We were asked by an engineering company if there was a way to speed up international energy development projects by improving communications, limiting travel and yet bringing people together from locations and cultures all over the world. This could potentially speed up these projects by years, and save millions of pounds for every day saved. This would also dramatically reduce travel requirements and the organisations carbon footprint. We realised that this could be achieved via virtual and Augmented Reality, combining the likes of Lidar, photogrametry and live streamed 360 video. Once developed it could then be applied to a massive variety of public, commercial and private applications from education to virtual travel, remote site inspections to loneliness reduction, even virtual heritage and sports.

What it does

Gathering allows people from anywhere in the world to join each other in virtualised real world environments. In these multi-user spaces they would be able to talk, explore, work together on projects, and view or visit other locations via live streamed 2D and 360 degree video.

How we built it

Primarily using online Unreal VR coupled with YouTube live video streaming, compatible with Vive, Oculus and Microsoft XR and made feasible in terms of speed by using Silverpeak WAN

Challenges we ran into

Previous builds of Unreal were not directly compatible with Microsoft Mixed Reality.

Latency issues due to connection speeds.

Finding a large enough partner to win the project the respect and connections required for broader rollout.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

Creating VR environments so realistic they have repeatedly been mistaken for video by viewers.

Working out how to integrate multiple live browsers into these environments to allow live streamed online content and interactivity to be integrated into scenes.

Within just one year attracting interest, coverage and awards from two journals (Springer and IGC) three magazines (Scottish History, Luxury Hotels Magazine and Denmark's Mondaag Morgen business magazine) and two national bodies (Scottish Enterprise and the Chartered Institute of Marketing).

What we learned

Virtual and Augmented reality is only as strong as the usefulness of its applications and the tangible benefits to its users.

By adopting an intelligently staged market entry, starting with those institutions who have greatest resources and most to gain (or save) from the technology, massive innovations can be funded, refined and passed on to those whose need is just as high, but whose resources may be far more limited.

What's next for Gathering

Incorporating live expression and body movement recognition to make avatars which communicate with far more than just verbal language.

Incorporating live haptic feedback to allow for realistic manual handling and construction in the VR space.

Combining both AR and VR interfaces so people physically present in the real world venue can see and address those who are there virtually.

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