"Immersive Technologies": What does it all mean?

Arcade is the digital practice that uses immersive technology to connect people more meaningfully to the physical spaces around them. Alex Book, Arcade’s co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer, tells us about their engagement with TORCH's Creative Industries programme and the exciting work that is being generated as a result.

Before we start, a quick test. Hands up if you know what terms like ‘immersive technology’, ‘augmented reality’ or ‘spatial computing’ actually mean. I’m guessing that there aren’t too many hands being waved in the air! The good news is this: you don’t need to know. Partly because I’m going to explain it a bit, but mostly because, when it’s done well, the tech stuff doesn’t really matter. Instead, it’s all about the experience, by which I mean what you or I actually get to do, or see, or hear, or feel.

At Arcade, we get excited by what we can use technology to do; tech is the means, not the end. The goal is always to create meaningful experiences for people (by which I mean fun, entertaining, educational, interactive, rewarding), and to use them to help our partners solve real world challenges. From motivating young families to spend more time having fun learning about the incredible creatures at SEA LIFE’s London Aquarium, to engaging residents across the iconic borough of Camden with digital art installations, to leading visitors from one of Roald Dahl’s inspirations to the next in his home village of Great Missenden – our work with immersive technology is always for purpose and never for its own sake.

So, a quick primer. When people talk about ‘immersive technology’ they tend to mean the two sister technologies, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). Both use digital content and present it in three dimensions, but what separates them is their relationship with the real world. Virtual reality is normally experienced with a headset and is great at ‘transporting’ you to somewhere else. If you want to understand what it’s like to stand on the surface of Mars, or the bottom of the ocean, or the top of Everest, VR is ideal. AR is more connected to the real world, overlaying digital content on the physical spaces around you, and although there are headsets and glasses designed for AR most experiences can be enjoyed using nothing more than the phone in your pocket. Given our focus on connecting people to places, AR is, for the most part, our technology of choice.

Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality: Arcade’s ‘Roxy the Ranger’ at the London Aquarium

Still with me? Good. No more tech chat, I promise.

Arcade was first introduced to TORCH by the inimitable Professor Oliver Cox, who we met at an Innovate UK ‘Audience of the Future’ conference. We discovered a lot of shared beliefs about the potential for technology to radically enhance public engagement with culture and heritage sites, and Olly’s initial introduction led to TORCH-facilitated grant applications, new relationships with fabulous organisations such as Historic Houses and, more recently, participation in a series of fantastic Creative Industries workshops. It was here that we met the team from the Griffith Institute, custodians of the meticulously assembled and astonishingly extensive archive from Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon’s famous discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, the centenary of which will take place in 2022.

With the upcoming anniversary in mind, the Griffith Institute were keen to meet a technology partner who could offer a new, immersive way for people to engage with the archive, a challenge we were incredibly excited to take on. We were honoured to be given a tour of the archive, where we could not help but feel humbled by the passion and dedication of Carter and his team, evident across the thousands of documents, drawings and photographs contained in the archive.

Griffith Institute

Alex with the Griffith Institute’s Cat Warsi, examining just one of the thousands of documents in the archive

So what next? Following a successful application to the newly-established Creative Industries Seed Fund, we are developing the first phase of an AR-driven experience that will help audiences to discover the tomb for themselves, walking in Carter’s footsteps as he undertook one of the most famous explorations of the 20th century. In partnership with the Griffith Institute, the goal is to create a publicly accessible experience that offers an entirely new way to bring people closer to the discovery of Tut’s tomb – all made possible by the great Creative Industries work by TORCH.

It’s going to be a lot of fun.

To find out more about Arcade please visit https://arcade.ltd or contact Alex Book at alex@arcade.ltd.

Augmented Reality