New VR & AR research lab extends Bristol’s tech ambitions
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New VR & AR research lab extends Bristol’s tech ambitions

A new facility dedicated to the research and development of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) has officially opened in Bristol.

The Bristol VR Lab (BVRL) will enable small businesses and individuals to work with university researchers on complex computer visualisation and VR molecular modelling techniques to develop products and services.

Haptic chairs and 360-degree virtual tours to help people with autism break down perceptual and societal barriers are just two examples of the immersive technologies that BVRL is helping to develop.

The Lab, co-founded by the University of Bristol, the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), Watershed, and the Opposable Group, aims to position Bristol as a centre of excellence and innovation in VR and AR, at both national and international levels.

It has been funded by a grant of £295,000 from the West of England Combined Authority and Local Enterprise Partnership, and follows the establishment of a 5G testbed in Bristol, and news that the city is also looking for a partner for its own smart city initiative.

In the Lab

The Lab aims to provide a focal point for AR and VR research and accelerate commercial development by providing access to skills, resources, and a supportive community network.

It will offer space for up to forty VR developers and designers, as well as technology from its partners, including VR/AR headsets, experimental controllers, green-screen motion capture technologies, and a range of 360-degree cameras.

The official opening follows a soft launch and incubation period, during which 20 startups, supported by organisations such as the BBC, Airbus, and Microsoft, established a central hub in the city’s Leadworks building in Anchor Square. Other partners in the Lab include the At Bristol Science Centre and Bath Spa University.

The Lab will also offer permanent social VR setups, and a VR-enabled teaching area.

A step change for VR

Dr Andrew Calway, University of Bristol academic lead for the BVRL, said that VR and AR technologies have 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 for answering important questions about its use and benefits, as well as its potential drawbacks.”

Ben Trewhella, director of the Bristol VR Lab, said 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, this 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, resources, and exposure through the work of the Lab,” he said.

Internet of Business says

2018 has seen Bristol emphasise its already strong claim to be one of the UK’s core technology hotspots outside of the capital. Its recent progress in 5G, smart-city developments, and now augmented technologies has been impressive, and reveals that ambition, leadership, and local partnerships between academia and business can achieve a great deal – if the supporting funding is there.

The city and the West of England have long been home to a range of big names, including Airbus, Altran, BT, IBM, IBDB, Just Eat, Nokia, and Oracle, along with several film and TV companies.