New realities

April 2, 2018

The use of virtual and augmented reality has long been limited to the games industry, but things are starting to change. Here, Jenny Lang, programme engagement manager at Digital Catapult Centre North East & Tees Valley, explains how immersive technologies are being implemented in other industries

While virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are yet to reach the point of being commonplace in the workplace, these immersive technologies are increasingly being adopted in many sectors, including traditionally non-digital industries such as manufacturing, healthcare and retail.

VR enables a user to enter a fully digital world, using a head-mounted display or headset. While this has been used in gaming for several years, content is now being created that lets users explore other environments – for example, transporting them to a subsea setting or letting them peer off the top of a wind turbine. Through interaction with these new virtual environments, users can undergo training in dangerous and hazardous situations, without leaving the safety of the office or classroom.

AR, on the other hand, places digital objects over the real world and is beginning to gain traction in business, particularly in the manufacturing sector. Engineers can now walk around and interact with a prototype, even making changes to the design from inside the model as they go. AR makes it possible for engineers to gain a deeper understanding of how a product works and to improve a design before it’s passed on for manufacturing.

We’re also beginning to see companies embracing the use of AR on the shop floor as training aids and to simplify or de-risk complex manufacturing operations. AR can guide a user or operative through a complicated process, in real time. By adopting these new technologies, companies are reducing product development time cycles and improving the safety of their staff.

Here in the North East and Tees Valley we have long been pioneers in this field, boasting a strong and growing immersive tech ecosystem. There are an increasing number of startups and small businesses developing bespoke VR and AR content, for a wide range of purposes.

Furthermore, following nationwide analysis by Digital Catapult into immersive technology clusters across the UK, the region stood out as being influential and well developed. As a result, the region now boasts the Digital Catapult NETV Immersive Lab – one of only four centres across the UK.

We’ve found that, when it comes to immersive technologies, seeing really is believing. It’s only when a business experiences it for themselves, that they realise the power immersive technology can have in driving true innovation. The Immersive Lab gives companies an opportunity to gain hands-on experience with the latest VR and AR content and devices.

The opinion that immersive technologies belong only in the games industry is gradually changing and as content and hardware continue to advance, an increasing number of businesses will take the leap from curiosity to implementation – and, we believe, the North East will be leading the way.

Digital Catapult Centre North East and Tees Valley