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Barr Ellison Solicitors – commercial property
30 June, 2017 - 12:34 By Tony Quested

Growing force in interactive technology leverages ARM and Sony heritage

Virtual Arts Cambridge punt

Former ARM and Sony Guerrilla big-hitters are forging a new and fast-growing force in interactive technology from a Cambridge springboard.

Virtual Arts, based at St John’s Innovation Centre, has already raised undisclosed seed funding and believes it has the talent and vision to become a global powerhouse leveraging Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality technology company to fuel the next generation of games, interactive experiences and animations.

Its mission has been boosted by Sony’s decision to close its Cambridge-based games studio — Sony Guerrilla Cambridge — after 27 years.

Software experts at Virtual Arts are creating content and technology for Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality. Virtual Reality (VR) is where you use a headset like the Samsung Galaxy GearVR to immerse yourself in a 360-degree experience.

Augmented Reality (AR) takes a view of the world typically through the camera in your smartphone and overlays graphical content — Pokemon GO being the most famous example. Mixed Reality (MR) combines the 360-degree experience of VR, with the content overlay from AR, but with scale and depth in the physical world allowing, for example, virtual characters to jump onto real tables.

Virtual Arts was founded in September 2016, with the strike out co-founders both coming from ARM — Nizar Romdan, former director of ecosystems at ARM, and Doug Day, who was an engineering manager at ARM, leading demo creation to showcase ARM’s latest CPU and GPU performance.

Romdan says:“We were looking for a challenge, having had many years creating cutting-edge graphics demos as well as working with developers using graphics engines and middleware running on ARM’s latest mobile chips. We wanted to take the next step and push the boundaries of the hardware.”

In April, Virtual Arts received an injection of incredible talent rising from the ashes of Sony Guerrilla, boasting over 20 years’ experience in the games industry having released titles such as LittleBigPlanet, Killzone and most recently RIGS (a launch title for the Playstation VR). Virtual Arts now boasts 11 full time staff, encompassing experience from Geomerics, the middleware lighting solution behind many AAA game titles and leading game engines. 

Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality all have their challenges. The processing power required to render content for both our eyes and keep up with their refresh rates is truly phenomenal. 

Industry experts predict we need hardware capable of delivering 8K resolution and above per eye with refresh rates over 200Hz. That kind of performance is still a long way off for PC-based or mobile hardware. 

Adding the processing power necessary to combine virtual worlds with the real world for Augmented or Mixed Reality only increases the problem. Yet there is a market approaching 20 million devices for Virtual Reality alone and when you consider that the majority of smartphones can be used for Augmented Reality, the market for this kind of content is already huge. 

Virtual Arts‘ mission statement is to bring the high-fidelity content and technology that the market demands to the devices available today. With their experience of getting the best performance out of mobile chips over many generations, Virtual Arts will focus on mobile platforms as they see this as the platform of the future, with no cables and full freedom of movement. 

Virtual Arts‘ content will predominantly focus around gaming, animations and interactive experiences that you can only have using immersive technologies. 

To enable this content at the peak of its performance Virtual Arts has set about developing its own technology platform. Currently under development, the technology will feature in Virtual Arts content next year and then released to developers worldwide under various licensing options. 

“Existing technologies were never designed for VR, AR or MR. For us to deliver the best content we can, we need technology that’s built from scratch for the next generation of use cases,” Nizar explains.

“There will soon be a world where virtual reality headsets are as readily available and as easily disposable as coffee cup holders. The devices of today with their current performance capabilities will be the dominant devices. The content being delivered to these devices will come from Virtual Arts and the companies using Virtual Arts’ unique technology platform to create content.“

Having finished its seed round funding, Virtual Arts is actively seeking investors who share the vision to scale and accelerate development of future of content. Virtual Arts is also hiring; you can find out more at: virtualarts.co.uk

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