Bristol Virtual Reality Lab opens creating centre of innovation for virtual and augmented reality

Issue date: 16 April 2018

A landmark new facility establishing Bristol as a central development hub for Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) skills and content has officially opened its doors.

Following a soft launch incubation period in which 20 start-ups, supported by global giants including The BBC, Airbus and Microsoft, have become established in the shared workspace in the city's Leadworks building in Anchor Square, the Bristol VR Lab is creating an innovation centre to harness the opportunities and stimulate skills around emerging immersive technologies.

UWE Bristol is a founding partner of the lab, along with the University of Bristol, the Watershed digital creativity centre and award-winning virtual reality developer Opposable Group.

The Bristol VR Lab will enable small businesses and individual content creators to access and pool their collective knowledge and skills, promoting growth and innovation and working within a university-led research and development community to develop future products and services, which will make the ones in Spielberg's latest fantasy movie 'Ready Player One' a reality.

Examples include a haptic chair developed by Dr Nick Inoue that sends infrasonic vibrations through the body as you experience sound and motion in VR which is helping people with hearing loss experience sound, to a new start-up founded by graduate Rachel Godfrey that produces 360degree 3D virtual tours, which is helping people with autism break down perceptual and societal barriers.

The Bristol VR Lab has been established with £295,000 Local Growth Fund support awarded by the West of England Combined Authority and Local Enterprise Partnership, and follows a Government commitment to establish a 5G test-bed in Bristol which will drive forward new 5G business opportunities for the region and UK.

Professor Martin Boddy, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Business Engagement at UWE Bristol, said: “We are delighted to be a founding partner in the creation of Bristol VR Lab, working with other stakeholders to get this exciting initiative up and running. VR and AR applications are going to be massively important in the future across a whole range of sectors from cultural and entertainment experiences through to engineering, design, building and infrastructure, health and many others. The VR Lab is just the start of what I am sure will be an increasingly important vehicle for driving research and innovation, growing the relevant skills and supporting real world applications with economic impact for the region.”

West of England Mayor, Tim Bowles, said: “The Bristol VR Lab is a fantastic new facility for businesses and education providers in Bristol and the West of England. It will generate jobs, improve skills and accelerate business growth for creative content and technology companies. It will enable the early adoption of new immersive technologies and this will positively impact multiple sectors in our region. The West of England is already firmly established as one of the most significant and innovative digital tech centres in the world. The new VR Lab, along with the many other exciting tech innovations such as our 5G test-bed, will ensure our region continues to lead the way for years to come.”

The founding partners have developed a number of aims for the Bristol VR Lab including:

  • To provide a focal point and convene knowledge around VR / AR
  • To accelerate commercial development by providing access to skills, resources and a supportive community network
  • To provide a common ground where academia and industry can co-design innovation, catalyzing new insight and research activity
  • To highlight the cluster strength and position Bristol as a centre of excellence of VR / AR at both national and international level

Specifically, the research at Bristol VR Lab will look towards what comes next for content and production for next generation storytelling - the kinds of production teams needed, the specific creative technical skills that production teams will require, and the kinds of stories producers will be able to tell across emerging immersive platforms, from Virtual to Augmented to Mixed Reality.

The facility will build upon Bristol's existing expertise in film and television, game design and software and hardware development, as the city continues to strengthen its existing creative community around new technologies.

Marvin Rees, Mayor of Bristol says: “As one of the leading digital hubs in the country Bristol has a wealth of academics, practitioners and companies working with cutting edge technology such as Virtual Reality. It's therefore fantastic to see the Leadworks building being used to further research into this area and help develop the industry in Bristol. We are proud of how we are bringing together people from different disciplines and I'm confident that this innovative drive within the city will ensure we continue to attract new investment by major players, for example as an ideal location for Channel 4 outside of London.”

“The market for Virtual and Augmented Reality is forecast to grow exponentially over the next five years. In delivering the vision of the Bristol VR Lab it will position Bristol as a centre of expertise in VR & AR and will create significant commercial opportunities and new businesses - providing competitive advantage in improved understanding, resource and exposure through the work of the Lab” said Ben Trewhella, Director of the Bristol VR Lab, Managing Director of Opposable and founder of the VR World Congress event.

Verity McIntosh from Watershed says: "Virtual and augmented reality represent a fantastic opportunity to design experiences and connect with audiences in new ways. As one of the founding partners, we at Watershed are excited that Bristol VR Lab is bringing together an active community of makers and researchers from a broad spectrum of disciplines to explore and shape the future of this emerging medium.”

The Bristol VR Lab is open for startups, researchers and organisations seeking to explore immersive technologies commercially. For information on future activities, members, company residents or partners, please contact

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