There are a number of initiatives out there trying to encourage development into the huge potential represented by virtual and augmented reality’s current renaissance. None we’ve seen are quite as wide in remit though as Innovate UK‘s national UK ‘IC Tomorrow’ contest, an event which has just announced the winners who’ll share in a £210k (around $320k) in funds to further their programs.

SO_Projects_InnovateUK_HalfWidth27Innovate UK is a UK government agency created to “find and drive the science and technology innovations that will grow the UK economy” and it’s just announced the winners of it’s first VR and AR focused contest, IC Tomorrow, who’ll be awarded a share in £210k of prize money to help those organisations develop their projects.

The contest covers a wide span of disciplines and industries, leveraging sponsorship from 6 key UK industry partners to reward innovation in Smart Construction, Immersive Retail, Enhanced medical training and care, Next-generation vocational education, Tactile experiences and Amplified music experiences.

Matt Sansam, Programme Manager for IC tomorrow, said “VR and AR are two of the most eagerly anticipated technologies in the world at the moment. This contest looked for applications beyond gaming and the response from the UK’s entrepreneur community has been fantastic. Many of these winners are pioneers in their field, bringing together the physical, digital and virtual in completely new ways to tackle real world challenges.

“Innovate UK is committed to building relationships between the biggest industry players and talented entrepreneurs. We look forward to supporting these exciting businesses in their trial partnerships.”

Today, the winners of this leg of the IC Tomorrow contest have been announced and the awards breakdown like this:

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Smart Construction – supported by Crossrail

In-Site by Soluis Group brings functional augmented reality to the construction sector to deliver improvements in efficiency and safety. In-Site pulls information about part of a structure from the cloud, overlays it on workers’ visors and enables them to transmit further data about the object back to the cloud.

Immersive retail – supported by John Lewis

Immersive retail by Future Visual is an immersive shopping platform. Customers can enter via a virtual reality headset to interact with objects to buy. The platform will collect and analyse data to tailor the environment to individual customer preferences.

Enhanced medical training and care – supported by Queen Mary University of London, Enteric HTC and Royal London Hospital

Looking to help patients’ physical rehabilitation, Rehab Trainer by Reflex Arc is software that can connect with a Virtual Reality headset and motion sensors to create ‘games’. It allows patients to track their movements and visualise the effects of their treatment, while ensuring they are performing their exercises correctly.

Next-generation vocational education – supported by Pearson plc

Director VR by Arc Realities is a piece of software for the £179bn global vocational and technical training market. It allows a single user to direct and control a virtual education environment in real time to a group of vocational learners. It enables teaching, learning and assessment in a simulated space.

Tactile experiences – supported by King’s College London, Konica Minolta and Ericsson

Surgical Laparoscopy Virtual Trainer by Neurodigital Technologies is developing a virtual reality training session for surgeons. It creates multisensory experiences that include visual, aural and tactile stimulation using haptic feedback, sensor fusion and finger tracking.

Amplified music experiences – supported by Columbia Records

VR/AR Performance Toolkit by Mbryonic is a tool that enables musicians to create amazing virtual and augmented reality performances for fans simply and cheaply. Artists transmit live shows to viewers’ VR headsets, giving a new form of creative experience.

It’s hugely encouraging to see the UK government drive this sort of cutting-edge innovation in such a new industry and that’s its remit be so wide. Further, that such high-profile industry members deem the technologies explored here important enough to invest in, lend credence to the fact that VR and AR are no longer niche technolgies that can simply be dismissed as a passing fad or trend.

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IC tomorrow will launch it’s next initiative, entitled ‘Intelligent Data Insights’, on Monday 2nd November.

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Based in the UK, Paul has been immersed in interactive entertainment for the best part of 27 years and has followed advances in gaming with a passionate fervour. His obsession with graphical fidelity over the years has had him branded a ‘graphics whore’ (which he views as the highest compliment) more than once and he holds a particular candle for the dream of the ultimate immersive gaming experience. Having followed and been disappointed by the original VR explosion of the 90s, he then founded to follow the new and exciting prospect of the rebirth of VR in products like the Oculus Rift. Paul joined forces with Ben to help build the new Road to VR in preparation for what he sees as VR’s coming of age over the next few years.