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Government eyes virtual reality projects with new funding

Investment increases in competition aimed at fast-tracking development of innovations arising from the coronavirus crisis

Virtual reality (VR) technology is among the areas the UK government is interested in as new funding was announced to support innovations arising from the Covid-19 outbreak.

Additional funding of £20m takes investment in the Fast Start competition, which was launched in April 2020 in response to the coronavirus and is being managed by Innovate UK, to £40m. This is part of a wider investment package of £1.25bn to foster innovative UK businesses, announced by chancellor Rishi Sunak on 20 April 2020.

“The coronavirus crisis has created challenges that impact the way we live, work and travel, but it has also prompted a wave of new innovations as businesses look at ways to solve some of the challenges facing our world today,” said business secretary Alok Sharma, announcing the additional resources.

Initiatives to be supported by the funding include a virtual farmers’ market developed by Scotland-based Elchies Estates to replace traditional markets that have had to close because of the Covid-19 pandemic, providing a platform for local businesses and farmers to sell produce.

The virtual farmers’ market project was developed in response to the short- and medium-term implications for food buying. Elchies Estates directors Julie Commons and Brian Cameron said the idea is to offer all types of fresh and frozen farm produce at a single location.

“Being able to sell local produce in a completely safe and local environment will be welcomed, especially by the many older customers of our farmers’ markets and farm events which have been cancelled for the foreseeable future,” they said.

Another project to win support is a VR training platform that enables medical students to upskill remotely and perform simulation surgeries, developed by I3d Robotics.

Also receiving funding is startup Volunteero, which has developed a social media app to connect local communities and enable volunteers to target support to the most vulnerable members in their neighbourhoods.

According to the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, Innovate UK received more than 8,600 applications to the competition and investment funds will be distributed to over 800 projects.

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