As our restrictions continue, every business owner is pondering how COVID-19 will impact their company and what challenges the wider economy will face when this dark cloud eventually lifts. The ‘Wartime Economy’ seems to be a fitting analogy, as some businesses thrive others will flounder. Social distancing restrictions have led to a popular surge in everything ‘virtual’. As a Virtual Reality production studio, we’re hopeful that this trend will continue after we exit these troubled times.
At Mersus Technologies the year began with a great sense of optimism. In January, our new Avatar Academy Platform, which provides Virtual Reality Training solutions for businesses, received the runner-up for ‘Best Training and Development’ program at the National Manufacturing Awards. Global Management consulting firm, Boston Consulting Group, went on to describe our new platform as “the best VR application for Life Science on the market”. The power of their testimonial brought our work to the attention of a large American training institution, just before the clouds of COVID-19 descended.
The safety of our team and their families took first priority first and on March 16, we followed the advice of the HSE and shut down the office. As a technology company, we were in the lucky position that we could quickly adapt to remote working. Morning start-up meetings with the team and conversations with clients moved from face-face interactions to conference calls or Zoom. Our intention is to return to our desks in Golden Island, as soon as the restrictions lift. Gone, however, will be our cohort of placement students. Given our commitment to up and coming talent, we sorely feel this as a lost opportunity for them and for us. Every year, we offer the opportunity to many students to experience a flavour of the modern media production studio. In return, we get to see the next generation of talent.
Theoretically, the future should be bright given that the pandemic is driving the adoption of Virtual Reality (VR) and therefore demand for the media we make. Creating the ‘real-time’ media is a highly complex process, and incredibly labour intensive, in terms of the skills involved. There are no college degrees to be had at this vanguard of technology. Trial and error is the way to earn the required knowledge. More orders for us will require more operatives and the sourcing of this new talent will be on top of our list of requirements. On a recent visit, Minister Heather Humphreys commented on the vigour and enthusiasm of our team. Access to capital will be a vital support for all small to medium businesses emerging from this crisis. It’s our hope that the government will follow through with its pledge to support small business and to maintain employment levels, in particular in rural areas, post-COVID-19.
The latest addition to our Avatar Academy is a feature called ‘multi-user virtual conferencing’. This allows users to participate in real-time meetings with other users worldwide in a virtual space using avatars. Avatars are virtual representations of a particular person in a virtual space. In time we will all have our own avatar. Recently, I had my mother in cyberspace chatting away with my brother Tokyo, eight time zones away with no delay or lag in the conversation. And no, we do not have this already with Zoom, Skype or Microsoft Teams. They are video conferencing platforms, not fully immersive experiences. Spatial computing media far exceeds the existing platforms in terms of the sense of presence it allows. ‘Real-time’ meetings are set to be the next generation of communications.
There is a huge opportunity in this sector that to date has been overlooked or is not getting the attention it ought too. A Waterford based company, VR Education, is leading the world in educating students through Virtual Reality with their new platform ‘Engage’. They are now publicly listed on the London stock exchange where their stock price has doubled in the last two months. Currently, in Ireland, the Immersive industry has gotten very little support and investment overall. The past couple of decades has been all about the creation of ‘rich media’ (video and hyperlinked pages) for the internet. The years ahead will see a rise in demand for this new dynamic ‘real-time’ media that powers Virtual Reality headsets for a ‘computer native’ generation.
Consider the lessons that technology has taught us. The scalability of software combined with an ever diminishing cost of hardware accelerates the adoption of technology. Take a look at the mobile phone and the impact it has had on society. The other day I had to explain to my seven-year-old daughter what the phone box in Custume Place was for! The Wright brothers who conquered the skies owned a bicycle shop and with the help of their friends and neighbours pioneered the first powered flight back in 1903. Grit and determination are essential when it comes to innovation. Necessity might be invention’s mother but perseverance plays a leading role in any inventor’s journey. Orville and Wilbur had it ‘in spades’.
For anyone wanting to find out more about what Mersus please get in contact as we welcome all inquiries. The majority of our team are from around Athlone area and each year we facilitated up to 30 students to visit and work within our operation including transition Year students, Erasmus visitors and College work placements. Demand for ‘real-time’ media content creators will soar in the coming years. With the support of government and a workforce trained in the correct skills, Ireland will become a global leader in the Virtual Reality space.
Geoffrey Allen is the Director of Mersus Technologies. For further information visit AvatarAcademy.io or email him at hello [at] mersus.io