Birmingham startups lead the way in creating VR training for university students

Birmingham startup FourPlus, with partners Holosphere and Aston University, have been awarded funding from Innovate UK to create and test a virtual reality (VR) training platform for university life science students.

The grant, awarded as part of £134M government investment in green and innovative companies from Innovate UK’s Sustainable Innovation Fund, will help to deliver hands on laboratory training in VR that can be delivered remotely, even in the students’ living room. This will help to ensure that life science students can learn important practical skills that are needed for future careers even in cases where they are unable to enter a physical lab.

The VR platform will also, in the longer term, help universities to improve their environmental footprint by reducing waste that is associated with performing large numbers of practical classes. This will include reducing single use plastic lab consumables that go to landfill, as well as water, energy and biochemical waste.

FourPlus CEO, Dr Hayley Mulhall, said “Using VR, we can incorporate visualisation tools, industry-relevant processes and learner data capture into lab training, creating an enhanced and personalised learning experience. Students are also free to make mistakes in VR, enabling a deeper understanding of the subject matter, a process that is limited in real lab training by health and safety restrictions”.

Professor Ivan Wall, from Aston University, remarked “Learning through hands on experience is proven to be much more effective than learning via books and lectures. Life science students need to undertake lab training to develop hands on skills for their future careers, but Covid19 has really impacted on their ability to do that. If we can roll out VR as a means of training students in hands on procedures, we will be able to train people faster, more flexibly and to a deeper level of understanding. This is because unlike in a real lab where a lab session can only be taken once, the VR training process can be repeated over and over again just by hitting the restart button”.

Innovate UK Executive Chair Dr Ian Campbell said: “In these difficult times we have seen the best of British business innovation. The pandemic is not just a health emergency but one that impacts society and the economy.

“FourPlus’s VR platform for life science students, along with every initiative Innovate UK has supported through this fund, is an important step forward in driving sustainable economic development. Each one is also helping to realise the ambitions of hard-working people.”

FourPlus are a Birmingham-based immersive technology company who create technology solutions for the Life Sciences sector, across industry and academia. These solutions span workforce management and training, process design and data visualisation. They partner with Holosphere, another Birmingham-based immersive technology company who create immersive technology platforms including CAVES and 3D projection for cross-sector applications.

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