With a strong foundation and rich media landscape in storytelling and heritage, Jessica Driscoll, Head of Immersive Technology at Digital Catapult talks to us about why the UK is leading the revolution in VR and AR, as referred to in the Immersive Economy Report, and what we should look out for in 2020.

The UK has a wealth of non-profit organisations that work in the public interest such as the Catapult Network and Immerse UK which helps stimulate economic growth and provides the UK with a leading-edge advantage, globally. The US doesn’t have these types of organisations, so they are lagging behind the UK. However, we need to continue to invest more in R&D and up-skilling and encourage more people to work in the immersive environment through initiatives such as STEM and convincing individuals across other sectors to get involved in immersive opportunities.

At Digital Catapult we have some amazing projects to help immersive tech businesses from start-ups to large corporates.  We run accelerator programmes like Augmentor, our programme for early stage immersive companies and CreativeXR our creative content accelerator in partnership with Arts Council England. With these programmes we link in the investor community, we provide creative mentors and we specialise in some key areas of tech including immersive, 5G and AI.   Our immersive lab network is available to all businesses who can use our kit to carry out user testing, benchmarking and R&D. We are also on the lookout for SMEs to help us solve some of the industrial challenges in partnership with large enterprises.

There are some really exciting things happening in AI, machine learning and 5G and these will drive the revolution as we move further into 2020.  We are already seeing immersive tech companies join the 5G programmes we run and we are also running an AI and 5G strand in our CreativeXR programme this year.  The speed that 5G will deliver over mobile will radically shift the adoption of immersive technologies.

We are already seeing some exciting advancements in augmenting retail and improvement in manufacturing technologies using 5G and AI as the enablers and immersive technology is on top of that ‘new stack’.  We’re also hearing a lot about digital twins, however we need to invest in the integration of real time data in addition to the visual augmentation of this to make it useful as it is currently just being used for simulation and the concept could be pushed further for predictive maintenance and at a much larger scale, imagine a digital twin of a whole city.

I think the biggest change in 2020 will be increased industrial understanding of the opportunities in immersive technologies and the uptake of 5G.  With the telco’s onboard, and broadcasters knowing they need to do something, I think this will drive increased widespread adoption.

Digital Catapult is always horizon scanning across SMEs, universities and support organisations like Immerse UK across the UK, USA, China and in Europe. There’s some really exciting projects on the horizon;

  • We’re seeing some really interesting projects coming out of Goldsmiths University such as the CR&D projects from their PhD students and i2Media’s immersive toolkit.
  • There’s also some really interesting activity around cloud AR with special sensors which will change the way we interact with AR and smartphones on a much larger scale.
  • There’s exciting investment in experiential marketing and marketeers understand that AR as an ad spend will bring much more exciting advertising campaigns, especially in retail.
  • We’re loving the new Varjo headset which mixes VR, AR and real world movement, bringing a new dimension to mixed reality to content.
  • Holographic imagery will be huge as this will create AR for mass production.
  • As the sector becomes more consumer focussed there will be a push towards more headsets for specific use cases (industrial, museums for example) and more customisation of the tech.

Creative XR and Augmentor are great programmes from Digital Catapult to help companies access vital pilot funding and business growth advice and support. Companies coming through the Creative XR programme are facing business challenges around distribution and business models.  It’s difficult to get companies to move from creating experimental content to a market ready product that can be seen at scale.  We’ve seen everything from large location based experiences which are complex and costly to stage and at the other end projects that are ready to download from the Oculus store.

On the Augmentor programme, investor confidence is one of the biggest challenges as is sales pipeline for startups and growth stage companies.  Thinking commercially and taking ideas out of pilot mode is always a struggle.  Smaller studios don’t have a lot of surplus funds.  They make bespoke content for customers and therefore have no IP/value in their business so there needs to be a cultural shift to get SMEs thinking differently around their business model.  Oxford VR recently raised $13m and VR Training company Tailspin has also raised $15m so that should change industry perception and build confidence.

Immerse UK is a key partner of Digital Catapult.  Immerse UK has an amazing network of organisations, businesses and international connections that bring in core elements of the mix.  Its role in influencing Government is an essential element of moving this sector forward and ensuring the UK remains at the forefront of the immersive tech scene and we are delighted to be able to work with them as a key partner on that journey.

With thanks to Jessica Driscoll for this article.

Visit Digital Catapult’s website to find out more about their work in supporting the immersive tech sector.

You might also be interested in…

The Immersive Economy Report in the UK (2019), published by Immerse UK and Digital Catapult provides evidence of the growth of the immersive tech sector, its key drivers and barriers. Read more & download the report