Immersive tech innovators help to capture Belfast stories

Visitors will be able to enjoy using VR headsets to explore Belfast’s history.Visitors will be able to enjoy using VR headsets to explore Belfast’s history.
Visitors will be able to enjoy using VR headsets to explore Belfast’s history.
TEN tech innovation companies and entrepreneurs have been awarded funding from the Augment the City competition to help enrich the Belfast region’s visitor experiences.

The companies will work with the region’s tourism partners to explore how immersive technology can be used in innovative ways to encourage local people to create and share their individual stories.

Belfast City Council Chief Executive John Walsh said: “Experts agree that immersive technologies such as augmented, virtual, and mixed reality will have an important role to play in enhancing future attractions across the region, including our highly-anticipated Belfast Stories.

"With funding from the Belfast Region City Deal, Augment the City is bringing creative industries companies to work directly with our leading tourism organisations to explore what forms this role might take.

“The funded companies have proposed some really exciting ideas for using these technologies to help broaden the range of voices that can be preserved and enjoyed, including children and young people, deaf and hearing-impaired people and those who are neurodiverse.

"This is a unique opportunity for the companies to push the boundaries for innovation. And at the same time, it’s giving our tourism and City Deal partners valuable insights into the possibilities of immersive and advanced wireless technologies that can inform the design of new visitor attractions.”

Professor Liam Maguire, Chair of the Belfast Region City Deal’s Digital Advisory Board and Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research at Ulster University, added: “Augment the City demonstrates a central aim of the Belfast Region City Deal’s digital pillar.

"It’s encouraging collaboration with some of our most exciting creative digital companies. And by doing so, it’s stimulating R&D investment in one of the region’s high growth sectors.

"Ultimately, this investment is contributing to a more productive economy, while helping to ensure that new visitor experiences are better placed to harness digital tech.”

The projects being supported in this first phase of Augment the City are:

1. Belfast Stories Generator: Hamilton Robson will combine AI and immersive tech to create an accessible, interactive platform for exploring the city's vibrant history and culture.

  1. Echoes of Belfast: Imvizar will focus on location-based AR to recreate and share Belfast's historical and contemporary narratives. This initiative will create a dynamic story engine, allowing anyone with a story the opportunity to have their voice heard using immersive technology.
  1. Yarns, Craic, and Danders: Darin Smyth will utilise AI, Metahumans, AR, and game engine technology to create immersive experiences in interactive booths and a complementary AR guide. These experiences will enhance exploratory walks and inspire users to engage with and discover the city's rich stories.
  1. SIGN: Aura Digital Studios will help to empower the deaf and hearing-impaired community to share their stories both locally and globally using haptics and AR technologies in a dedicated physical space equipped for motion capture, via a mobile app using AR, and through a network of visual triggers and QR codes guiding an independent walking tour across Belfast, linking audiences to site-specific performances. 
  1. Belfast Memory Machine: SENSEcity will develop an AI-Powered Immersive Storytelling Experience using advanced technology to capture the rich tapestry of Belfast's stories from lesser heard voices. Participant storytellers will be provided with 3D-printed miniaturised models of Belfast buildings and landmarks, e-ink displays, and a smart microphone, all providing a tactile and interactive experience, while they narrate their stories.
  1. Amergin: Liquid City will develop an AI-powered interviewer, archivist, curator, and broadcaster accessible on social media, the web, mixed reality, and in a visitor centre. 
  1. Storyfields: Animorph will develop an innovative platform to allow residents to create and share immersive storytelling experiences using their smartphones in an interactive treasure hunt. Designated areas in Belfast will become Storyfields where users ‘plant’ their personal stories and discover those planted by others. 
  1. Belfast Back Beats: Cooperative Innovations and The Performance Corporation is an artistic/technology collaboration aiming to develop interactive virtual environments to showcase transformative moments in Belfast's performing arts and music scene, integrating real-world artefacts into virtual environments providing tangible connections to the city’s cultural history.
  1. Perspectives: Neurotech and Belfast Hidden Tours, in collaboration with artist Mark Mullan, will create an interactive mythology and history tour app, allowing users to experience first-person stories, and contribute their own narratives, thoughts, and reactions. The project will have a particular focus on children and young people, including those who are neurodiverse or have other accessibility needs.
  1. Memory Fractal: Ekaterina Solomatina will combine mixed reality and 5G technology to create a narrative sculpture, offering a new way of digital storytelling about the city’s vibrant artistic heritage. As well as visitors experiencing the space they are physically in, they will interact with virtual 3D-scanned and AI/community generated sculptures.

In phase two of Augment the City, five of the companies will receive additional funding to further develop their concepts this autumn.

The Augment the City Challenge competition is part of Belfast City Council’s XR Belfast programme which provides a range of funding, skills development and business support to people working in Belfast’s innovation and creative industries sectors to help build their capacity in using and exploiting emerging technologies.

For more information on Augment the City, visit www.smartbelfast.city or the Belfast Region City Deal, visit www.belfastregioncitydeal.co.uk

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