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From Pokémon Go to the factory floor. How industry is embracing immersive technology

By David Pattison, Inward Investment Manager, Invest North East England

I always find it fascinating how quickly new technologies become commonplace in our lives. We’ve gone from turning the pages of a magazine to swiping on a tablet and buying CDs to streaming music online. The pace at which technology is transforming how we live sees no signs of slowing down.

There’s a world of technology that still feels very futuristic to many people but in a few years time, it too will become the norm.

Immersive technology, the blurring of the physical and virtual world, has come a long way since we were first introduced to it during the 1980s. It’s responsible for one of the most popular games ever made – Pokémon Go – but what I find more interesting is the impact it’s having in the workplace.

Virtual and augmented reality is now an integral part of many sectors of industry and it’s a fantastic example of Industry 4.0 in action. The digital and tech sector is helping transform our traditional manufacturing and industrial practices by developing new, innovative technologies that improve productivity and efficiency.

A report by the Capgemini Research Institute found 82% of companies using augmented/virtual reality (AR/VR) reported the benefits were exceeding expectations, and 50% of companies in the automotive, manufacturing and utilities sectors not currently using immersive technology as part of their business operations, planned to in the next three years.

Here in North East England we’ve grown one of the most significant immersive technology clusters in the UK, thanks in part to the groundbreaking gaming and digital companies based here. Firms like automotive visualisations specialists, ZeroLight; immersive media company, Hammerhead VR; and global technology consultancy, hedgehog lab, all call the North East home.

It’s no surprise then that one of the most established immersive tech conferences and exhibitions in the world - XRTGO 2019 – will be taking place here in our region on Thursday 4 April. Exploring the future of VR for entertainment and serious applications, it will encourage people to think about the possibilities immersive technology has for non-traditional tech companies. Invest North East England is sponsoring the event and I’m looking forward to introducing delegates to the wealth of talent in our region.

The conference attracts people from all over the world and as part of this year’s event we’ve arranged a special one-day programme celebrating the North East’s immersive tech sector. Taking place the day before the conference, it will involve visits to sites like PROTO: The Emerging Technology Centre, Europe’s first dedicated centre for emerging technology, and meetings with a number of businesses and key partners.

We’ll also be highlighting the talent coming out of our region’s five universities. Each one currently offers specialist courses aimed at the immersive technology sector, helping to produce a highly skilled workforce, which is attracting interest from inward investors. The North East has also developed an unrivaled business network that includes the UK’s first industry-led VR and AR centre of excellence, VRTGO Labs; the Digital Catapult Centre for the North East & Tees Valley, Sunderland Software City, Dynamo; and the largest network of Digital businesses across the North East, Digital Union.

Earlier this month, the North East Local Enterprise Partnership published the findings from its Applied Digital Technologies Science and Innovation Audit (SIA). It identified opportunities for businesses in the automotive, pharmaceutical and chemical manufacturing sectors to build links with the North East digital sector, increasing the region’s competitiveness in the global marketplace.

If businesses don’t embrace digital as part of their future development plans, they risk being left behind. Technology will completely transform manufacturing as we know it and it’s important businesses prepare for it. Nissan in Sunderland has already introduced new digital technologies into its manufacturing process and Invest North East England and its partners are working closely with the Department of International Trade (DIT) to highlight the opportunity the North East offers to a global audience of manufacturers and immersive technology companies.

Whilst many of us may be familiar with augmented and virtual reality through gaming and entertainment, its adoption across sectors of industry means it too will become a common part of our everyday lives.

To find out more about the immersive technology sector in North East England and opportunities around inward investment, visit https://investnortheastengland.co.uk/sectors/it-and-digital/immersive-technology/

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