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Seattle’s virtual and augmented reality scene just got a boost, courtesy of the University of Washington and three tech giants.

The UW announced today a new VR and AR research hub called UW Reality Lab, funded by Facebook, Google, and Huawei, which each contributed $2 million for the initiative.

The center, located at the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering, will serve home to a state-of-the-art lab that supports related research and education initiatives. The UW says it is “one of the world’s first academic centers dedicated to virtual and augmented reality.”

“Through our partnership with Facebook, Google, and Huawei, the Allen School and UW will be at the forefront of the next great wave of AR and VR innovation — pursuing breakthrough research and educating the next generation of innovators in this exciting and rapidly expanding field,” Hank Levy, Allen School director and Wissner-Slivka Chair in Computer Science and Engineering, said in a statement.

Microsoft HoloLens creator Alex Kipman (right) tests out an application developed by UW students in 2016. (GeekWire photo / Taylor Soper)

Students and faculty inside the lab will focus on building applications that appeal to a wide range of consumers — not just early adopters who are playing games or watching movies with the new technology, for example. They will work on related topics ranging from 3D computer vision and perception; object recognition; stream processing; privacy and security; and more.

“We’re seeing some really compelling and high quality AR and VR experiences being built today,” Steve Seitz, an Allen School professor who is co-leading the new center, said in a statement. “But, there are still many core research advances needed to move the industry forward — tools for easily creating content, infrastructure solutions for streaming 3D video, and privacy and security safeguards — that university researchers are uniquely positioned to tackle.”

The center builds on existing VR and AR research being done at the UW’s top-ranked computer science school, which will expand next year. In 2016 the UW offered its first-ever virtual and augmented reality capstone class that gave students a chance to develop apps for Microsoft’s HoloLens device. The UW’s CoMotion Innovation hub also includes incubator space for VR and AR startups.

The UW Reality Lab also adds to a growing VR and AR ecosystem in the Seattle region, where companies big and small — corporations like Microsoft and Valve, to startups like Pixvana and Pluto VR — are working on cutting-edge hardware and software.

The participating companies at the UW Reality Lab, which have substantial engineering offices in the Seattle area, will provide access to their technology and use the lab as a way to test new ideas, the UW said.

“We are thrilled to play a part here at Facebook and Oculus in educating and collaborating with the next generation of AR and VR researchers to accelerate the power of this technology,” Michael Cohen, director of computational photography at Facebook, said in a statement.

Cohen sits on the UW Reality Lab Advisory Board with five others: Oculus Chief Scientist Michael Abrash; PerceptiveIO CTO Shahram Izadi; Google Daydream Senior Researcher Paul Debevec; Huawei Senior Architect of Fields Lab Wei Su; and Huawei Chief Architect and Head of Fields Lab Fan Zhang.

Seitz is helping lead the new lab along with fellow UW professors Brian Curless and Ira Kemelmacher-Shlizerman.

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