Last month saw the launch of a new community in Northern Ireland – Immersive Tech NI. Immersive Tech NI is a community of developers, creatives, businesses and organisations interested in immersive technology – augmented, virtual, mixed and everything else reality.
I’m Matthew Fitch, a Software Engineer at Kainos, and for the past year I’ve been working in the Applied Innovation team. The team is headed up by our Innovation Lead: Luke McNeice, and one of our roles is to explore the use of new technologies that will create a competitive advantage in digital solutions for Kainos’ customers. You’ve probably seen on TV and online recently an explosion in VR and AR, and for the past while this has been an area of focus for us. In collaborating with customers on immersive tech we found a lack of an immersive technology network and community in Northern Ireland, making it difficult to discover other local companies to potentially partner with on immersive tech. We crossed paths with David Trainor of Sentireal, a local company working with AR in education. We agreed with David on the need for an immersive tech community in Northern Ireland. This would help enable collaboration and develop a network to create fertile ground for immersive tech development and business in Northern Ireland.
Immersive Tech NI launched its collaboration network and meetup community (find out more here: https://www.meetup.com/Immersive-Tech-NI/) in November with a launch party and hackathon. The following blog details these two events.
The Immersive Tech NI Launch Party kicks off with food and drinks!
The community launched on 4th November 2016 at PwC’s Hive – a launch party jam-packed with workshops, exhibitions, talks and food. We were really grateful to be supported by five high-profile launch partners – Belfast City Council, Digital Catapult NI, Kainos, Northern Ireland Screen and PwC. Our launch partners played a vital role in ensuring the community launched successfully and supported us through financial sponsorship, organisational assistance and promotion of Immersive Tech NI.
High demand for headsets at the Immersive Tech NI Launch Party
The launch party kicked-off with an exhibition of the latest in immersive technology, with a number of NI-based companies and individuals showing off applications they have built. The following were on display at the launch party:
Kainos’ Neil Thom delivers a workshop on developing VR apps in Unity
While the exhibition was going on, Neil Thom (Software Engineer, Kainos) delivered a technical workshop on developing VR applications in Unity for the HTC Vive. This was a precursor to the hackathon the next day – but more on that later.
PwC’s Niall Lavery delivers his talk on VR & AR over Google Hangouts
As well as the exhibition and workshop, we had two speakers delivering talks on immersive technology to an audience of over 100 people. Niall Lavery, Digital Director at PwC NI and our first speaker, joined remotely over Google Hangouts to talk about how immersive technology will develop as a widely used tool and bring a wealth of new applications. Niall also talked about a recent PwC project with a customer in the food industry. They used smartphone-based AR to generate more brand engagement.
Binary Asylum’s Dave Sharp delivers his talk on VR
Dave Sharpe, founder of Binary Asylum, led the second talk of the evening titled “VR: Fantasy & Reality”, taking a skeptic’s look at the the current immersive technology landscape. Dave spoke about previous failed attempts in the 80’s and 90’s at bringing VR to market, taking the stance that VR isn’t for mass adoption and will only thrive in certain niches.
BBC’s Robbie Meredith interviews Immersive Tech NI co-founder Luke McNeice live on BBC Newsline
All-in-all the launch party was a success. We even got a visit from BBC Newsline, with Robbie Meredith delivering a news report live from the event!
Teams getting stuck-in at the Immersive Tech NI Hackathon
The next day, Saturday 5th November, we held our second event: the Immersive Tech NI Hackathon. The hackathon lasted the full day, from 9am until 9pm, and was also held at PwC’s Hive. Our aim was to bring together creatives and developers to build applications for the latest VR and AR headsets. We ran with an education theme – requiring teams to create an application meeting the following criteria:
The entrants divided themselves into 12 teams, each team developing for one of the HTC Vive, Microsoft HoloLens or Samsung Gear VR.
Teams had the opportunity to make use of a range of headsets including the Microsoft HoloLens
We were extremely impressed by all applications produced during the hackathon. The standard across every entrant was so high that it took the judges almost half an hour to decide on the winning teams. The panel of judges consisted of Tom Gray (Director, Digital Catapult NI), Richard Hanna (Director of Strategy, CCEA), Meabh McCaffrey-Lau (European Education Manager, Northern Ireland Screen) and Donna Russell (Recruitment and Engagement Specialist, Kainos).
Prizes were generously sponsored by Digital Catapult NI (1st place – £1000), Sentireal (2nd place – £500) and Grafton Recruitment (3rd place – £250), and the teams who placed first, second and third respectively were as follows…
Team name: Team Rocket
Position: 1st place
Team members: Jamie Corscadden, John McDonnell, Michael Martin, Clea Allen, Rachel Shearer, Emma McAleer and Paddy O’Neill
Project: An Augmented Reality application teaching users sign language with the Microsoft HoloLens.
Team name: 5 and a Vive
Position: 2nd place
Team members: Steven Kennedy, Kris Ignasiak, Mal Duffin, Dee Harvey and Brendan McCourt
Project: A VR fire simulation application for the HTC Vive, training people how to best respond in dangerous situations involving fires.
Team name: A(racnaphobia) Team
Position: 3rd place
Team members: Glenn Davidson, Angie McKeown, Zach Campbell and Rachael Coulter
Project: VR road vehicle check training using the HTC Vive for CCEA’s GCSE in Motor Vehicle and Road User Studies.
Many congratulations to not only the winning teams, but also to every single person that took part in the hackathon! We were very impressed by what you achieved and hope you developed new relationships and skills preparing you for future endeavours.
Having successfully launched the immersive tech community in Northern Ireland, we are already planning a series of meetings for 2017. The first of these events will be held in partnership with PlayMyDemo!, with more details to be available shortly. Keep an eye on our Twitter and join the Meetup to make sure you know about our future meetups!
While organising events related to immersive technology, we are also developing a network behind the scenes – connecting the dots between the likes of investors, developers, creatives and other businesses. This has already begun to bear fruits with some of the hackathon teams expressing interest in a number of investment opportunities which I’m sure the details of will be made public in the near future!
I’d like to finish off by saying a massive thanks to our launch partners, sponsors and volunteers!