London has a much needed new hub for virtual, augmented and mixed reality: the wonderfully titled Realities Centre, round the corner from Wareable's UK office in Shoreditch. I popped down to see the nearly finished space, which includes a mixed reality production studio, to find out what the team is planning for 2017.
"I thought it would be great to have a space for people to exchange ideas, showcase, work together and also help them to accelerate, provide courses and workshops," Thomas Gere, the director of the Realities Centre told me.
"Then we want to do events that, instead of being very general, we are trying to focus on verticals that already have applications."
Studio + courses + hackathons + incubator
That means everything from med tech to gaming, both of which have already had their own dedicated Realities Centre jams and hackathons. The next focus is education and training with a conference on 19 January and a two day augmented reality hackathon, which is split into teens and adults, on 21 and 22 January.
Essential reading: The best VR headsets
Looking further ahead in 2017, the next event will focus on property and design applications for the Microsoft HoloLens (This one has been very popular, unsurprising given it's London). Then one around AI and its relationship to VR and AR apps is scheduled for March followed by health tech again in June. Gere said the centre will be sticking to these core areas.
As for the program of courses and workshops, this will begin in the first half of the year and the company's first incubator will take one cohort in the summer.
What's nice about the co-working membership, also on offer, is that Gere is working with similar spaces in Berlin and San Francisco to allow startups and one-man bands to hot desk and do demos around the world. It is also looking at cheaper spaces in North and West London as well as chatting to similar initiatives in Manchester and Edinburgh.
Calling VR & AR outsiders
Part of the centre's MO is to bring people into VR, AR and MR that have the expertise to make the tech useful. "We had lots of people with a medical background in the teams at the MedTech hackathon," said communication and events manager Amandine Flachs.
"So if the teams didn't have an understanding of what is going on in an emergency situation, we had lots of mentors explaining tricks and what really makes it real. They got feedback from people who were living it everyday."
Experiments included a CPR re-animation training experience using HTC Vive controllers to detect the speed, movement of the frequency on how well a person is performing. "It was with a physical dummy so it was a bit of a mixed reality thing which is always the best to have physical objects," added Gere.
In terms of broader predictions for 2017, Gere and Flachs point to the rumours of the Apple Carl Zeiss AR smartglasses as being good for the industries, as well as Pokémon Go. The team is intrigued by Magic Leap - "it is a lot of investment" - and Gere, in particular, sees Microsoft's Windows VR moves as exciting especially as we got to see the affordable hardware at CES and Microsoft already has a developer community.
So if you're involved in creating virtual, augmented or mixed reality hardware and software and find yourself in London, head to Christopher Street in Shoreditch to check it out for yourself.
The EdTech Augmented & Virtual Reality Conference starts at 6pm on 19 January at Runway East, London. Tickets are £5 - £10.
And the two day EdTech Augmented Reality Hackathon starts at 10am on 21 January at the Realities Centre itself. Tickets are £10 - £15.
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