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Geospatial AR, VR talent and sports feature in UK House Commonwealth Games event

August 17, 2022
Published on:
August 9, 2022
Demonstrating Geospatial AR, Rainer Usselman, Co-Founder of creative technology production company Happy Finish

The most famous example of geospatial AR is undoubtedly Pokeman GO, the augmented reality mobile game which first unleashed virtual Pokeman on the world’s streets in 2016.

But as Happy Finish's Rainer Usselman explained, during an afternoon break out session at The Creative and Digital Technologies Day as part of UK House: The Commonwealth Business Hub on August 3, entertainment is only one possible use case for the technology.

Geospatial AR, said Usselman, can be defined as ‘marker-less, position-based digital assets anchored permanently in the real world’.

Earlier this year, Google announced a new Google Maps update that introduces 3D ‘digital twins’ of landmarks worldwide, allowing visitors to experience areas at different times of day and in different weather conditions.

Other key players in this space include Apple, Snap, Meta and Niantic, which recently bought the 8th Wall platform, which allows developers to build immersive Web AR experiences that work across all mobile devices.

Happy Finish’s work in this area includes ‘The Pedestal Project’, a partnership with BBDO New York and the Color of Change project which saw virtual statues of racial justice leaders placed on empty plinths where Confederate statues once stood.

There are many ways we can enhance the urban environment with digital storytelling,” said Usselman.

Tourist attractions and venues are exploring the technology’s potential as a way-finding tool, allowing visitors to see digital data and content overlaid on the real world through their mobile devices. There’s also a wealth of potential for architects, engineers and other professionals involved to use geospatial AR when planning and creating built environments

The rollout of 5G across the world – bringing super-fast speed and reduced latency – will unlock even greater possibilities for geospatial AR.

The power of 3D: creating a UK talent pool

Participants were Mike Lewis, West Midlands Growth Company (moderator) and Taran Singh, Founder Taran3D, XR Academy

“You’re a bit of a rock star around here,” said Lewis as he introduced Taran Singh to the audience at UK House.

The founder of Birmingham-based immersive studio Taran3D is a leading light in the city’s CreaTech scene. He began his career working in 3D design for the architecture industry, but launched his own studio in 2019 after realising his skills could add value to a host of sectors.

As the business grew, Singh realised there was a massive skills gap in immersive tech. The solution to attracting and nurturing new talent, he discovered, was to build communities. He set up meet-ups such as the Birmingham Unity User Group and Handsworth Innovation Hub, as well as hosting local events such as BirminghamVR.

Realising that clients often had little awareness of the full capabilities of immersive tech, he spotted another business opportunity and set up XR Academy to fill the knowledge gap. As well as educating clients, the Academy also offers digital skills training for a wide range of students.

Last year he partnered with Niyo Enterprise to run an XR Bootcamp for black women in Birmingham, which saw 94% become Unity certified. Tapping into Birmingham’s diverse workforce isn’t just a social imperative, Singh believes, it makes commercial sense too. All the projects generated by the women on the course had real potential as businesses, he said.

Singh is passionate about making immersive tech accessible to all. Coming from a working-class family himself, he believes there’s an urgent need to raise aspirations among young people, particularly those from less affluent households.

Most of the job is convincing people they can do it,” he says.

Ensuring everyone has the opportunity to experience immersive technology is another way to fill the talent pool. He gives the example of an event he ran recently, where a group of parents were introduced to VR for the first time.

By making them aware of the opportunities on offer in the CreaTech space, Singh hopes they will be more likely to encourage and support their children to pursue careers in this field – to the benefit of all.    

Explore NFTs & Digital Twins with CreaTech 100 Ones To Watch 2021

Participants were Thomas Winsor, The Round Live; James Lee Burgess, Urban XR; Tommy Lexen, Immersive.

A packed room assembled to hear speakers from three CreaTech ‘Ones To Watch’ alumni companies discuss two of the hottest topics in CreaTech.  

UrbanXR’s James Lee Burgess started by explaining exactly what a ‘digital twin’ was: in essence, it’s a virtual model of a physical object or system in the real world.

Burgess,  a trained architect, explained that while 3D models have been around for a while, they’re ‘dumb assets’. What’s different about digital twins is that the virtual model is overlaid with multiple sources of data that enables the user to test different scenarios. City planners, for example, can create a digital twin that enables them to test flood risks.

Defining an NFT – a non-fungible token –  is more of a challenge, but Immersive’s Tommy Lexen says the simplest way to think of it is as a ‘box full of digital assets’, the ownership of which is recorded on the blockchain.

NFTs have become indelibly linked with the art world in the public imagination, particularly after the digital artist Beeple sold an NFT at Christie’s for an eye-watering $69 million.

The market for NFTs has slumped, confirming the view of many that NFTs are the ultimate speculative asset.

Thomas Winsor, CEO of AR entertainment platform The Round, believes the hype around NFT art has obscured the technology’s genuine usefulness for the creative sector.

NFTs can provide creatives – artists, musicians, designers – with a new revenue stream, enabling them to get paid fairly for their work.

Winsor’s project, The Round, aims to enable artists to perform live in a virtual space in holographic form and sell NFTs and merchandise directly to fans. Another example of the utility of NFTs, said Lexen, was their ability to provide agencies with a way to keep a permanent record of client work, which often disappears from public view after a campaign finishes.

Winsor believes that because NFTs provide a means to verify ownership of a digital asset, they could remedy many of the IP challenges faced by creators in the digital age.

But regulation is needed.

“The UK should be leading the way on IP in the metaverse and the use of NFTs”, he said.

HADO: The future of live competitive entertainment

Panel participants included James Dean, Director UK Strategy & Commercial, ESL; Muki Kulhan, Chief Innovation Officer, Executive XR: Jim Sephton, CEO Hado UK; Shammai Williams, Hado Coach & Competitive Player; and Neha Dhmija, Head of Social Media, Hado UK

Hado is the world’s first ‘Techno Sport’. Players wear headsets and arm sensors compete to fire virtual energy blasts at each other on a real-world court.

It’s a computer game that gives players a physical workout, and because the computer controls factors such as the speed of blasts, neither size nor strength affects play.

“It means we don’t have age or gender categories. It creates a completely level playing field” said Hado UK founder Jim Sephton. See a demonstration below.

He imported the concept from Japan in 2018 (Hado means ‘energy blast' in Japanese, as anyone who’s employed a Hadoken attack in the game ‘Street Fighter’ will recall).

Since then he’s opened an arena in Birmingham and licensed arenas in Brighton and RAFHalton, with more in the pipeline. Earlier this year Hado teamed up with ESL UK to host a national tournament which saw grassroots junior and adult teams compete, alongside teams from universities, the RAF, and Army.  

After taking the sport into schools, Sephton received feedback from teachers who were amazed at the game’s ability to engage students who don’t enjoy traditional sports.

Researchers at Istanbul University are exploring whether the sport can be used to help patients with conditions such as dementia.

Early signs are promising. Hado combines high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and cognitive training, which are both known to improve memory-related conditions

The hardware used in the game is deliberately simple, to cut down on costs: an iPod in the armband and an iPhone 8 in the headset, which has cutouts on the side and bottom so players maintain their peripheral vision.

Behind the scenes, however, the company is developing an infrastructure to support its ambition to bring Hado to the masses. This includes harnessing cutting-edge R&D to evolve the game and enhance the experience for spectators.  

Last year they took part in IBC’s LBXR (Location-based extended reality) accelerator, which used 5G to enable two teams to play each other in two different locations.    

Future R&D will explore ways to enable the game to be watched in virtual environments.

Read about other sessions on August 3rd

Morning plenary

Midlands growth content companies and 'Ones to Watch'

Register to watch all the sessions from the day on demand

Images from UK House: The Commonwealth Business Hub.

Credit: Department for International Trade.

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