Immersive technologies – such as virtual and augmented reality – have enormous potential to make digital experiences more vivid and relatable. To accelerate progress in this field, four top European universities have banded together to form a high-tech media lab that will work with, and support, organisations across Europe that are keen to embrace ‘extended reality’ (XR) but currently lack the know-how or tools.
The European Media and Immersion Lab (EMIL) includes the University of Bath, Aalto University in Finland, the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Spain, and Filmakademie in Germany.
Organisations based in the EU are being invited to apply for funding to develop their XR ideas in partnership with the consortium. In 2023, funding will also be available to organisations in the UK.
The consortium is being backed by Horizon Europe and Innovate UK. A total of €5.6-million will go towards joint projects through what is known as Financial Support to Third Parties (FSTP). Each prospective partner can apply for between €250,000 and €500,000 to fund their project.
“The idea is to take the development of new, reality-defying experiences and technologies to the next level,” said Dr Christof Lutteroth from the Department of Computer Science at Bath.
Working collaboratively, the four consortium members will share their expertise with partner organisations and provide business support, resources, training, and product development. As part of their offering, they will also open up their in-house ‘media and immersion’ labs, to help partners develop their vision.
“We're looking to be paired with companies and organisations in fields as diverse as media, gaming, healthcare, manufacturing, fashion, architecture, publishing, education, urban planning, agriculture, environmental planning, cultural heritage and art,” said Dr Lutteroth, who is working on EMIL alongside his Bath colleagues Professor Eamonn O’Neill, Dr Christopher Clarke, Dr Crescent Jicol and Professor Neill Campbell.
“The overall aim of the consortium is to promote innovation and development of next-generation immersive content and technology, so people can enjoy the benefits, for example, through more engaging and enjoyable entertainment, learning, training, sports, and healthcare experiences,” explained Dr Lutteroth, who is also part of CAMERA, the motion capture lab at the University of Bath, and who leads the consortium’s UK branch.
He added: “The four members of the consortium all bring a different expertise to the table, and we complement each other well.
“Together, we’ll foster innovation in media production, smart garments, animation, visual effects, embodied interaction, digital cultural heritage, digital health, motion capture and analysis, scientific research and technological development.”
Dr Lutteroth’s team at Bath develop immersive technology that integrates indoor physical activity with virtual reality (VR). Using a VR headset, gamers become immersed in a world where their actions alone on (say) a static bicycle places them at the centre of a virtual world where competition is fierce and conquering new levels is rewarded with trophies. The aim is to create VR ‘exergames’ for stroke rehabilitation and competitive cycling athletes.
“Every consortium member has a ‘lighthouse’ project, and exergaming, emotions and health is ours,” says Dr Lutteroth. “This means we’ll be matched with people from industry who are interested in creating immersive experiences that involve physical activity or that are able to respond to users’ emotions.”
The other universities in the consortium specialise in areas that range from animation and smart garments (where, for instance, an item of clothing can be programmed to change temperature, tightness or texture) to interactive museum experiences (where images, text or sounds are superimposed on what exists in the physical world).
The European Media and Immersion Lab is funded by the European Union and Innovate UK.