Virtual, augmented and mixed reality technologies (aka immersive technologies) have been evolving for many years and are already demonstrating how they can shake up entire industries. Key to their success is the quality and relevance of the content, which is a huge area of opportunity for the UK to fuel growth and demonstrate immersive environments.
The UK still lags behind other nations in investment and strong central coordination to realise the potential of these technologies. This will involve convening the ecosystem of businesses, leading academics and industry experts, exploring the technology to solve specific issues, trialling concepts or new experiences to realise what is possible to achieve with immersive technologies.
The true potential of this technology goes well beyond what most people have experienced, which often stems from the gaming realm. The reality is we are still on the frontier of what immersive technologies will be able to deliver.
They provide the opportunity to solve real challenges if applied to specific industry needs. At Digital Catapult we have identified three industry sectors that we believe offer the largest scope to benefit from immersive innovation. These are digital health & care, digital manufacturing and the creative industries.
Supporting digital health and care
With healthcare moving towards more innovative self-monitoring and data-driven models, the opportunities that immersive technologies could offer are still at the tip of the iceberg.
From transforming how training for healthcare professionals is delivered, to enabling medical students to practice surgical procedures, immersive technologies really will be able to enable people to live longer, happier and healthier lives.
In fact, immersive technologies could prove very advantageous for both doctors and patients. In the field of imaging, for example, doctors can use this technology to explore entire bodies, and allow images from MRI scans to build up in front of their eyes.
Furthermore, with VR enabling us to change not just where we are but also who we are, the life changing transformation this can bring to patients is vast. For stroke rehabilitation, for example, VR technology has the potential to ‘trick’ stroke victims into regaining control of limbs they thought had become powerless, and accelerate rehabilitation times significantly.
Innovating in the manufacturing sector
Similarly, VR technologies can support training through virtual simulation environments – which is ideal for the manufacturing sector where training environments pose potential health and safety risks. In this instance, a simulated environment allows trainees to test valuable skills in a much safer environment.
Scale can also be easily replicated.
By duplicating the manufacturing process in a virtual environment, trainers can make the most of a complete virtual factory to learn, test and develop, enabling them to explore the outcomes of their decisions without risk to themselves or costly equipment.
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In addition, opportunities lie in the initial design phases of the manufacturing process. Fully constructing a product prototype can be costly, time consuming, and often not feasible, hampering product development.
Creating a virtual version of the product, on the other hand, allows designers to explore the space without the cost and time of construction.
Additionally, immersive interactions can enable live manipulation of virtual products, aiding collaboration and speeding up refinements, shortening the time it takes create a viable end product.
Pushing boundaries in the creative industries
Britain’s creative industries are renowned globally for being some of the very best, with well-established companies and a solid mix of expertise creating content for gaming, entertainment and the arts. There is a huge and currently untapped area of growth for the UK to apply this excellence to the field of immersive content.
The current challenge is that for the larger players, particularly the big studios, to dedicate time and resource into developing content for immersive technologies, the industry needs to mature, yet great content will be the ultimate determinant in the success of immersive technologies. We’ve hit a catch-22 situation.
Digital Catapult’s role is to help bring these two worlds together to strengthen the market and while it won’t happen overnight, the potential for all parties involved, from the content creators to the owners of hardware to the consumers of the experience, is vast.
Immersive technologies are already transforming the way that content is created and experienced by the viewer, allowing them to feel, act and live the story in amazing detail. For example, AR technologies are already enhancing experiences for tourists visiting iconic parts the world by providing an overlay of the important historical or cultural information relevant to that environment.
For entertainment fans, VR could help them virtually attend a music concert or play from the comfort of their home, providing an alternative experience they can tune when they wish to.
In order to fully dive into the pool of opportunities immersive technologies can present to the UK, it is necessary to see greater access to state-of-the-art immersive facilities to test and refine the innovative ideas already being created across the country.
Digital Catapult’s Immersive Lab is designed to do just that. Then the UK needs to be prepared to bring the wider ecosystem together, from industries set to benefit from the technology, to businesses of all sizes and academics, so the very best immersive ideas, content or even businesses, can be realised.
The UK is already on this journey and it is set to be a truly exciting one for everyone involved.
Sourced by Aurelien Simon, head of immersive at Digital Catapult