A Graduation of Firsts at UWC

Imagine a world where a detective can examine a crime scene without stepping foot onto it and possibly compromising evidence. That is exactly what Mfundo Andrew Maneli has achieved with the virtual world as the first Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality Master’s students set to graduate at the University of the Western Cape (UWC).

The future is now as the UWC students step up and receive their academic qualifications on Friday, 15 September 2023, for the Spring graduation. The stage is set for a whole new generation to not only enter the working world but also to continue their academic careers.

One of those graduands is Mfundo Andrew Maneli – the first ARVR (Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality) Master’s student to graduate from UWC.

Mfundo will be celebrating his MSc Computer Science Degree, marking a significant milestone for the UWC Innovation Hub and the entire campus community. He completed the Postgraduate Diploma in e-Skills Development which equips students to understand the digital divide and develop innovative solutions to bridging the digital divide in developing countries.

He said: “So that’s where I developed my interest and passion for ARVR and then immersive technologies. Then, I wanted to do a Master’s because the course was an eye opener for me, but I still wanted to learn more, so that’s when I embarked on my Master’s Degree.”

Mfundo’s research is a first of its kind in South Africa. He sought to find a low-cost solution for 3D crime scene reconstructions.

He said: “I utilised a low cost LiDAR scanner which was from the 5th Gen M1 iPad Pro, alongside augmented reality, to depict relevant points of interest within the crime scene. Based on preliminary research I found that traditional methods of crime scene data collection have many inaccuracies, so I wanted to bring in immersive technologies.”

What technological advancements are in part meant to do are to find solutions to problems, and Mfundo’s work does this for any of the law enforcement agencies that have to do investigative work at a crime scene.

While this technology is used in other countries, it remains restrictively expensive for developing nations. Mfundo has developed a much more affordable application that is able to acquire 3D point cloud data and generate mesh renders of any space, including crime scenes. Not only does this assist investigators, but it also ensures that the crime scene is immediately archived and captured, helping to ensure justice is served.

Mfundo is currently pursuing his Ph.D. degree and has published in numerous accredited journals and conference platforms. He was nominated for a best paper award at the 14th ITU-Kaleidoscope conference. His research interests include, but are not limited to, Software Development, Machine Learning, LiDAR 3D reconstruction solutions, Computer Vision, and applications of Immersive Technology in diverse computing settings.

He is also one of two UWC students who have been selected to be a part of The Heidelberg Laureate Forum (HLF). This prestigious networking conference brings together 200 carefully selected young researchers in mathematics and computer science. They have the opportunity to engage with laureates from various disciplines as they meet in Germany later this month

The forum is described as having “a blend of scientific and social program elements” and is “a platform especially designed to initiate exchange among the participants. Laureates give lectures on subjects of their choosing which are primarily directed at the participating young scientists.”

This is the first time that UWC researchers will be represented at the HLF event.