and experiences more interactive and engaging using XR and gamification, merging my architecture background with immersive tech.

I’m excited to continue on this journey of bringing my passions together through the power of immersive technologies. I see great potential in using technologies like AR and VR to preserve culture and make learning more accessible and engaging.

What were some of the biggest challenges you experienced while on any project?

One of the biggest challenges I faced was that I needed to be a developer. When I first started working in XR, I was collaborating with developers and it was hard in the beginning to understand all the technical aspects. A lot of what I learned was self-taught, so some of the bigger concepts were difficult and I struggled to communicate with the developers to find common ground on how things work.

Another thing that happens a lot is that there are very few XR experts in Egypt. So when I would talk to people about my ideas or using VR/AR, they needed to fully believe in what I was doing or say it was not applicable. But then I would go and make it happen anyway, and that gave me some satisfaction to prove it’s possible with this technology.

People here tend to believe more in tangible results than just words. If I tell you I can make a book interactive using AR, you won’t care at first. But if I show you a prototype demonstrating how your child could learn better by engaging with it, then you start listening. The tech is still fairly new here so not everyone understands how it can be used beyond gaming and entertainment.

Overall, the main challenges have been the technical limitations as someone not originally from a programming background, and getting buy-in from others unfamiliar with immersive tech’s capabilities. But pushing forward and proving these ideas can work shows what’s possible and helps get people on board. I’ve learned not to doubt myself and my concepts too much, because step-by-step I can make it a reality.

Can you tell us more about what you’re currently working on?

I’m currently focused on developing my new project called AR Cards, which was born out of the invaluable XR mentorship program. The mentors kindly guided me on protecting intellectual property given my museum misadventure – quite the eye-opener!

AR Cards began as an idea for multi-sensory cards to teach cultural heritage in an immersive way. The vision involved 3D printed parts, tactile features, audio, and augmented reality content woven together. However, I decided to simplify the first iteration – creating an engaging AR learning experience for children instead.

Having worked as a teaching assistant, I frequently saw students lose interest and disengage from stale classroom methods. Yet give them some colors and interactivity – they light up with curiosity! Modern kids are already glued to mobile devices anyway; we might as well spark that tech-savvy to nourish their young minds.

So the AR Cards blend education with a spirit of fun and discovery across ages. For overworked young adults, I’m also experimenting with “30-Minute Break” cards encouraging healthy habits. Scan for a random activity to give your mind a break!

I have digital demos and concepts ready but still need to finalize robust printing and packaging solutions to fully launch. I may test the childhood education decks with summer school students first before aligning the main release with school breaks next term.

My ultimate goal is to establish AR Cards as an adaptable edutainment platform promoting cultural awareness, architecture, creativity, and more. The potential impact of fusing my passions for arts, tech, and human progress thrills me as I continue developing the product line. I welcome any insights the community may offer! Please share your candid thoughts.

What’s your vision for the future of VR?

I envision that in the future, VR and AI will become extremely close partners, like best buddies. I imagine we will have the capability to generate highly detailed, real-time 3D immersive environments directly in VR just from text prompts. AI will be able to take text descriptions and rapidly convert them into fully interactive 360-degree spaces that users can explore.

For example, AI could analyze a text description of a lush forest and automatically create a vivid, life-like forest environment in VR that you could walk through and interact with. The AI would generate all the trees, plants, animals, textures, lighting, physics, and sounds that bring the forest to life based on the text, without needing manual 3D modeling.

This fusion of VR and AI could accelerate design and creative workflows. Instead of painstakingly modeling every object by hand, creators will be able to simply describe environments, characters, and objects with text and AI will handle generating fully detailed 3D assets and scenes. This will allow for rapid prototyping and iteration of ideas in VR.

VR will provide an immersive first-person 3D environment while AI acts as a creative partner, building out that environment from text prompts. There is huge potential for back-and-forth synergies between VR and AI. For example, exploring an AI-generated VR scene could provide data to refine the AI’s models. Or creators could prototype ideas quickly in VR by voice and hand gestures, with AI assisting dynamically.

We should see this deep integration of AI and VR sooner rather than later. In some ways, AI can amplify human creativity by handling tedious manual tasks like 3D modeling. This could free us to focus on a higher-level creative direction. The melding of VR and AI can open new creative possibilities and allow ideas and imagination to be made immersive at speeds not otherwise possible. It’s an exciting future with AI and VR enhancing each other’s capabilities to redefine immersive experiences. That is my vision for the innovative possibilities ahead.

What parts of the VR industry do you think need to be changed? Why?

Well, thinking about the VR industry, there are a couple of areas where I see a need for significant change. First and foremost, it’s all about accessibility. You know, when I think about the work in museums and making things accessible, I can’t help but notice a huge gap in the accessibility of XR in general. This isn’t just about using the technology, but also about the knowledge and availability of the equipment, like VR headsets. It should be more widely used, especially in places like Egypt that are bursting with culture and history.

And then, there’s the cost factor. Unfortunately, VR headsets are really expensive here, which makes it tough for everyone to get involved with VR. It’s not just about owning a headset; it’s about being part of this immersive experience that VR offers. When the cost becomes a barrier, it limits the technology’s reach and impact. We need to make VR more accessible both in terms of understanding how to use it and making it affordable for a wider range of people. That’s how we can truly tap into the potential of VR.

What are your thoughts on privacy and ethics?

I feel that privacy and ethics are struggling to keep up with the rapid pace at which technology is evolving. The definitions of privacy and ethics have had to adapt significantly in recent times.

While we have been fascinated by AI’s capabilities, many artists are criticizing it because their art was used without consent to train AI models. This raises ethical questions. Did we make a mistake by openly sharing creative work online? Or was the core issue that some unethically took and used content without permission?

I believe we need to find ways to compensate artists whose work was utilized without consent. There should be agreements requiring consent for using creative work to train algorithms. This is new legal territory. With emerging technologies, we may not fully grasp terms and conditions.

I hope we can establish a global tech ethics organization to define standards and regulate new technologies. Laws are unable to keep pace with the speed of technological disruption.

We click to agree to things without reading privacy policies or understanding what we are consenting to. It is an issue of necessity – we require certain apps and platforms regardless of data use concerns. Raising awareness of privacy issues is helpful, but finding ethical alternative technologies could be more impactful.

People are aware some policies are not ideal but use problematic services anyway out of need and convenience. More than raising privacy awareness, we must promote awareness of finding ethical alternatives to dominant technologies that capitalize on personal data.

It is a two-way street – we can opt out of services but require equivalent alternatives. I hope for stronger regulations and consumer protections as technology rapidly progresses. We must build ethics into innovations to prevent the exploitation of people’s creativity and data.

What advice do you have for people (entrepreneurs, professionals, artists, and students) looking to enter the XR industry? And how can they best position themselves for success?

Surround yourself with a community and like-minded people even if you’re self-learning. Having others to collaborate with makes learning faster – you can teach each other, troubleshoot together, and keep motivated. Don’t doubt yourself too much or think you can’t succeed. With a strong support network, you can evolve and accomplish your goals.

XR is a whole new creative medium with lots of potential for expressionism and innovation. Don’t be afraid to relentlessly experiment, iterate, and try things – that’s how we learn. The process takes time but it’s rewarding. Whatever you create is worth sharing, so have an online presence to showcase your work.

Build up an online portfolio and share your projects, even flawed attempts – it helps others learn. Be open about what you don’t know and reach out to people for help. Mentors are willing to advise without anything in return. Making connections is key to gaining knowledge, collaborations, and jobs.

Who have been your most important mentors? Why? How did you meet them?

The most important mentors I’ve had are professors from my master’s program as well as mentors from the XR Inclusion Mentorship Program.

During my master’s, I had three professors who encouraged me to explore new ideas and not limit my curiosity. This was refreshing because I’m often told my thinking is too unorthodox. 

They pushed me to research concepts, create proofs of concepts to validate ideas and document processes – even failed ones – to help others learn. I met them simply by taking their classes, but they left a lasting impact on my approach.

In the XR Inclusion Program, mentors like Lorraine, Taylor, Daniel, Michael, and others were invaluable. Though busy experts, they made time to guide me beyond the program hours. Their advice helped me see my project in a bigger business context. Multiple mentors sincerely told me I could turn my project into a brand or small business. Hearing this from seasoned professionals gave me confidence and expanded my vision.

The mentors’ encouragement kept me motivated when I doubted myself. Their technical guidance also helped me learn new skills like Spark AR. I gained confidence in my capabilities thanks to their support. The most poignant takeaway was the mentors’ generosity with their time and care for my growth. This inspired me to one day pay it forward and mentor others starting when I have more experience.

Overall, the XR Inclusion Program was transformative. The tailored advice and network made me feel my ideas and work had real potential. I learned to think boldly about where my projects could go and not limit my imagination. My skills with XR tools grew exponentially thanks to expert guidance. Most importantly, the program gave me lifelong connections in the XR community that I can turn to for advice anytime. I’m extremely grateful for the game-changing opportunity this mentorship provided.

What’s your favorite inspirational quote? What about the quote inspires you?

“A jack of all trades is a master of none but oftentimes is better than a master of one.”

I think it’s because I can relate to that. You don’t have to be great at everything, but having a diverse background and varied interests can help you have a wider perspective and a deeper understanding of things and life in general. This will eventually open unexpected doors for you. So just enjoy having multiple talents, as long as you’re willing to put in the effort. Not everyone is capable of hyper-focusing on only one thing.

Find Mennat on LinkedInInstagram and learn more about her Website

Know someone who should be interviewed for an XR Creator Spotlight? Please email us at hello@xrcreators.org.

Foundations for an Inclusive XR Startup (click on image)

About the author

Armand JA

Armand is passionate about creating the future and collaborating with others to build the next digital platform for human evolution. As Immersive Media Consultant, he’s been in tech for well over a decade and has seen the industry evolve while taking on various roles. Armand’s unique skill set, way of looking at the world, and motivation to learn has made him into the visionary he is today.

Over the past few years, his focus shifted to VR/AR when he saw its potential and how XR could revolutionize our world in health, education, blockchain, artificial intelligence, and more. These new technologies are here to stay, and Armand wants to inform and educate the masses on the virtual shift that is happening right before our very eyes. As an immersive tech expert, he helps seasoned and aspiring entrepreneurs enter the virtual world with ease. He hopes that an empowered community coupled with cutting-edge XR technology will result in a better, brighter future for humanity.

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