I have to admit this was partly due to the after-effects of my gut-wrenching ride on a fully immersive virtual rollercoaster having only just indulged in the buffet laid on for guests at the launch. But it was more to do with the genuine excitement elicited from seeing and experiencing the incredible array of technologies housed in the University of Portsmouth’s £7m Centre for Creative and Immersive Extended Reality (CCIXR).
CCIXR is the UK’s first purpose-built facility to bring under one roof a whole suite of the very latest, cutting-edge kit to support innovation in virtual, augmented and extended realities. It’s a lot to get your head round and so the tour ensured that even the less technically-advanced among the gathered crowd (and, yes, I’d put my hand up to that) could get an idea of what an amazing place this is – and we proudly have it here, right in the heart of Portsmouth.
So what is the XR part of this creative centre? In simple terms, as explained (very simply) to me, extended reality is the catch-all term for all types of digitally-created reality, from the experiences you can enjoy through a virtual reality headset to the augmented reality world, best evidenced for those who had a try at Pokemon Go, in which you could stand on a street in Portsmouth and look through the camera of your smartphone to see mythical creatures digitally pasted onto the real world.
Some of the technology housed at the centre within the Eldon building on Winston Churchill Avenue is not available anywhere else in Europe or at any other university campus in the world.
Walking in to the centre you had the chance to take giant steps on the surface of the moon, join Marvel characters as they danced in the streets, hear speeches from a beachside film studio, wear a glove which gave you the ability to touch your virtual surroundings, drive a racing car and enjoy the thrills of the aforementioned rollercoaster. Local singing sensation and star of BBC’s I Can See Your Voice Amba Tremain was actually there. But she did perform on top of a virtual lily pad floating on a virtual lake.
It may sound like a collection of expensive toys where tech nerds can literally let their imagination run wild. But there were three key take-outs from me.
For a start, this really does put Portsmouth on the map for immersive, extended reality. The tools being used to create the highest-quality virtual content in blockbuster movies and best-selling video games are now in our city.
This can provide a futuristic boost to the local economy. The university has already worked with the Royal Navy and previously announced link ups with six key partners – including the Spinnaker Tower, Mary Rose Museum, Victorious Festival and Aspex Gallery – to see how this cutting-edge technology can be used to enhance the visitor experience and boost the number of people coming in to the city. Leaders at CCIXR will next reach out to more businesses and organisations across the region from a diverse range of sectors to improve understanding of XR and discuss potential collaborations.
Finally, and of incredible importance, the centre offers world-class XR training, research and development in Portsmouth, addressing a critical skills shortage in this fast-moving industry and supporting the creation of high-value jobs regionally, nationally and beyond. Our students can be the leading XR lights of the future.
Dean of the Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries, Professor Trevor Keeble, said: “CCIXR has been established to bring innovation, research and development in the creative technologies of virtual, augmented and mixed reality to a range of different industrial and commercial sectors. Our well-established reputation for industry collaboration allows us to develop the creative application of cutting-edge digital innovation and the highly-skilled graduate workforce that our future economy will need.”
CCIXR was funded by investment from the University and £3.6m from Solent Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) as part of the Government’s Local Growth Deal.
LEP chair Rachael Randal said: ‘The creative sector is a significant contributor to both the national and local economy, and, in support of this, the Solent LEP has invested £3.6m in this state-of-the-art centre which will support businesses, create jobs and provide facilities for new learners. With its focus on digital skills and technology, the CCIXR will ensure our region is at the centre of this exciting and emerging immersive industry - a clear signal that the Solent is home to a world class talent base and one where the creative industries can grow and thrive.’
University Vice-Chancellor Professor Graham Galbraith added: ‘The University of Portsmouth is proud to have developed the CCIXR in collaboration with the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership. This is a world-leading facility that places us at the forefront of innovation in virtual and extended reality, which will be at the heart of the next generation of digital technologies that will transform future work and leisure activities.
‘This is an excellent example of how, as a global university, our work with regional partners including Solent LEP, Portsmouth Hospitals University NHS Trust, and the Solent Freeport puts the university at the heart of our region’s growth and development.’
What a coup this is for Portsmouth. To be literally leading the world in a growing field of technology, with the tools to virtually take you to whatever world you want to.