'Game-changing' £3.6m plan to build 'world-leading' virtual reality labs in Portsmouth will create 200 jobs

HUNDREDS of new jobs will be created in Portsmouth after the city’s university received a ‘game-changing’ £3.6m windfall to build a dozen world-leading digital laboratories.

By Tom Cotterill
Friday, 19th June 2020, 7:00 am
Updated Friday, 19th June 2020, 9:28 am
Solent LEP invests £3.6m in Centre for Creative and Immersive eXtended Reality.

Leaders from economic development group the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership last night green-lit the multi-million pound investment in the University of Portsmouth.

The huge cash injection will fund the creation of 12 space-aged labs specialising in future developments in virtual reality and augmented reality.

Set to be based at the university’s Eldon Building, in Winston Churchill Avenue, the state-of-the-art additions will be the only ones of their kind in the south coast.

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Solent LEP invests £3.6m in Centre for Creative and Immersive eXtended Reality.

About 200 jobs are expected to be created over the next decade as a result of the move, which will support 800 businesses in creating new technologies.

Portsmouth City Council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson said the windfall was 'fantastic news', which would put the city on the map 'in a big way'.

'This is absolutely game-changing for the creative industries in Portsmouth,' he told The News last night. 'We're going to be the only place on the south coast that's got this ability.

‘It really puts Portsmouth on the map in a big way. This is going to be enormously important for the future.'

Known as the Centre for Creative and Immersive eXtended Reality (CCIXR), the new facility will be central to the evolution of how virtual reality and augmented reality can be used.

Everything from new, hyper-realistic motion capture technology for the next Hollywood blockbuster or computer game to immersive training tech for the Royal Navy and NHS could be created.

It’s hoped the laboratories could also support businesses in transforming how they use the technology in the future.

Explaining the idea behind the new labs, Pippa Bostock, the university’s business and development project manager said: ‘CCIXR will incorporate 12 different immersive technology areas. One example is motion capture technology – similar to that used in films such as The Lord of the Rings to bring Gollum to life.

‘Volumetric capture will enable us to instantly capture movement in 3D to a photo realistic level – this can then be used in training simulations, games, films or animations.

‘Virtual production will bring the future of TV and broadcast to Portsmouth.’

The investment by Solent LEP is the body’s first since the coronavirus crisis began.

SJ Hunt, the organisation’s board director, the pandemic had created an ‘increased currency and resonance’ around digital technology.

‘In recent months we have seen businesses becoming increasingly reliant on the digital world, and its relevance is firmly established in the minds of consumers,’ SJ said.

‘The services provided by the CCIXR are vital for businesses, especially whilst working remotely remains a theme of the economic recovery.

‘The technological skills will help drive innovation and enhance businesses based in the Solent to be resilient to future shocks.’

Caroline Dinenage, minister for digital and culture and Gosport MP, hailed the news as a ‘smart investment’ for the area.

‘I’m really excited by this investment on our doorstep,’ she said. ‘There is so much opportunity for young people in the tech and artificial intelligence sector, which is growing six times the rate of the rest of the UK economy, making us the tech-capital of Europe.’

The project will be the UK’s first fully-integrated facility to support innovation in the creative and digital technologies of virtual, augmented and extended realities and will support 500 students.

Councillor Terry Norton, Tory education spokesman in Portsmouth, said the new labs could entice graduates to stay in the city.

He added: ‘Portsmouth has around 22,000 students enrolled but it has long had a standing issue with retaining graduates beyond their studies.

‘Therefore opportunities like this must be welcomed. I hope that an investment of this size can aid Portsmouth in becoming the centre for this rapidly emerging industry.’

Professor Trevor Keeble, executive dean of creative and cultural industries at the University said the future developments at the lab could have a global impact.

He added: ‘Investment in cutting-edge creative and immersive technologies will make this region a centre for the rapidly emerging immersive and extended reality industries, and we are delighted to be working in partnership with Solent LEP to develop our plans.’