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RSC and Science Museum to lead future audience AR/VR demos

Organisations including the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum will take part in a series of government-backed demonstrators creating immersive experiences for audiences of the future

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has launched a series of demonstrators using the latest digital innovation to develop immersive augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) experiences for the so-called audience of the future in areas such as theatre, museums and gaming.

Part of a Creative Industries Sector Deal first announced in March 2018 as one of a number of Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund programmes, the Audience of the Future Demonstrators Programme is backed by £16m of government cash and a further £6m from industry partners.

Speaking at a launch event at contemporary art space Unit 6 in London, digital minister Margot James said the range of experiences that could be afforded to everybody by immersive technologies was growing rapidly.

“Imagine being inside the world of a Shakespeare play, or in a video game as professional players battle it out for millions of dollars, or immersed in a national museum, solving a detective narrative involving dinosaurs and robots with fellow virtual museum-goers,” she said.

“It is estimated that by 2023, the global immersive technology market will be worth between $95bn and $105bn. In the UK, we have around 1,000 companies specialising in immersive, generating £660m in sales. I have a feeling these predictions will turn out to be underestimates.”

UK Research and Innovation has selected three demonstrators – Performance, Visitor Experience and Sports Entertainment – that will be funded through the programme on the basis that they have “major opportunities” to grow new audiences using immersive tech.

The Performance Demonstrator will be spearheaded by the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) and will bring together 15 specialist immersive organisations from the world of theatre, music, video production, gaming and research to find out “what it means to perform live”. It will explore the possibilities around using smartphones, extended reality headsets and performance livestreams.

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The Visitor Experience Demonstrator will be led by Factory 42, a TV content production studio, and will include both the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum to build experiences bringing dinosaurs and robots to life by “transporting” audiences to new worlds and letting them interact with the exhibits.

The collaboration will include the construction of two multi-sensory and interactive worlds – one at each museum – combining mixed reality technology and immersive theatre.

Finally, the Sports Entertainment Demonstrator will explore the world of e-sports, with a consortium of e-sports content producers, including sector kingpin ESL, academics and innovators in the fields of immersive technology, data-driven content production and broadcasting.

This demonstrator has been tasked with producing a new platform, called Weavr, which will exploit the data-rich e-sports environment to enhance how remote viewers use VR to watch e-sports.

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