Our CreaTech cluster is opening business opportunities and new markets

The creative and technology industries are converging rapidly and driving cross-sector innovation in the process. Futuristic applications like augmented reality, virtual reality, holographic displays and haptic controls are not simply a great way of enhancing the experience of movie goers, gamers and sports fans.

Manufacturing, engineering, construction, medicine and many other industries are now using creative technology to build and test virtual prototypes and to train people in skilled, real-world procedures.  At the same time, creative industries, from arts and advertising, through film and fashion to music and museums, are embracing technologies that drive efficiencies and increase customer engagement. Whether that’s e-payment systems and other software as a service that automate processes, or AI applications that improve audience access, technology is reshaping the industry at speed. This CreaTech convergence is opening business opportunities and new markets.

With that convergence comes rapidly rising levels of Venture Capital, and talented CreaTech companies across the UK are attracting significant sums from domestic and international investors. In fact, the UK ranks third in the world (after the USA and China) for investment in the sector, having seen a near 100% increase from £499m in 2017 to £982m in 2020. That is more than VCs invested in the next four largest European CreaTech economies combined.

The latest Tech Nation report highlights these growing opportunities for CreaTech firms in the UK and identifies the East of England as one of the four leading clusters for new investment. This makes the Cambridge Norwich Tech Corridor an ideal place for ambitious start-ups and scale-ups looking to take advantage of this growth in demand and investment.

This article highlights just some of the inspirational CreaTech businesses in our region – we are determined to support them, and others like them.

CreaTech in the Tech Corridor

Driving ambitions with Ansible Motion

Have you ever enjoyed the thrill of using a driving simulator in an amusement arcade? If so, you might be amazed by how the creative technology in such immersive games has raced ahead in the last few years. Now manufacturers are using it to put real cars through their paces before they ever hit the test track.

Ansible Motion, based at the Hethel Engineering Centre, specialises in designing, building and operating high-fidelity driving simulators for road and track vehicles. Its simulation tools create such deeply immersive experiences for test drivers that they believe they are operating a real vehicle. A key part of Ansible Motion’s approach to creating this experience is to maximise the driver’s emotional involvement.

It does that by embedding detailed mathematical models of human anatomy, such as the vestibular system that affects our balance and coordination, into the software. This enables the driver to respond to the vehicle and the drive in a more realistic manner, ultimately delivering better feedback data on driver and vehicle performance and how they interact. Its latest simulator is helping car manufacturers to design better and safer vehicles by validating future driver assistance and autonomous technologies.

Nurturing your child's love of books with Reading Mate

Reading Mate, based in Ditchingham in Norfolk, is an ed-tech startup that launched during the Covid-19 lockdown and aims to inspire children to read more, and importantly to read for pleasure rather than just to pass school tests.   Co-founder Hannah Rix, an experienced English teacher, believes reading is a ‘superpower’ that crosses race, gender and class lines and has huge benefits for children across all ages.  Reading has been found to be more important to a child’s prospects than their parent’s socio-economic status and reading to children 3-5 days per week (compared to 2 or less) is believed to boost a child’s reading skills by up to 6 months.  And this doesn’t just apply to the primary school years; children who read books often at age 10 and more than once a week at age 16 gain higher results in maths, vocabulary and spelling tests than those who read less regularly.

Reading Mate aims to help parents to move their children’s gaze away from screens and to nurture a love of reading in their children from a very early age via its free literacy app.  The app provides motivational incentives for young readers, such as fun reward badges and reading streaks for the amount of time reading, as well useful tools for parents such as learning resources and an intuitive book recommendation tool that combines the knowledge of real-life experts with machine learning to provide recommendations as unique as any child.

The Reading Mate app is free and available to download on both iOS and Android devices. For every book bought through Reading Mate, 10p goes to fund reading programmes and for schools in the user’s area. Another 10p goes to literary charities.

Creating alternative realities with Immersive Studios

If you’ve ever been to a virtual holiday resort in the Maldives or test driven a virtual Lotus or Mazda, you may well have experienced the talent of Immersive Studios. That’s because this award-winning production studio in Norwich is one of the pioneers of innovative immersive experiences. Since its founding in 2015, it has built up an expert team of 3D modellers, filmmakers, storytellers, illustrators, artists, developers, designers, fabricators and creative technologists.

The team’s strength lies in its ability to combine exceptional creative ideas with the latest immersive digital technologies. They have been among the pioneers in the fields of virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and 360° video. Their focus has always been on creating cutting-edge brand experiences for clients across numerous sectors both nationally and internationally.

Building the future with XLWerks

Construction is a challenging business at the best of times and mistakes can be extremely costly. Now XLWerks in Norwich is looking to use creative technologies to revolutionise the design and construction process. Founded by James Lee Burgess APM RIBA in 2019, it became one of the first UK businesses to work with the new Microsoft Hololens2 Augmented Reality headsets when they launched in 2020.

This ground-breaking technology enabled them to launch the construct.XR programme, in collaboration with InterRealityLabs and Eggbox Studio. This programme enables architects and contractors to use mixed reality for collaboration and training, so improving coordination and productivity on live construction sites. The construct.XR programme is currently running on two sites.

The first site is at City College Norwich, where the whole team (including Coffey Architects, RG Carter, Clancy Consulting Engineers, Clear Consulting, and Design Mechanical and Electrical Engineers) are working on the new Digi-Tech Factory building. The second site is at Norwich Castle Museum, where Conisbee Structural Engineers are using the programme in their work refurbishing the Grade 1 listed Castle Keep.

XLWerks are using these sites to gain feedback on the construct.XR programme and to identify further opportunities for developing and implementing the programme on live sites. “Our direction of travel this year is as advisors and developers of mixed reality in the design and construction sector,” says James. “We are already working on commissions for the integration of AR into urban environments, as well as the offshore renewables industry.”

Seeing is believing with VividQ

If you are a fan of sci-fi movies, you will almost certainly have loved the moment when someone pushes a button on a small droid and a beautiful hologram appears. Such holographic displays are no longer the preserve of science fiction films and their real-world applications are becoming increasingly sophisticated. VividQ in Cambridge is working to bring fully immersive, real-time holographic experiences to life using AR smart glasses, consumer electronics and a revolutionary suite of algorithms.

This deep tech company draws on its world-leading expertise in computer-generated holography to create high-quality, 3D holographic images that mimic real-life vision and provide a natural viewing experience. It is currently focussed on developing displays for three primary applications: Automotive Heads-Up Display, Augmented Reality Wearables, and 3D Gaming Laptops. In the process VividQ aims to shake up the display industry by transforming the way digital displays work and how viewers engage with them. To learn more about this innovative business, watch their episode in our Disruptors series.

Games go wild with XIST

Whether hunting the zombies or waging war against the cyborgs, XIST in Norwich is set to take your multiplayer gaming experience to the next level. Its innovative free-roaming virtual reality system enables a scalable, fully immersive, haptic-rich experience, free from cumbersome backpack-PCs and motion capture cameras. Instead, the XIST technology uses innovative inside-out tracking and wireless technology to deliver high quality graphics on the move, with no tethering.

The XIST system gives you everything you need to set up a location-based VR venue in any sized space. They have developed the management console with the non-techy in mind. This enables one person to run and manage the entire system from a single iPad interface.

Businesses are also finding that it is an affordable and hassle-free way to create immersive Learning and Development environments in the workplace. Now they no longer need to find off-site venues or pay for expensive kit. This is yet another example of the convergence of a creative technology originally designed for games with real world business environments.

Turning physical things into interactive Thyngs

Thyngs is a physical to digital marketing and payments platform for charities and brand marketers. It uses contactless technology like #QR and #NFC to turn offline marketing assets into high converting digital experiences. Charities and brand marketers use Thyngs to take touch-free payments, reward customer loyalty, and fundraise through campaigns, competitions, and promotions.

The contactless technology is available in every smartphone and so presents a straightforward, low-cost way to create, deploy and manage the Thyngs range of services. The team at Thyngs in Norwich, led by founder Neil Garner, helps clients re-design their physical marketing material and make the engagement process clear to customers. This includes producing clear instructions on how to use their smartphone to interact with the Thyngs enabled objects.

By using the latest digital wallet and proximity technology, the Thyngs process requires minimal forms and data entry. As such, Thyngs has been able to standardise many of the products (such as stickers) and digital experience templates for different services, so making implementation easier and more affordable to clients. This use of technology to turn a previously mundane process into a creative and engaging customer experience is delivering real benefits for charities and brand owners.

Creating new worlds at SKC Games Studio

Sometimes we just want to enjoy playing games: experience-rich games with strong characters and engaging storylines. SKC Games Studio, based at the newly opened EpiCentre on Haverhill Research Park, is on mission to deliver just such a game. This independent, design and development company is working on an original game franchise that combines a fictional story with a non-fictional context.

The game play is ‘open world’, taking in remote and beautiful places that are real as well as some places that are not, or at least not in this world. The game is a story of courage, pride and sacrifice but how it plays out is down to each player, who will face thought provoking decisions that keep them engaged and guessing. “Should I, Shouldn’t I, what about this or that?”: some decisions will have trivial consequences, but others could affect the outcome of the entire game.

Capture your own memories with Chronicle Digital Storytelling

Imagine being able to pick up a photograph of say a long-departed relative and hear that person describing their experience or feelings at the time. Imagine being able to create your own digital archive of memories linking images and audio recordings of your life. What stories might you tell your future self or your own children and grandchildren?

Memories are vital for connecting families, friends and communities, something that seems increasingly important in times when many people suffer from social exclusion. Corporate memories are also important in business, often providing the glue that can hold a brand together even as the personnel change over the years. That’s why Chronicle Digital Storytelling, based at Innovation Martlesham in Suffolk, has devised a beautiful system for capturing memories and bringing them to life through their Innovative Memory Box.

At its simplest it involves adding an adhesive microchip to a photograph that triggers the relevant audio recording to play when you touch the photo to the box. The company guides people through the process of recording their stories to create a unique Memory Box of tactile life stories for your family, firm, or community group. The company also works on broader heritage projects to capture and retell local stories through their digital walking trails using smartphone technology.