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New lab to create centre of innovation for virtual and augmented reality

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Press release issued: 16 April 2018

A landmark new facility for virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) will officially open its doors today [Monday 16 April]. The lab, founded by the University of Bristol, the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), Watershed and Virtual Reality Developer, Opposable Group, aims to position Bristol as a centre of excellence and innovation of VR/AR at both a national and international level.

The Bristol VR Lab will enable small businesses and individual content creators to pool their collective skills and knowledge with researchers working on complex computer visualisation and VR molecular modelling to develop future products and services which will make the ones in Spielberg's latest fantasy movie Ready Player One a reality.   

A haptic chair that sends infrasonic vibrations through the body as you experience sound and motion in VR, developed by Dr Nick Inoue, to 360-degree 3D virtual tours founded by graduate Rachel Godfrey that aims to help people with autism break down perceptual and societal barriers are just two examples of the types of immersive technologies the Bristol VR Lab is creating. 

Tim Bowles, West of England Mayor, said: "The Bristol VR Lab is a fantastic new facility for businesses and education providers in Bristol and the West of England. It will generate jobs, improve skills and accelerate business growth for creative content and technology companies. It will enable the early adoption of new immersive technologies and this will positively impact multiple sectors in our region. The West of England is already firmly established as one of the most significant and innovative digital tech centres in the world. The new VR Lab, along with the many other exciting tech innovations such as our 5G test-bed, will ensure our region continues to lead the way for years to come." 

Professor Nishan Canagarajah, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research at the University of Bristol, added: "We are proud to be a founding partner of the Bristol VR Lab and look forward to collaborating with partners in the region to create a centre of excellence in VR and AR research and enterprise. It further cements our links with the creative tech ecosystem in Bristol, building on our work with Watershed through the Pervasive Media Studio and promoting enterprise through Engine Shed, and the development of the new Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus."

The Bristol VR Lab is funded by £295,000 from the West of England Combined Authority and Local Enterprise Partnership. The award follows the news by the Government to establish a 5G test-bed in Bristol, which will drive forward new 5G business opportunities for the region and UK. 

The official opening of the Bristol VR Lab follows a soft launch incubation period whereby 20 start-ups, supported by global giants including the BBC, Airbus and Microsoft, established a central hub in the city’s Leadworks building in Anchor Square. 

The Lab's aims are:

  • To provide a focal point and convene knowledge around VR/AR;  
  • To accelerate commercial development by providing access to skills, resources and a supportive community network; 
  • To provide a common ground where academia and industry can co-design innovation, catalysing new insight and research activity; 
  • To highlight the cluster strength and position Bristol as a centre of excellence of VR/AR at both national and international level. 

Dr Andrew Calway, University of Bristol academic lead for the BVRL, said: "VR and AR technology has made huge step changes recently and this is opening up exciting opportunities for new research and new ways of working and learning across many areas. 

"Our association with the BVRL will enable us to work closely with industry and other partners to develop research programmes, not only for advancing the technology but also answering important questions about its use and benefits, as well as its potential drawbacks." 

Specifically, the research at Bristol VR Lab will look towards what comes next for content and production for next generation storytelling - the kinds of production teams needed, the specific creative technical skills that production teams will require, and the kinds of stories producers will be able to tell across emerging immersive platforms, from Virtual to Augmented to Mixed Reality.  

The facility will build upon Bristol's existing expertise in film and television, game design and software and hardware development, as the city continues to strengthen its existing creative community around new technologies.  

Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol, said: "As one of the leading digital hubs in the country Bristol has a wealth of academics, practitioners and companies working with cutting edge technology such as Virtual Reality. It's therefore fantastic to see the Leadworks building being used to further research into this area and help develop the industry in Bristol. We are proud of how we are bringing together people from different disciplines and I'm confident that this innovative drive within the city will ensure we continue to attract new investment by major players, for example as an ideal location for Channel 4 outside of London."  

Ben Trewhella, Director of the Bristol VR Lab, Managing Director of Opposable and founder of the VR World Congress event, added: "The market for virtual and augmented reality is forecast to grow exponentially over the next five years. In delivering the vision of the Bristol VR Lab it will position Bristol as a centre of expertise in VR and AR and will create significant commercial opportunities and new businesses - providing competitive advantage in improved understanding, resource and exposure through the work of the Lab."

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