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Educating in Virtual and Augmented Reality: An interview with Curiscope

Last week Digital Catapult Centre Brighton held it’s fourth Virtual Reality (VR) / Augmented Reality (AR) Meetup, hosting a diverse and rapidly growing community, passionate about exploring the bleeding edge applications of immersive technology.

That meetup focused on how VR/AR is being used to teach, educate and train. We were lucky enough to have Curiscope, a company who are pioneering educational adventures in VR and AR, to give a presentation on this topic.

Curiscope have very recently relocated to Brighton from London and we caught-up with Curiscope’s CEO, Ed Barton to hear his thoughts on the future of VR/AR as a teaching platform, why Brighton is such a great location for a VR/AR company and Curiscope’s big vision to make the world a better place using immersive technology…

Can you tell us a bit about Curiscope?

Ed Barton Curiscope CEOAt Curiscope, our belief is that everybody, everywhere has untapped potential and brilliance within them. The problem is that for most of us, this genius is never made known to them because they simply don’t get the chance to experience that particular avenue. Unfortunately, this means sometimes their genius passes them by – what if no-one had ever handed Picasso a paintbrush?

That’s where we want to make use of VR & AR. As the technologies becomes more accessible, they give people the chance to have an increasingly embodied experience of a far greater range of activities than they would otherwise be able to access.

I’d like to think our work to date embodies exactly that. With Great White Sharks, 15m people have now been able to experience something that was inaccessible to them and hopefully in a way that’s enriching rather than sensationalist. Our hope is that in amongst these views, the seeds of marine biologists and conservationists have just been sown. We want a better world, and enabling millions to think differently is the way we’ll achieve that.

We explored training, learning and education at our last meetup. Why do you think VR provides such a unique opportunity to teach and educate?

It’s hard to understand something until you experience it (tweet this). I often fall back to this as a reason why we do what we do and why I think learning is so important in VR. That’s the essence of what we’re trying to do: enabling people to experience things / concepts/places when they otherwise couldn’t. It’s not every day that you can go down to a molecular level, travel out into Space or go back in time - in VR you can do all three in half an hour.

Technology is there to enable people and to give us the freedom and the space to ask questions of the world (tweet this). That’s what excites me; learning-led VR that’s there to enable creative and critical thought.

What do you think is the future of VR for teaching?

Firstly, I think it’s important that we don’t force VR on the education system before it’s ready. Schools and teachers do a fantastic job under an unbelievable amount of pressure and the tech world has a tendency to want to ‘disrupt’ everything. The reality is that teaching is unbelievably complex, inherently personal and importantly, underfunded.

But I think as much a part of the problem as anything else, is that we view education as something that exists purely in schools. Our belief is that learning never ends and it shouldn’t be separated from our day-to-day life.

We’ve already got great examples of how VR can be used in schools - Google Expeditions is one. This is very much what we believe in - granting access to corners of our world which we could never otherwise reach. Beyond this, we want to look at something grander. We’re interested in how the medium can actually get you to explore yourself. How can we teach people to look into their own responsibility - responsibility to themselves, others and the planet.

Curiscope have recently moved your offices from London – what attracted you to moving your offices to Brighton?

For us, London just didn’t feel like the right location for creative thinking and original thought. VR is such a different medium and requires such a unique way of thinking that we wanted to be somewhere that felt wholly supportive of that. Brighton has always been a hub of creativity and, with some of the best game development talent in the country, it felt like the perfect place to be.

There’s other advantages as well; the community is so much physically closer here and I think that’s incredibly important in a medium like VR to enable the fluid exchange of ideas and thought. Unity is obviously here as well, which is a great benefit in an industry where you’re often on bleeding edge codebases.

Finally - it’s Brighton. There’s a much better work-life balance and I’m super excited for life down here over the summer!

What do you think is special about Brighton as an environment to be working on VR?

I see a lot of LA and San Francisco in Brighton, even if it’s a lot colder right now. There’s an openness to originality and to creativity and it attracts a lot of people with an attitude that matches ours - you can hardly move for life drawing, theatre, street artists and all manner of bizarre and colourful meetups and activities.

There’s also some fantastic, highly experienced people from the game industry that we have the fortune of being able to learn from. On the very first day of moving in we were invited out for dinner and felt immersed in the community instantly.

In VR, this all matters - you’re using existing skillsets to influence an entirely new medium - it’s a mix of gaming, artistic and startup thinking, it suits the city perfectly (tweet this).

We also had presentations from Microsoft HoloLens, The University of Sussex’s Psychology department and Progress Films. Did you have any takeaways from the meetup?

I found the Hololens presentations and Dr. Peggy St.Jacque’s research into out of body experiences to be particularly interesting - I think we’ve barely scratched the surface of the potential impacts and applications of the technology. And what I always love at VR Brighton is seeing an active, involved, diverse community - it’s great to see familiar faces and to see talented people working in the space.

What is next for Curiscope?

We’ve had a pretty mind blowing first year that was incredibly hard work but incredibly rewarding - from nothing we launched and shipped a product and created one of the most viewed VR experiences of all time.

Now it’s about following up that success and turning this into the most exciting company to work for in Brighton. We have some major projects that we’re launching this year that we have complete creative control over and they’re very different from anything else in Brighton or VR full stop.

We have probably at least 10 positions to fill in the next 6 months with a couple of roles we need to fill in the next few weeks. Beyond anything else, we are looking for talented people who feel passionate about what we do.
If building these inspirational and impactful experiences is what drives you then get in touch; chances are we’ll have a place for you! 

Find out about future Digital Catapult Centre Brighton events

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Are you interested in presenting or showcasing you VR/AR concept at a future meetup?

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