Tech conference debates the potential pitfalls and benefits of virtual reality

PUBLISHED: 17:21 19 September 2018 | UPDATED: 09:50 25 September 2018

(L-R) Matthew Martin of Immersive VR, Dr Saber Sami of the University of East Anglia, Ryan Baxter of Viewing, and Peter Brady of Orbital Media. Picture: Archant

(L-R) Matthew Martin of Immersive VR, Dr Saber Sami of the University of East Anglia, Ryan Baxter of Viewing, and Peter Brady of Orbital Media. Picture: Archant


Augmented and virtual reality technology could have an impact “as major as the Industrial Revolution”, according to Norfolk “Techsperts”.

Yet similar technology behind applications like the viral Pokemon Go game has been blamed for causing accidents and even deaths.

So the pros and cons of these immersive experiences were debated at the Talking Tech conference organised by the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce, at The Space in Norwich, where attendees quizzed a panel of experts on the technology’s lack of regulation and data protection.

Dr Sami Saber, a lecturer at the UEA, has worked with virtual reality (VR, which sees users put on a head set and become immersed in a digital environment) to aid research into dementia and Alzheimer’s care.

He said: “VR can be used to detect symptoms of these diseases early on. From the map in a game for example, we can detect where the player’s understanding of location gets lost, and what we can do to help pick that memory up again.

“All of our data is anonymised completely, and for the moment VR and AR is currently too small to be regulated by its own body. But if it takes off in the next five to ten years, we would see VR used in clinics and rehabs around the world, which will raise a question for regulatory bodies to consider how to protect medical data.”

However the panel’s consensus was that the benefits of this technology far outweighed its hindrances.

Matthew Martin of Norwich-based Immersive VR said: “This technology can increase productivity; employees with dangerous jobs can undergo training via virtual reality but in a safe environment, or can train in places which are difficult to get to.”

Ryan Baxter, founder of Viewing Online, added: “Before long I think consumers of the tourism and retail industry won’t buy anything unless they can see what it looks like. This could be 360 videos of a place they want to visit, or what the car they want to buy will look like.”

Peter Brady of Orbital Media, based in Stowmarket, said: “VR could have a massive impact in education. I remember seeing Tim Peake doing a practise space walk via virtual reality and thought: ‘Surely if Nasa are using it for training, this is something others can use for teaching, whether it be in children’s or adult’s education.’”

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