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VR Set to Collide With Pop Culture at London Film & Comic Con’s Inaugural VR Zone

As 2016 rolls on, virtual and augmented realities are increasingly hitting the spotlight. We’ll be showcasing the latest developments, connecting with early adopters and networking with the best developers from the UK and beyond at this July’s London Film & Comic Con by powering the event’s inaugural VR Zone. 

What’s the big deal about virtual and augmented realities?

Virtual reality (VR) transports the user out of their everyday world and immerses them in a 360-degree environment. While VR headsets are generally more affordable and accessible at the moment, thanks to low cost headsets such as Google Cardboard and Gear VR, most headsets have to be tethered to a computer. VR has growing applications for videogames, as well as viewing films, sporting and music events and promos for the latest TV series.

Augmented reality (AR) superimposes interactive digital content into the real world, blending real and virtual realities. Unlike VR, AR systems are standalone and don’t need to be tethered to a computer but this evolving technology is more expensive and still largely in development. Many headsets are being developed specifically for businesses and industry, potentially sparking the next Industrial Revolution.

There’s little doubt that VR and AR are going to be big. CCS Insight is predicting that 800,000 VR headsets will be sold in the UK this year—an impressive number for what’s still classed as an emerging industry. In the longer term, VR market revenue is likely to reach $30 billion by 2020, with AR reaching around $90 billion.

The new reality movement needs a central hub, so we’re building it…

PAULEY’s mission is to become the definitive source of information for mixed realities and immersive technologies, and we will be constantly striving to achieve this goal. Our new pages offer a one-stop source of information, news and views for consumers and developers alike.

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Our brand new VR/AR Resource Centre is designed to help users explore science, technology, engineering and maths through our pick of the best immersive, virtual and augmented worlds. Within this microsite, you can browse our favourite 360 videos, apps and games, sort by device and then click straight through to the download site.

We have also created a linked page that details the hardware and peripherals already on the market and those soon set to join it. The aim of this is to empower anyone interested in immersive media by walking them through the options and helping them understand the best way to get involved. Take a look now to see how you can enter virtual and augmented worlds on your own terms by choosing the headset and creation tools that are right for you.

In addition, we’ve created an online community for VR, AR and mixed reality developers. Here, developers will find advice, tips and useful resources for working in the field of VR and AR development. This network will also connect developers with job opportunities, and unite employers with a community of leading British developers.

As always, we’ll continue to publish the most exciting, inspiring, up-to-date news on our Tech Review microsite, where you’ll also find our blog posts and other updates.

Introducing new realities to the London Film & Comic Con’s VR Zone

We’re excited to be hosting this massive event’s very first virtual reality and immersive technologies area, the VR Zone, alongside the annual themes of movies, TV, comics, sports, wrestling, literature and games.

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By showcasing the most inspiring, state-of-the-art developments in the field today, the VR Zone will form a major part of our effort to engage people with emerging technologies, and to raise the profile of VR, AR, and 360 video developers and companies from the UK and beyond.

We will be tapping into the diversity of the London Film & Comic Con’s 100,000 attendees and vast associated media attention, using it as an outstanding opportunity to bring virtual reality right into the centre of the entertainment industry and into people’s lives. We hope to replicate the success of the event’s Young Adult Literature Convention, which runs alongside the main event to attract a youthful demographic and which successfully positions reading in the wider arena of popular culture.

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We’re seeking a few more exciting developers to join us in showcasing their product or solution to a diverse, enthusiastic audience. So please do email info@pauley.co.uk or give us a call on 01908 522 532 if you’re interested in getting involved!

Anyone interested in attending as a visitor can buy Comic Con tickets here.

We hope to see you at the VR Zone to help us celebrate the exciting future of VR, AR and immersive realities!

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Traditional Learning Is Going Immersive, Virtual & Augmented

Schools and other teaching environments are still biased towards making learners listen, read and write in order to take in new information. But the reality is that few of us are inspired—or able—to learn from word-heavy PowerPoint slides or the sound of a lecturer’s voice. Immersive technologies such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), touchscreens, and 3D content can change how we learn for the better.

There are four main types of learners: auditory, visual, reading/writing, and kinaesthetic. Most of us are a mixture of these, but we each tend to have a preferred method of learning new things.

As babies and children, we decipher the world around us by looking at it and interacting with it, so it’s no surprise that those tendencies stay with us for life. Estimates vary, but the vast majority of us are primarily visual and kinaesthetic learners.

Around 40% of people tend to be visual learners, which means that they learn by seeing and visualising mental pictures. A similar percentage of people are thought to be kinaesthetic learners, who conquer concepts by applying all their senses and learn best with hands-on approaches, and approaching problems by trial and error.

Once you understand this, it becomes obvious that immersive technologies are an incredible asset to the vast majority of learners. These immersive methods of interaction break down the barriers between the learner and the content. The popularity of smartphones and tablets is testament to the personal connection and immediacy of the interface. Touchscreens, are all intuitive and don’t require any technical knowledge for the learner to get involved.

Children now play—and learn—more through touchscreens than more traditional toys. And this is something that teachers are starting to realise, too. According to a recent TES survey, 1 in 10 teachers would most like to see VR or AR headsets enter the classroom beyond any other technology, a two-fold increase from last year.

The benefits of immersive technologies for kinaesthetic learning

It’s often hard to properly understand something you have never directly seen or experienced, and for the kinaesthetic learner it’s vital. Unfortunately, this learning style is much neglected in traditional classroom environments.

VR and AR are perfect ways in which to execute hands-on learning. Its multi-sensory experiences allow learners to develop their own personal interpretation of a concept and make connections to other ideas and concepts. These kinds of kinaesthetic activities strip down concepts to something which all learners can understand, without equations or complex and wordy descriptions.

Importantly, this approach also encourages learners to be proactive and do things for themselves—an important life skill.

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The benefits of immersive technologies for visual learning

In VR, learners are surrounded by computer-derived visuals, and in AR, they experience visual information overlaid onto the world around them. So visual learners can really benefit from this high-tech approach.

Images find their way more easily into our long-term memories, especially for primarily visual learners. When paired with a concept, visual learning helps our recall of information.

Neuroscience research also suggests that many of us can learn faster using visual images, with visuals being processed much faster than text in the brain. Plus, visual cues tend to trigger emotional responses more readily. Strong emotional reactions are a major factor influencing information retention.

Immersive technologies for all learners

Although this blog focuses on the benefits of immersive technologies for visual and kinaesthetic learners, such experiences can also be shaped to appeal to auditory and reading/writing learners as well. With VR goggles or AR smart glasses, learners can view, listen, read, and carry out activities at the same time.

The other key aspect of immersive learning is that the experiences can be made stimulating and fun. Finding ways to immerse leaners in a physical experience that represents even the most theoretical subject matter proves immersive and enjoyable, driving trainees to take charge of their own learning. Participation learning makes the process interactive, fun, and as a result, more memorable.

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The role of immersive technologies in workplace learning

For people working in physical, hands-on environments that are constantly changing—engineers and construction workers, for example—VR/AR training can be especially relevant and effective.

And we’ve seen this in action. With our award-winning immersive courses and virtual reality suite at the National Training Academy for Rail (NTAR) in Northampton, we’ve already modernised and converted over 4,000 pages of traditional paper based courses into engaging learning experiences.

By wearing a VR headset or accessing 3D content on touchscreens, trainees are able to familiarise themselves with the workings of a train, right down to the nuts and bolts, in a safe and effective learning environment. Such experiences just wouldn’t be possible on the railway tracks or through traditional paper-based and classroom training techniques.

The high levels of interactivity required by engaging mentally and physically with a virtual environment drive accelerated learning, higher results and pass rates thanks to increased memorability. Meanwhile, consistency and quality have been enhanced.

If you’d like to find out more about how VR and other immersive technologies could transform training within your business, get in touch for a chat.

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Blending Reality in Classrooms for the Benefit of All

Long gone are the days of rote learning around the blackboard with the teacher holding a half-broken piece of chalk. Classrooms have become more hi-tech, with interactive whiteboards now a standard centrepiece for group learning, and increasing numbers of teachers eager to experiment with the latest touchscreens and mobile devices. Could virtual reality (VR) be the next big thing?

VR training has already been widely adopted by commercial companies, games developers and the military. Even in the medical field, more devices and apps are catering to improving the skills of doctors and surgeons using both virtual and mixed reality.

Interest in VR is growing exponentially into other sectors, such as education, because of the rapid technological advances in the hardware (see this recent blog for our review of the field). Portable headsets are now making immersive experiences possible in everyday settings.

The advantages of VR in education

Researchers in the field have already seen the benefits of VR in schools.  It seems, when used correctly, that this approach can strengthen the overall learning experience.

It’s often stated that the typical person can remember 20% of what we hear, 30% of what we see and up to 90% of what we do or experience. That gives some clue to the revolutionary effectiveness of VR—what we call active participation learning.

Advantages include:

  • Simplifying learning by more direct communication of concepts and less symbolism, reducing the cognitive load when students are learning.
  • Enabling the student to have a completely personal learning experience.
  • Increasing attention span as a result of doing something enjoyable and motivating.
  • Providing the ability to see and experience things/places that couldn’t otherwise be accessed.
  • Encouraging group activity and interaction—and even global link-ups.
  • Offering students a boost to their digital literacy and computing skills.
  • Boosting a teacher’s ability to be creative with content in a brand new medium.
  • Improving opportunities for students who struggle to make sense of traditional forms of communication, e.g. children with dyslexia.

VR for teaching science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM)

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There are huge opportunities for VR across the breadth of education but STEM subjects may be set to benefit the most from immersing students in content.

The success of Minecraft goes some way towards demonstrating this. This videogame—which involves creating structures inside 3D environments—made the leap into schools as educators realised its potential. Minecraft has been successful in improving visual-spatial skills and collaboration between students as they build scale models and “walk through” the structures they have created.

VR takes that one step further by immersing students in a virtual world. In a VR environment, students can walk around mathematical graphs and 3D surfaces, explore examples of complex engineering up close, and experiment in a laboratory without fear of doing anything dangerous or costly. It is possible to take a tour through the human body, from the perspective of a blood cell or molecule.

The World of Comenius project, for example, is using Oculus Rift headsets and Leap Motion controllers to deliver educational content. Still in development, the final program may include experience such as playing around with atoms at the quantum level, meeting people from history and exploring their world, or swimming around inside a cell.

The Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Initiative has created a VR experience in which students can snorkel down the Conasauga River to explore its biodiversity and the issues of pollution and conservation.

Immersive 360-degree videos are proliferating on Facebook and YouTube, giving viewers a sense of depth in every direction. New consumer gadgets such as Samsung’s Gear 360 camera will make creating these types of videos straightforward for anyone, too.

Short documentaries are already being made specifically for viewing in VR, which temporarily transport the viewer into complex and difficult situations such as civil unrest in Hong Kong and the Ebola epidemic.

A new kind of learning experience

Using VR in education may actually alter the way in which we learn as it blurs and redefines the boundaries of formal education. Experiences can start to reach far beyond the classroom.

VR is a way to not only consume content but also to create content as part of the learning experience. Students can get involved with programming, problem solving and exploration of this new technology.

New VR learning platforms will offer teachers and students the ability to create avatars and create multi-player sessions to achieve a previously unattainable level of socialisation and outreach.

VR technologies such as 8i will allow 3D videos of teachers to be seen in VR—allowing students not only to see and listen to them, but also to walk around them and feel that they are sharing the same room. This remote, emotional connection would be ideal for tutoring at a distance, virtual classrooms and eventually live streaming conversations.

In the future, as augmented reality (AR) becomes accessible the opportunities are even more exciting, because students could visualise holographic-style media overlaid onto their real world surroundings.

Making VR a reality

It’s true that the vast majority of VR and AR technologies already on the market—or soon to be released—are relatively expensive pieces of kit, mainly targeting developers. Yet, as uptake increases, prices are set to become more affordable.

Low-cost routes into VR are available through simpler devices such as Google Cardboard that can be purchased for around £10 and make use of normal smartphones. Google’s Expeditions initiative is aiming to bring “virtual field trips” to every classroom.

At PAULEY, we’re passionate about integrating new forms of virtual, augmented and mixed reality into education to give pioneering educators an exciting opportunity to accelerate learning. With VR, here are truly no boundaries to where we can go and what we can learn.

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The Future of Mobile is Augmented

At the moment, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are focussed on industry and gaming applications, with the average consumer unlikely to start buying into the technology until 2017.

The rise of these technologies is unstoppable. AR market revenue is now forecast to reach $90 billion by 2020, eventually outcompeting VR, which is likely to reach $30 billion. At the moment, VR is more openly available and has emerging uses beyond videogames, in viewing films and sporting events.

Ultimately, we’re likely to see the two technologies merging into a new “mixed reality”. There’s huge opportunity for smartphone manufacturers to consider this by creating devices fitted with AR cameras and sensors.

So what kinds of AR and VR technologies are already out there? It’s the major developers like Microsoft, Google and Samsung that are grabbing the headlines, but there’s much more going on in the field of augmented reality than you might first think. We’ve summarised the key players and emerging competitors here.

VIRTUAL REALITY

Virtual reality (VR) transports the user out of their everyday world and immerses them in a 360-degree environment. It gives users the chance to experience things that would be impossible in real life. While VR is generally more affordable and accessible at the moment, most headsets have to be tethered to a computer, limiting the range of interaction. Motion sickness can be an issue for some users but developers are working to overcome this.

The Oculus Rift headset is now available for pre-orders. At a pricey $599, the kit does include the headset, an XBox One controller and wireless receiver, remote and two VR games. Oculus also powers the mobile VR Samsung Gear (see next section).

Rumoured to be launching in Autumn 2016, PlayStation VR will bring VR gaming to a big audience and has the opportunity to turn it mainstream. However, many of the details are still under wraps.

On the other hand, the OSVR system (Open Source Virtual Reality) is designed to bring developers together to push forward the boundaries of VR. Focussed on gaming, it can be run on anything from a mid-tier gaming PC upwards. Its open source nature means that anyone with the right skills can build their own headset and adapt it as they see fit.

The HTC Vive is likely to be opening for pre-orders soon, and the waiting list is open for FOVE.

Setting itself up as the VR playground of the future, The Void team is working on its own RAPTURE head mounted display. This is very different to other VR experiences, because players move around a specially-created physical environment. Players on location in this “virtual entertainment centre” will also be equipped with haptic vests and guns, which offer real-time, physical feedback to events happening inside the game.

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AUGMENTED REALITY

Augmented reality (AR) superimposes interactive digital content into the real world. Unlike VR, AR systems are standalone and don’t need to be tethered to a computer. But this evolving technology is much pricier, putting it out of reach of the average consumer for the foreseeable future.

The big names in augmented reality are focussed on creating immersive, highly interactive and collaborative experiences, utilising gesture tracking and other technologies suitable for a broad range of applications.

It remains almost completely shrouded in mystery, but if successful, Magic Leap could open up AR to consumers—potentially transforming the industry. Recently gathering hundreds of millions of dollars in a series C funding, the company is working on an AR device that projects virtual images onto the real world.

Microsoft’s AR platform, HoloLens, is a holographic computer built into a headset. Completely self-contained, it allows the user to see, hear and interact with holograms being projected into their surroundings. High-definition lenses and spatial sound technology will create the immersive experience they promise.

Microsoft will be launching a developer’s edition of the device in early 2016, at a price of around $3,000. The company are already working with industrial partners on developing commercial applications for the device.

Set to launch any day now, a demo of Meta at a recent TED conference certainly went down well with the crowd. It showcased realistic holograms that can be turned, pulled apart and manipulated in mid-air, and the ability to collaborate with another user. While the demo involved use of a headset tethered to a computer monitor, the company say the computer will no longer be needed by next year.

Using an Android-based platform, the Atheer AiR system looks set to provide a rich AR experience. The headset is fitted with a 3D camera for gesture interaction, dual RGB cameras, stereo 3D displays with a wide field of view, microphone and suite of sensors.

The company sells a cloud-based software suite alongside the headset for building AR programs. While the first packs are shipping out in 2016, they’ll set you back a whopping $3,950.

Designed for the construction industry, the Daqri Smart Helmet AR system uses an Intel computer and visor for projecting information in front of the user’s vision. The Daqri Smart Helmet is also fitted with a 360-degree video to allow the wearer to scan his or her surroundings. It’s already being piloted with over 100 industrial partners.

Step-by-step work instructions, thermal vision readouts, live telecommunication with colleagues and data visualisations can be displayed to the wearer with the aim of creating a “safer, more productive, work environment”.

Smart glasses

As well as these immersive, interactive headset AR systems, there are a number of “smart glasses” in development that offer a more straightforward interface by way of heads-up displays, including LAFORGE Optical, Vuzix, Epson’s Moverio BT-200, K-Glass and the “world’s first augmented reality headphones,” ORA-X.

These approaches perhaps aren’t as sophisticated as the immersive, interactive holograms proposed by HoloLens and Magic Leap, but they’re accessible and potentially useful for both leisure and commerce.

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THE FUTURE OF MOBILE MIXED REALITY

Mixed reality—merging of the best aspects of the real, virtual and augmented worlds—is the future. It’s feasible that we’ll have the opportunity to bounce between VR and AR experiences. And users will want the ability to do that packaged up into one, affordable product.

Take one look at mobile VR and the most accessible device—the Google Cardboard—uses a normal smartphone and can be purchased for as little as $10. Even other options such as the Samsung Gear VR  and Fibrum have much more affordable price tags and offer the convenience of utilising the user’s own smartphone.

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Demand from consumers is likely to see the accessibility of mobile devices merging the real world with the holographic interaction of AR and the complete immersion of VR.

Here at PAULEY, we’ve re imagined the smartphone, equipping it with cameras and sensors to scan the user’s surroundings and detect gestures. We recommend Smartphone manufacturers offer the ability to provide VR and AR experiences with online content and live streaming – resulting in a single mixed reality device.

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How Will Nanotechnology Drive the Future of Transportation?

Nanotechnology is the use and engineering of materials at the nanoscale. Well below the microscale, this is the molecular world, where the things we’re talking about are just a billionth of a metre across. Things behave very differently here and that’s giving engineers lots of new ideas and abilities.

Nanotechnology isn’t anything new. But what is newly emerging is that we’re starting to become capable of engineering these “super materials” to our exact specifications and produce them on a larger, more industrial scale.

Graphene, for example, is a carbon sheet the thickness of a single atom. Yet, it is stronger than steel and possesses a huge range of incredibly useful properties, such as electrical conductivity, absorption of white light, and tolerance to temperature and pH change. Haydale are one of the companies manufacturing it for applications in transport.

Developing nanomaterials for the transport industries is a vital route forward to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from this huge sector, which produces a quarter of all the EU’s emissions. How? By making planes, trains and other vehicles lighter and modifying their surfaces and components to save on fuel—and potentially by completely changing the fuels they use.

Along the way, we could discover plenty more ways to use nanomaterials to improve and refine the machines we use to explore the world.

Lighter, faster & greener

Lockheed Martin has already used materials containing carbon nanofibres—so-called nanocomposites—in the Juno spacecraft and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

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A F-35 Joint Strike Fighter

These materials—often polymers containing fibres such as carbon nanotubes—are often incredibly strong and highly resistant to corrosion, vibration and fire, but are less dense those traditionally used. They are already being used to replace some of the metals usually used to form the frames in aircraft. Such a nanotechnology composite may be much lighter than a metal alloy, resulting in huge and ongoing fuel savings.

Nanostructured metals can add additional strength in vulnerable areas of vehicles. For aeroplanes in particular, areas under stress—sections around doors and windows, the undercarriage and parts of the plane especially open to bird strikes—can be better protected by nanomaterials.

Super surfaces & smart sensors

Smart, multifunctional coatings are also being researched. Playing with the surface of a material at the nanoscale can reduce friction and drag, increasing durability at the same time. Such nano-coatings are already being used on turbine blades and mechanical components of aircraft.

Other nanoscale-thick films and coatings could make vehicle surfaces fend off dirt, water, light, scratches, bacteria and even fog more easily. A lot of these paints and coatings are of great use to the automotive industry, as they have such excellent benefits for consumers. Who wouldn’t want a self-cleaning car that doesn’t scratch?

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A multi-walled carbon nanotube

The company Lamda Guard is working with Airbus to test their windshield film that although completely transparent, can deflect unwanted bright lights or lasers from the pilot’s vision. 

Nanotechnology sensors are also being developed for a range of applications that would require very little energy to function. They could be used to detect the release of dangerous chemicals in the holds of aircraft or monitor the safety of various structures and components.

Engines and energy changes

New catalysts include nanomaterials that help reduce fuel consumption. Nanoparticles are also being added to fuels to help them burn better inside the engine, resulting in lower fuel consumption, less exhaust and a cleaner engine.

For the automotive industry in particular, the move towards electric vehicles is gathering speed. Nanotechnology may be able to help with this by helping to improve fuel cell efficiency.

For some, the vision of new future fuels powered by nanotechnology is even more ambitious. EADS Innovation Works is working with the University of Glasgow to develop a new storage system that would bring hydrogen-powered aircraft closer to reality by safely storing the gas in a solid state.

Advancing infrastructure with nanotechnology

Nanotechnology isn’t just useable for vehicles—it will slowly change our transport infrastructure for the better.

As we’ve already described for vehicles, nano-composites will make roads, runways and rails stronger and more resilient, helping them perform better in the process.

New materials could generate, store or transmit energy and provide constant, unobtrusive monitoring of the condition and performance of surfaces and road structures. It is even possible that road sensors would be able to communicate with drivers to help them maintain their road position, seek out routes and avoid other vehicles.

Nanotechnology is already stretching beyond Earth and into space. NASA, BAE Systems and other researchers and manufacturers are confident that tiny, lightweight electronics and lighter structures will become a key feature of satellites and spacecraft. And nano-electronics is likely to pave the way for satellites—and vehicles on Earth—to become fully autonomous. Doubtless, nanotechnology is key to the future of transport.

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5 Ways To Drive Learning Innovation

We’re delighted with the news that PAULEY has been shortlisted for not just one, but two leading industry awards. In celebration, we’ve created a list of the five top ways to bring innovation into your organisation’s learning, training and development.

We’ve been nominated as a result of the advanced eLearning and virtual reality tools we’ve created for the state-of-the-art, multi-million pound National Training Academy for Rail (NTAR).

As a joint entry, PAULEY and NTAR are up for an award in “Training and Development” at the UK Rail Industry Awards 2016 and for “Innovation in Learning” at the Learning and Performance Institute’s 2016 Learning Awards.

Both awards ceremonies will be held in February, when the winners will be announced. Our fingers are crossed!

We’re incredibly proud of these successes, no matter what the final outcome. It’s fantastic to see the first UK rail trainees starting to use—and be inspired by—the immersive learning experiences we’ve created for them.

So, how can you start innovating with your in-house training and development?

NTAR_066Here are five ways to get started…

1. Experiment and spread your bets

Innovation isn’t cheap and the nature of it is that you find out what works and what doesn’t as you go along. Not everything is going to be a success just because you throw money at it. However, finding something that does work could save a huge amount on training costs and give you a rapid return on investment.

Start by investing in several smaller innovation projects, in the hope that one or two of them will prove their staying power. Depending on the size of your organisation, you could choose to work on these in parallel, or develop one at a time, learning from one to build on the next iteration.

2. Look at your learning culture

Companies at the cutting edge, such as Google, famously allow their employees time for pursuing personal projects. They argue that this time is essential for fostering innovation.

While you may not have the resources to give your staff a day every week to daydream, there are ways of gathering their ideas and encouraging creativity. Be sure to gather feedback from your employees on their learning and development and make sure it’s listened to. Or try running group debates or brainstorms to gather new ideas.

3. Find the key staff to achieve the vision

Every project needs spokespeople. Seek out the employees who seem to have an affinity to new technology and innovation and ask them what they think, give them ownership. Hopefully, their enthusiasm will be contagious and will spread upwards and downwards through your organisation to drive support for greater investment in innovative learning.NTAR_057

4. Find accessible technology partners

We’re always willing to offer free consultations and hands-on demos to organisations who know they want to innovate their learning but aren’t sure how. Choosing an innovation partner who is willing to create a bespoke solution for your organisation is vital.

5. Start small, aim high

We’ve worked with companies who have started simply: for example, by converting their paper-based CPD courses into electronic content. Often, those companies then see the results and want to go the extra step, and then maybe the next one, often all the way up to creating virtual reality classrooms by way of steady, incremental increases in innovation.

Those steps along the way are vital for smaller and medium-sized organisations in particular: you see what works best for your people and can gather funding one stage at a time until you have a range of transformative learning experiences that works for all.

If you’d like to explore how our cutting edge solutions could transform the way people learn in your organisation, please get in touch today!

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All change: Virtual becomes a reality for training in the UK rail industry

The use of virtual reality simulation in commercial training is gathering momentum. This week, Rail Minister Claire Perry opened the new £7million National Training Academy for Rail (NTAR) in Northampton and I was delighted to show Claire and other industry officials attending the launch just how much training has evolved in UK rail industry today.

PAULEY has developed the state-of-the-art virtual reality immersive training suite which sits at the hub of NTAR. We’ve used a combination of 3D modelling, virtual reality headsets and touch screen technology to deliver a real-life ‘hands on’ learning experience that will inspire and educate the next generation of engineers and apprentices and upskill people within the industry as well as those entering from other sectors.

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This is the first time that virtual reality headsets have been used for commercial training in the rail industry. It was great to see NTAR General Manager Simon Rennie’s vision coming to fruition and so many people trying out the fruits of our labour at the facility. In her opening speech, Claire highlighted the importance of joint industry and government initiatives like this in supporting economic growth, solving the burgeoning skills crisis in the rail industry and creating a world-class centre of excellence.

During the past six months we’ve transformed over 4,000 pages of training courses into 25 interactive learning modules, giving students the opportunity to get to grips with all of the critical components and warning systems found inside today’s high-tech train cabs. By simply wearing a VR headset, trainees are able to familiarise themselves with the workings of a train, right down to the nuts and bolts, in a safe and effective learning environment that just wouldn’t be possible down on the railway tracks or through traditional paper-based and classroom training techniques.

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For years e-learning and other methods of digital training have aspired to create an experience that closely replicates the classroom environment. At NTAR, we’re bringing training alive by using virtual reality to create a highly immersive, engaging and hands-on-learning experience that is far superior to classroom training.

Industry analyst Juniper forecasts that by 2020 some 30 million virtual reality headsets will be sold globally for consumer and business use, with hardware retail revenues set to exceed £3bn.  This initiative demonstrates the potential of virtual reality to engage today’s tech-savvy learners and to develop critical technical skills that are urgently needed across a host of different industry sectors. We are very fortunate to be part of this new wave of learning and it’s great to see so much innovation and industry collaboration taking place right here in the UK rail industry.

If you’d like to explore how virtual reality could transform the way people learn in your organisation and try out our courses first hand then do please get in touch.

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Improve Your Website From a Gamification Perspective

A step-by-step guide

Launching a new website can be a challenging and stressful time… we should know! A few weeks ago we relaunched the PAULEY website after a major design upgrade. We’d taken advantage of the latest web technologies to create a more interesting and engaging user experience.

The website looked great, but how did we know it was working? Was it doing the job we needed it to do?

Your website is one of your most important marketing assets. But it can be tricky to figure out whether it’s working as hard as it should be.

As part of the upgrade process we utilised HubSpot’s Website Grader—a free website verification tool, which analyses key metrics to address the performance, mobile responsiveness, SEO and security of your site to make sure it’s reaching your target audience. You could also try Google’s PageSpeed tools, although they’re not quite as user-friendly.

After analysing your website, the tool will return a score out of 100, providing useful information and insights about its overall performance to improve your website. Within a few days, we’d figured out how to bump up our score from 64% to the elusive 100%. And it’s something you can do, too.

Website Grader’s great example of gamified marketing makes the process enjoyable and addictive. Can you score 100%?

Let us take you through a step-by-step guide to how you can maximise your online presence.

1. Improving your site’s performance

This functional assessment of how your site can be improved has the most steps. There are seven key metrics you’ll need to work on:

Page size

This analyses the size of your website’s homepage. In order to achieve a positive score, you must ensure your homepage is less than 3MB in size. We did this by:

  • Removing any redundant code
  • Compressing images\ videos to reduce their file size
  • Avoiding too many custom font files
  • Using a CDN (Content Delivery Network) for such files as jQuery
  • Utilising CSS image sprite technology

Page requests

This looks at the number of HTTP requests your website page is making. In order to score a positive mark and improve your website, you must reduce this number to below 30. We achieved this by:

  • Removing any redundant CSS \ JavaScript files
  • Combining CSS code into 1 single file
  • Combining JavaScript code into 1 or 2 files
  • Utilising CSS image sprite technology

Page speed

This looks at the amount of time it takes to fully render your website (the faster, the better). In order to achieve a positive score, the time taken must be less than 3 seconds. We managed to speed up our website’s load time by:

  • Removing any redundant code
  • Removing any redundant CSS \ JavaScript files
  • Utilising Browser Caching
  • Optimising and compressing all images \ videos to help lower their file size
  • Using services such as FontAwesome to replace some images with their equivalent font icon
  • Compressing any CSS \ JavaScript files

Browser caching

This checks to see if caching has been enabled. By doing this, it enables past visitors of your website to view any previous viewed page again without downloading the images, videos and scripts a second time, or if their Internet connection becomes limited or unavailable. To enable caching, speak to your website hosting company regarding enabling Apache’s mod_expires.c and adjusting the .htaccess file.

Page redirects

This checks that you’re not using any page redirects—a technique used when directing a user from one URL to another. In order to achieve a positive score you must ensure that no page redirects are active, as this will inevitably slow down your page loading time. Therefore any active page redirects should be removed or disabled as soon as possible.

Compression

This checks to see if your CSS and JavaScript files have been compressed. By compressing CSS and JavaScript files you will help reduce their overall file size and thus achieve a faster load time and a reduction in bandwidth consumption. If you’re not comfortable with compressing files yourself, then you’ll find an array of useful online tools, such as JavaScript Compression and CSS Compression.

Render blocking

Render blocking can have a detrimental effect on your website’s loading time, and it’s often the result of CSS and JavaScript code keeping your website from loading quickly. Improve your website by:

  • Combining your CSS \ JavaScript into the least number files possible
  • Putting complex JavaScript files at the bottom of your site
  • Avoiding the use of @import to call CSS files
  • Correctly labelling your CSS files (ie: media=”print”)

Screen Shot 2015-09-08 at 14.23.402. Making your site mobile-friendly

It’s now vital that all websites have a mobile-optimised version, because not doing so could result in your ranking being penalised by search engines such as Google.

But you might need a professional to help you: This process can often demand a high level of time and financial investment, depending on your website’s size and complexity.

Creating a responsive design creates a fluid experience, and allows your website to adapt its layout for a multitude of different device sizes, such as desktops, tablets and smartphones. Responsive sites also avoid the need for a separate tablet and mobile optimised version.

Website grader also looks at the ‘view ports’ metric, which checks for any valid view ports code. This is the method in which the size of your website is controlled by the size of the device you’re viewing it on, such as a desktop, tablet or smartphone. Additionally it allows for better control when showing or hiding particular elements from certain device screen sizes.

3. Getting SEO to work for you

Search Engine Optimisation is a poorly understood area, but Website Grader breaks it down into four metrics to make it more approachable:

Page titles

Page titles are vitally important coding tags which are used to display the current page name in your web browser, and used by search engines when rendering search results. Page titles should always be unique, under 70 characters long, and should directly describe the page being viewed.

META description

Hidden within the code, META descriptions explain the content of the page being viewed, and help search engines and other external services to gain a better understanding of what they’re looking at. META descriptions should be no more than 155 characters long, and with a small amount of coding experience, META descriptions can easily be added into a page to improve your website.

Headings

This checks that your website is correctly utilising heading tags (H1, H2), which are used to describe the sections of your website’s page. If your score is showing in the red, then it’s necessary to check you’re using heading tags in the correct manner.

Sitemap

An XML sitemap can help search engines index and understand your website better. Therefore, if your score is showing in the red, try introducing an XML sitemap. Ideally a Sitemap should be generated manually for better control, but there are several external services that can attempt to automatically generate the sitemap for you.

4. Securing your site

This one’s easy, but simple solutions don’t come for free!

A Security Certificate, also known as a SSL Certificate (Secure Sockets Layer) helps to protect your website from security attacks by encrypting communications between the user and website server. It also creates trust with your website users by demonstrating you’re a verified website and a trusted source.

Typically, security certificates can be obtained directly from your website hosting company, and generally cost less than $100 to purchase and install.

Conclusions

We challenge you to get 100% for your organisation’s website!

We love Website Grader’s clear visuals and gamified marketing—exactly the kind of approach we use in our eLearning and Digital Sales programs to encourage trainees and pull in buyers.

And if you still need help with how to improve your website, then we’d be happy to assist. Good luck!

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Experiential Marketing: Exploiting Next Generation Tech

Experiential marketing places individuals, or groups of people, into an immersive, branded environment. This massively growing field is defined as an experience with some kind of physical interaction that goes far beyond passively watching a screen or a presentation.

What’s the point of experiential marketing?

It’s vital to grasp the fact that, despite the tech-focussed natures of Millennials, physical experiences are still more powerful than any other approach for new generations of customers. In fact, 78% are more inclined to become part of a brand if they have some kind of “face-to-interface” interaction. So get it right and you’re onto a winner.

Experiences that give rise to positive emotions and generate memorable mental imagery in potential customers are incredibly valuable to any brand. Designed well, with a little creative spark, such interactions create a closer bond between the brand and the consumer by immersing them in a fun and memorable experience.

On the surface, the engagement numbers might not convince you. But experiential marketing is all about quality over quantity. Carefully target the right people at the right time with a high quality interactive experience, and they’ll come back again and again, over a long period of time. This customer lifetime value (CLV) is a highly prized metric.

The not-too-distant future

Remember the personalised, holographic adverts featured in Minority Report? This type of highly personalised experience is likely to become an important part of marketing.

Cameras and facial recognition systems can already be used to determine the gender, ethnicity and emotional reaction of audiences to content on an interactive screen. Imagine if that content could be customized to each person in the audience!

Tracking technologies such as RFID (radio-frequency identification) tags could soon be fully integrated into events and experiences, allowing developments such as intelligent signage, and personalized sound, video, lighting… the list goes on. Beacons on physical objects could unlock interactive content in a live event or retail space.

Next generation tech NOW

Treating a handful of potential customers to a sky dive might help your company sell its energy drinks with an unforgettable experience, but it’ll cost the earth. So, marketing executives are teaming up with digital agencies such as ours to pioneer the future.

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Emerging digital technologies – platforms such as mobile apps, Microsoft Kinect, biometric recognition software, virtual reality, and the much-hyped Magic Leap augmented reality – can mimic this kind of experience in a way that’s portable, repeatable and reaches more customers in a cost effective way in all aspects of life, including trade shows, pop-up shops, and meetings around the world.

The tools are all out there – it’s just a case of putting them to use imaginatively. By combining the real world with the digital world, we’re creating a new era of experiential marketing in which the customer can “touch” or “interact” with your product.

Here at PAULEY, we’ve been using drones, Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets, and interactive content not solely for marketing, but also to deliver immersive training and sales tools.

Brands can extend the reach of their experiential marketing by encouraging customers to create their own content, making something that is tangible and shareable beyond the lifetime of the event. And social media can be integrated into marketing events to make the experience stretch further.

We’re always keen to work with companies with grand plans for using next generation digital technologies. Get in touch to discuss your ideas and we’ll make them a reality!

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