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VRUK: Virtual Reality Festival for Fanatics

VRUK: Virtual Reality Festival

Virtual reality has become a major talking point in recent years, but we’re still only scratching the surface of what it is capable of. Leading the exploration into virtual reality is VRUK, one of the UK’s newest technology festivals, brought to you by Ravensbourne and Virtual Umbrella. To find out more about this unmissable event, we caught up with Carl Smith, Researcher and Director of the Learning Technology Research Centre at Ravensbourne.

Carl Smith

VRUK: The UK’s Virtual Reality Festival

What is VRUK?

“VRUK is one of the UK’s largest VR events, held for the first time in February 2016. This two-day event aimed to bring together over 400 content creators with technologists to explore the creative and technological potential of virtual reality.

It mixed keynote speeches with practical workshops, a VR cinema and a large ‘immersion zone’ where participants got to try out a wide range of VR projects and the latest technology. We’re currently planning 2017’s VRUK Festival – building on last year’s successes to make it bigger and better.”

How did VRUK come about?

“As an institution, Ravensbourne is passionate about pushing the boundaries of innovative digital and creative learning. Integral to this is building relationships within the creative and tech industries – and that’s where our industry events come in.

We recognised that virtual reality is one of the most exciting recent technological developments with huge potential for the creative community. We found there was a huge curiosity around VR, so it seemed to offer us a perfect new area of technology to explore – and that’s why we introduced VRUK.”

Who is VRUK aimed at?

“VRUK is aimed at content creators from across the UK – and beyond. From artists and filmmakers through to games designers and theatre directors. Additionally, technologists make up an essential part of the audience – our events aim to bring together people to learn from each other’s perspectives and encourage future collaborations.”

Jane Gauntlett

Jane Gauntlett presents at VRUK 2016 (photo credit: Jamie Graham)

What are some of the highlights from last year’s event?

“Overall, we had some amazing keynote speakers and practical workshops as well as VR projects being showcased. Jane Gauntlett’s “In My Shoes” performance, where she mixes her speech with a theatrical performance and VR to highlight her experience of living with brain trauma and epilepsy was fascinating and hugely impactful. The event also really came to life in the immersion zone, where people could try VR for themselves.”

What have you got lined up for this year’s event?

“This year will be bigger and better! There will be an increased focus on artistic possibilities that VR presents content creators. We will also be showcasing the latest VR content for participants to experience. Furthermore, we don’t just want to talk VR – we want to produce it! This year’s festival will also include a 5-day lab for 10 selected artists to get an intensive, hands-on learning experience whilst creating their own VR content.”

Tell us a bit about Ravensbourne and the work they do?

“Ravensbourne is a world-class university sector institution located next to the O2 in London. Our ambition is to shape the creative leaders of the future, promoting in them an instinct for innovation that is cultivated from collaborative creativity. We are the only independent higher education institution with a longstanding specialism in design, media, communication and technology.

We want to ensure that when our students graduate, they have the skills they need to succeed in this environment. Our industry partnerships give us the chance to introduce our students to work on real-life live projects and build up their own industry networks throughout their time studying with us.”

The Current State of VR

VR headsets

Attendees try VR headsets for themselves (photo credit: Ryan Winterbotham)

What is the difference between virtual reality and augmented reality?

“Virtual reality uses less context as it generally removes the external world. Augmented reality incorporates the external world and thereby has more applications and functions. VR is a concept that has been talked about for decades and in recent months we’ve seen headsets become readily available for consumers.”

How do you view the current state of VR?

“Virtual reality is struggling again due to lack of consumer uptake in headsets.  Some believe the arcade is the saviour of VR, but the nausea problem continues to blight the industry.”

Who are currently the real innovators of VR technology?

“I think the real innovators in the VR space come from areas such as self-help, PTSD, phobia management, meditation and so on, where the focus is on managing inner space. Therapy and digital medicine currently have the best VR technology on the market.”

Beyond gaming, what other ways is VR currently being used?

“Empathy engines are on the rise, such as understanding the plight of refugees or visualising what destructive habits can do long-term. In the WEKIT project, we are creating a new form of media called ‘wearable experience’ which involves training in industry use cases. We capture expert experience and share it with trainees in the process of enabling immersive, in-situ, and intuitive learning.”

What are some of the challenges do you expect VR to face?

“Health and ethical issues are the biggest challenges. It is literally the Wild West out there where the technology is created looking for solutions rather than appropriate problems being identified at the start. Companies are producing bespoke VR headsets that soon end up out of business, as they don’t understand the complexities of the market.”