Free State-born Mbangiso Mabaso, a Design Indaba Emerging Creative for 2022, developed his first virtual game in 2016, for which he took third place in the SAB Kickstart Ignite Competition. The following year, ‘Baso’, as he is nicknamed, founded Sisanda Tech – a platform employing AR and VR to solve real-world problems, foremost among these being the need to bring the joys of the science lab to underprivileged learners.
1. You started out as a game developer, and gamification is very much at the heart of what you do now. Tell us about your interest in games and how this unleashed your innovative potential.
I’m a self-taught game developer and this led me to develop my first game, EED, which I created to raise awareness about saving energy. This experience made me realise how powerful it can be to use games as media to inform and educate while a player is engaged in them.
2. What gave you the idea of bringing augmented and virtual reality into the science classroom?
I’m a product of a public school in which we were taught to imagine science concepts, not to experiment with them. Most public schools in South Africa lack a functional science lab, where learners are able to explore their curiosity. My solution was to provide learners with the opportunity of experimenting properly with science – bringing it to life – using augmented reality (AR).
3. Tell us more about Sisanda App Universe, and the magic that happens there.
Sisanda App Universe is a virtual science lab mobile app, by means of which learners can experiment with science anywhere and at any time. It works by projecting virtual 3D science apparatus onto a surface in front of them, via their smartphone camera.
The app’s markers are SICU, a magical six-puzzle wooden box that allows you to blend the virtual world with the physical; and SITEE, an interactive T-shirt decorated with heart and rib artworks. Using the app, you can track each side of the SICU box and a range of virtual experiences will pop out of each of the sides; and it brings to life the human heart and anatomy artworks emblazoned on the SITEE T-shirt.
Sisanda app is available from the Google Play store and Apple App Store, or you can access SICU and SITEE free at https://sisanda.com/product/try-me-free-markers/.
4. What appeals to you about AR and VR, and where can these take us in the future?
AR and VR are extensions of reality that allow us to create truly unique experiences. The idea that you can be in the same room with someone and, in the form of a 3D avatar, see their expressions and body language remains fascinating to me. The ability to try on clothing virtually, before you buy an item, certainly adds convenience. My feeling is that in the future, these technologies will allow us to interact with our devices in much more natural ways than we do currently. The next big thing, of course, is the Metaverse – a connected reality that facilitates the sharing of our virtual experiences.
5. Who has had an influence on your creative work, and why?
First up, there’s Rick Treweek and Dale Deacon from Metaverse Crew – these gents are craftsmen when it comes to building virtual worlds and 3D avatars. Every time I build a project, I ask their advice on how the project can be improved. I also draw great inspiration from the Metaverse Crew; there are many cool creators within this community. And then, there’s the team, the Sisandians, whom I work with at Sisanda Tech. These young, dynamic individuals are always hungry for new ideas. They understand my creative direction and are able to amplify it. I love throwing big ideas at them, knowing for sure that my projects will come to fruition.
6. What gets you out of bed every day?
The Stoic quote ‘Memento Mori’ – which means “remember that you [have to] die” – is something I say to myself daily to remind myself to be great. This approach empowers me to push myself to the highest levels of my potential. I think, coming from a township in the Free State, the odds were stacked against me from the beginning – but the ability to challenge these odds and to continue winning against them is what keeps inspiring me. I just want to do what I love and enjoy it while I’m still around.
7. What does it mean to you to have been selected as an Design Indaba Emerging Creative?
I’ve always wanted to feature at Design Indaba. Now, being included among the Emerging Creatives and having seen this programme’s alumni, I’m super-excited about having achieved this milestone and to take my place among them.