VR by royal appointment
Mo Isap is a serial tech entrepreneur whose immersive influence stretches from the factory floors of Manchester to the Royal House of Windsor.
His digital print business Manchester Print Graphics was eventually sold to 3D printing corporation, the Hobs Group, where Isap was a director from 2013 to 2018. His most recent venture, the IN4Group, combines innovation services with start up growth programmes, skills and talent development.
Recent In4 projects include running one of the UK’s biggest skills bootcamps, Skills City, which looks at alternative routes into employment in the tech sector.
The firm also operates games engine giant Unity’s first UK Centre of Excellence at MediaCityUK in Salford – set up to support and encourage innovation in immersive technologies among students, professionals and small businesses.
TechInformed caught up with Isap at DTX Manchester earlier this month to discuss VR uptake among small-to-medium enterprises, training a new generation of tech workers, and exactly how he managed to persuade Queen Elizabeth II to wear a virtual reality headset.
You’ve been working in immersive tech for 15 years – what have been the main enterprise applications?
Very much for promotional aspects of communication. So, when I started into this sector, I worked in the architectural construction world where design-led interaction with clients was critical because immersive tech allowed us to communicate design intent more accurately.
Being able to previsualise building work led to a project with the Royal Household – what did that involve?
About fifteen years ago a group of architects and engineers were doing an extension to the Windsor Farm shop. If you’ve not been there, do go it’s an amazing place – great cakes and pastries and everything else. But the issue was that the Queen was not approving the extension because all the plans were in 2D, and she couldn’t understand it. She was very precious how the shop ran and everything else – that business is worth about £10m a year she wasn’t just going to approve plans until she knew what they meant.
The household was getting frustrated, and it was holding up a lot of things. So, the architects approached us, and we developed a 3D immersive application of the design. The Queen came along and turned out to be a very willing participant. She could then see what the extension was going to look like and so approved it there and then.
Still struggling to imagine the queen with a headset on! Where are you seeing the emerging applications for immersive?
Where we’re moving to now, and where the real opportunities will be is in using immersive as a productivity tool. We’ve got manufacturing clients using immersive for machine maintenance to inspect potential machine failures without having to walk around the floor. And, for product design: replicating production processes in VR to check whether the factory can cope with a certain size and volume. And we’ve had firms like Bentley who’ve now retrained in their engineers to learn immersive technologies because that’s allowed them to start using it in car design.
The sports industry is also starting to experiment – we’ve scanned the entire Manchester City Stadium – the Etihad Stadium – for an immersive application so that when they do events there now, they can see how they will take place within that space. Clubs are also starting to use it on the physio and the health side now too – showing athletes first-hand how certain foods can affect the body in a negative way.
You work with lots of SMEs, why do you see these businesses as the bedrock of enterprise VR uptake?
What’s always been a critical factor for any business is how is this technology going to affect their bottom line. Is this going to be helping their profitability? I read the other day that they’ve done a digital twin of the Titanic to find out how it sank. But we watched the film – it’s obvious! The reality is that immersive must move away from the gimmick world and the vanity side of things. You’ve got to show those use cases in action. That’s how we’re going to get adoption. Immersive technology is forecast to be a $1.5 trillion economy by 2030. But that will not come about if it is not adopted by the bedrock of our economy which is SMEs across all sectors.
How are you supporting others in finding out what those use cases might be?
Anyone who’s interested can come along to our labs and we can help figure out use cases. We have a game tech centre of excellence and the biggest immersive bootcamp operation in the UK, where we can give people opportunity not just to get into the games or entertainment sector but go into health or to go into construction and use this technology.
Tech is so intuitive these days that it’s as much about creativity as it is about learning the STEM subjects at school. You needed people with engineering and coding skills 20 years ago because you had to programme everything – but now it’s not necessarily about learning to code but about how you are going to use those tools to do things better.
Has the death of the metaverse been greatly exaggerated?
The negative press really pisses me off. We simply need to start thinking about ways to use immersive tech to become more productive to enhance how we behave as individuals. There is generational issue at play here too. One of the reasons immersive technologies haven’t really progressed is that when I was selling the tech ten or 15 years ago many of my clients then couldn’t see the potential – If you have a generation who consumer tech like they consume oxygen it’s second nature, it’s about inspiring what you can do with it, and how you can improve it.
Is connectivity still an issue for the average business in Greater Manchester?
It was an issue in the past. You could demo things brilliantly but then you’d go to an industrial sight in Wythenshawe where you are explaining the merits of digital twins to a group of people who can’t even get on the internet. But now all the major operators have rolled out 5G across Manchester and last year Vodafone opened a Multi-access Edge Compute lab at Media City to support the growth of digital industries in the Greater Manchester area. Now that’s a gamechanger – to have somewhere that businessmen and women can come along and explore the productivity benefits if immersive. Because trust me you will not need to evangelise about immersive technologies when that happens. The minute firms can see how they can make efficiencies and boos productivity it will become more ubiquitous, and we will see that translate into the mainstream.
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