Igloo Vision brings large-scale shared VR experience to the US

A shared virtual reality experience that sees users view VR content together inside a large geodesic dome is coming to the US.

Shropshire, the UK, based company Igloo Vision is opening operations in both New York and Los Angeles, aiming to bring their ‘shared VR experiences’ to the US commercial VR market. According to the founder, in terms of content and commercial application, the US is at least three years behind the UK, making it the perfect market for British expansion.

The company itself is the creator of an immersive VR experience called the Igloo. Rather than relying on a headset, multiple users sit together inside a dome or cylindrical pod that then provides a 360 degree VR experience. The dome itself is available in four sizes, ranging from the smallest, a 6m, 12 person Igloo, to the largest, which, with a 21m diameter can house an incredible 750 people.

A dome being used as a recruitment tool by the UK’s army. Image and featured image courtesy of Igloo Vision

The Igloo is principally used for three different commercial applications: ‘experiences’ (to engage, inspire or entertain), ‘simulation’ (to immerse teams in a given scenario) and ‘visualisation’ (to bring design concepts to life).

“While the headset market is perfect for consumers and individuals, the commercial VR market needs something different and is changing rapidly from being an awkward and isolated experience to one where a business’ potential customers, partners or employees can sit relaxed or stand together and view and interact with it,” said Colin Yellowley, founder and MD of Igloo Vision, who will head up the US operations.

“Shared experience makes VR more engaging and more powerful – especially in commercial environments. We have a real opportunity here to be a home-grown UK business who exports innovation and takes a leadership position in an exploding global market.”

Importantly, Igloo Vision has created an advantage by using the principle of what it refers to as ‘frugal innovation’. Rather than taking a top-down approach to create bespoke 360 degree VR projection environments with expensive projectors and screens, the company instead uses off-the-shelf components to build simple, reusable igloos. Taking this approach has allowed the company to reduce the entry level cost of a shared VR experience from millions to less than £100,000.

Igloo domes have already been used at a number of exhibitions and events, including the Giorgio Armani‏ exhibition at this year’s SXSW. Image courtesy of Giorgio Armani‏

Already employed by consumer and retail brands to bring a new product experience to customers, Igloo Vision has also been employed by the armed forces and oil companies to run simulations and training for personnel. With the US already accounting for more than 50% of the company’s revenue, and leading VR spending globally, Igloo Vision is hoping that the region’s heavy investment into the tech, versus the UK’s greater caution in adoption, will help to take them to new heights.

Igloo Vision’s CEO, Dennis Wright, believes that the UK is at risk of losing its technological lead in VR.

“The US market is investing heavily into VR technology, and as a leading supplier of VR projection technology we need to ensure that we’re at the heart of that investment,” he said. “The UK has the best skills and content developers in the world. As a nation we need to adopt a US mentality and attitude to growth and success or risk losing out as the VR market develops further State side.”

Scientists, software developers and artists have begun using VR to visualise genes and predict disease

A group of scientists, software developers and artists have taken to using virtual reality (VR) technology to visualise complex interactions between genes and their regulatory elements.

The team, which comprises of members from Oxford University, Universita’ di Napoli and Goldsmiths, University of London, have been using VR to visualise simulations of a composite of data from genome sequencing, data on the interactions of DNA and microscopy data.

When all this data is combined the team are provided with an interactive, 3D image that shows where different regions of the genome sit relative to others, and how they interact with each other.

“Being able to visualise such data is important because the human brain is very good at pattern recognition – we tend to think visually,” said Stephen Taylor, head of the Computational Biology Research Group at Oxford’s MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine (WIMM).

“It began at a conference back in 2014 when we saw a demonstration by researchers from Goldsmiths who had used software called CSynth to model proteins in three dimensions. We began working with them, feeding in seemingly incomprehensible information derived from our studies of the human alpha globin gene cluster and we were amazed that what we saw on the screen was an instantly recognisable model.”

The team believe that being able to visualise the interactions between genes and their regulatory elements will allow them to understand the basis of human genetic diseases, and are currently applying their techniques to study genetic diseases such as diabetes, cancer and multiple sclerosis.

“Our ultimate aim in this area is to correct the faulty gene or its regulatory elements and be able to re-introduce the corrected cells into a patient’s bone marrow: to perfect this we have to fully understand how genes and their regulatory elements interact with one another” said Professor Doug Higgs, a principal researcher at the WIMM.

“Having virtual reality tools like this will enable researchers to efficiently combine their data to gain a much broader understanding of how the organisation of the genome affects gene expression, and how mutations and variants affect such interactions.”

There are around 37 trillion cells in the average adult human body, and each cell contains two meters of DNA tightly packed into its nucleus.

While the technology to sequence genomes is well established, it has been shown that the manner in which DNA is folded within each cell affects how genes are expressed.

“There are more than three billion base pairs in the human genome, and a change in just one of these can cause a problem. As a model we’ve been looking at the human alpha globin gene cluster to understand how variants in genes and their regulatory elements may cause human genetic disease,” said Prof Jim Hughes, associate professor of Genome Biology at Oxford University.