Minister experiences region's innovation and digital success
Margot James MP, Minister of State for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has been in the region to see some of the latest innovation facilities and businesses boosting the North East's growing digital economy.
She was welcomed to Gateshead by Digital Catapult's Jeremy Silver; Sunderland Software City's David Dunn; and Gateshead Council's Sheena Ramsey and Cabinet Member for the Economy, Cllr John Adams.
During the morning visit, the Minister was given a tour of the Immersive Lab, one of just four in the UK, which is run by the Digital Catapult North East & Tees Valley (NETV).
Speaking about the lab, David Dunn said: "It gives access to virtual (VR), augmented (AR) and mixed reality (XR) technologies, offering opportunities for digital businesses to test and showcase their skills and non-digital companies the chance to learn how immersive technologies can help their business.
"The facility which will be based in PROTO: The Emerging Technology Centre provides a unique opportunity for companies from all sectors to understand how emerging technology can drive productivity, efficiency and customer engagement in their business."
Minister James was treated to a behind the scenes look at PROTO which is due to open next month in Gateshead.
Cllr Adams explained: "We have a really good cluster of serious VR and AR companies; gaming companies here since the 80s; and the most amazing tech talent in Gateshead. PROTO, Europe's first dedicated facility for emerging tech, was born from this and is a result of the VRTGO project.
"PROTO and the immersive lab will give businesses of any size, from any sector, the opportunity to explore VR and AR amongst other emerging tech. For example, if you're a new retailer you might test AR to determine what buyers look at in a shop and what their eyes are drawn to, helping with product placement.
"Access to this kit is usually very expensive but we're offering an affordable alternative. The council is very supportive of start-ups having access to tech to digitalise their own business."
The Minister was given XR demonstrations from two of the region's top digital companies. Colin Kelly from Maadigital demoed an augmented reality experience that allows users to create their own wings as part of the Great Exhibition of the North trail. Shaun Allan from Hedgehog Lab showed the minister a virtual arts platform for Oculus Go.
Minister James took part in a round table discussion with another seven of the North East's innovative businesses who provided input into how emerging technologies were important to the whole of the region's economy moving forward.
The visit was completed with a trip to the Inspired by Digital Exhibition, part of the Great Exhibition of the North, which celebrates the story of innovation across the whole region.