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Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are transforming the way we interact the world, and Scottish companies and universities are working on innovative developments that will not only change how we play, but also how we work.

From the Bronze Age to the space age

Martin McDonnell, chairman of the Glasgow-based digital visualisation company Soluis, has turned his passion for playing around in 3D into a business. But it wasn’t always easy.

“I wanted to allow the client, the architect or the engineer to be able to walk through and experience the project - but it was prohibitively expensive. Then, in 2010, three Danish guys came along and completely disrupted the games industry with the Unity gaming engine, where the licence was 1,500USD instead half a million. It was literally a game changer for us.”

Their first big project was for the Gatwick South Terminal where clients, such as Harrods and Selfridges, were able ‘walk’ through their retail space using 3D glasses and a monitor.

With the big electronics and software companies now heavily invested, VR has essentially become “democratised,” said McDonnell.

“We have even delivered high-end projects using Google’s Cardboard, which costs just a few dollars. There is huge potential for Cardboard in education, museums, heritage and so on.”

Soluis has first-hand experience in how VR can help bring a museum to life. They used pioneering VR technology to design a digital recreation of Bronze Age roundhouse, which visitors could experience via an immersive reality dome or VR headset, for an event at the British Museum.

More recently, they have been working with Crossrail after winning an Innovate UK competition for their AR software that allows construction site staff to access and upload data via a smart helmet’s ‘heads-up’ visor display.

Soluis has also partnered with Los Angeles-based Daqri, whose smart helmet has been used in the aerospace industry. Called ‘In-site’, the Soluis app pulls information about buildings or structures from the cloud to the helmet and then overlays it as augmented reality on workers’ visor screens.

McDonnell predicts that in the future he could have “Iron Man powers”, using AR to inspect a workplace or installation to ‘see’ the health of equipment in real-time, or ‘look’ through walls and ceilings.

Bringing the cloud to gaming

AR and VR devices are changing people’s lives, but they require an unprecedented amount of processing power. In gaming, these devices place huge demand on PCs, consoles and mobiles, leaving very little device computing power for the applications themselves.

How Cloudgine's VR and AR platform works
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Edinburgh-based Cloudgine is using its cloud computing expertise to create an AR and VR platform that will amplify the computing power available to applications. It allows developers to have a high frame rate, low-latency view into huge worlds powered by complex AI, physics and logic. Its cloud platform also includes multiplayer and social support for AR and VR worlds.

By using the immense power available within data centres, game components such as physics and AI can be supercharged in order to deliver game experiences that go well beyond what any console or PC can currently offer.

Taking movies beyond Avatar for under £100

Cinemotus, which allows games hardware to mimic the behaviour of the high-end virtual production systems currently used in Hollywood, is one of the exciting gaming developments to come out of Abertay University. The university is home to both the world’s first computer game degree courses and the UK’s first centre of excellence for computer games.

Described by its designers as “taking movies beyond Avatar for under £100,” Cinemotus can help filmmakers cut virtual production costs.

The film industry has been shifting to virtual production, which is used in 3D animated films or films which use a lot of computer-generated elements. Virtual production allows filmmakers to perform traditional camera work within computer-generated media.

However, even major studios with virtual production systems can’t use the technology across the whole film production pipeline because of the expense.

Cinemotus is a commercial plug-in software for the industry-standard 3D modelling package. It uses an off-the-shelf gaming motion controller as a motion capture device and allows the user to perform the same virtual production techniques as the high-end Hollywood hardware for a fraction of the cost, right at their desk or by remote control. It also allows the virtual camera system to work in any real-time visualisation system.

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