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Putting VR to the test: Assessing the benefits and overcoming the challenges

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To most people, virtual reality is synonymous with gaming, but its potential stretches well beyond into managing complex healthcare issues, such as pain and anxiety.

Healthcare virtual reality start-up Rescape Innovation has developed a solution that has shown huge promise in many different healthcare scenarios – pain management, palliative care, dementia care, paediatrics and even supporting healthcare professionals struggling with stress and burnout.

Before it can be implemented at scale in these settings, however, the solution must address several important factors, including safety, usability, comfort with the technology, as well as adjusting for different clinical environments. This is where collaboration with UWTSD’s ATiC (Assistive Technologies Innovation Centre) as part of the European-funded Accelerate programme is proving so important to realising commercial objectives.

Testing the DR.VR ecosystem

ATiC’s early research has been focused on looking at how DR.VR is being used in different environments.

According to Dr Sean Jenkins, ATiC R&D lead, feedback on the benefits of the solution have been extremely positive with regards to how it is helping patients. For example, when used with dementia patients who are often disoriented and distressed, DR.VR has helped those individuals to understand where they are, what is happening at that moment in time and even have a conversation with a loved one. Confirmation of these findings will require more clinical trials, and Rescape is working to develop these trials.

Research is also being carried out to determine challenges with how the solution is deployed in different care settings, such as palliative care versus use in an anaesthesiology department. This information will help Rescape to address any potential redesigns needed or the addition of specific features to assist with deployment.

The team asks questions about the kinds of patients using the solution, expectations and objectives when using the system, ease and comfort with deploying the solution, all the way down to opinion about the locks and catches on the box and how users carry the solution.

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Dr Jenkins points out that often small usability issues can affect users’ confidence with expensive equipment so addressing those, perhaps with minor tweaks, can help to encourage greater uptake.

Dr Jenkins explains: “Design researchers learn a lot by the way people mis-use products, as this gives us insight into the kind of environment and pressures they are dealing with and why they might have cut corners or missed information.”

Next steps in development journey

The findings ATiC makes in its initial research will help to inform the next stage in the co-development process between Rescape, ATiC and Cardiff University’s Professor of Pharmaceutical Microbiology, Jean-Yves Maillard, who is advising on microbial contamination. The findings will also help to determine whether instructions need to be adjusted for easier understanding and the type of training that might be needed to ensure DR.VR is used to its fullest capacity.

For example, ATiC uses eye tracking capabilities in its laboratory to test whether users are reading instructions as intended, while behavioural observation technologies allow ATiC to assess how many times users deviate from the protocol, make errors or omit steps. Once this information is gathered, ATiC can make recommendations, such as how to change instructions, perhaps with more graphics, to improve understanding. 

Find out more about the facilities at ATIC.

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Rescape CEO Matt Wordley says: “We need to know our product is being used the right way and, if not, understand why not and ensure we train users on DR.VR’s full capabilities. After all, there is no point in designing an amazing product if you don’t teach people to use it properly.”

Putting VR to the Test: Assessing the Benefits and Overcoming the Challenges

VR as a medical device (Image: University of Wales Trinity St David)

Another important milestone for Rescape is gaining regulatory approval for DR.VR as a medical device. ATiC’s role in that regard centres around usability testing against the British standard and understanding all the risks – whether with regards to infection control in light of the Covid-19 pandemic or potential electrical faults that might occur.

While Rescape has not yet submitted DR.VR for approval, it is working closely with ATiC and regulatory specialists to ensure the product aligns with requirements. And in many ways, Rescape and ATiC are writing the rulebook around use of VR in healthcare – always backed up by the evidence and rigour needed to demonstrate DR.VR’s therapeutic outcomes as a safe, effective therapy to reduce pain and anxiety.

Meet the Innovators:

Dr Sean Jenkins is a Principal Lecturer at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David and leads the research, development and innovation activity at Assistive Technologies Innovation Centre (ATiC) in Swansea. ATiC is part of the European-funded Accelerate programme, a collaboration between three Wales-based universities and the Life Sciences Hub of Wales. The programme helps health and life science innovators in Wales turn their ideas into solutions. To learn more, contact Dr Jenkins and his colleagues at atic@uwtsd.ac.uk

Putting VR to the Test: Assessing the Benefits and Overcoming the Challenges

Matt Wordley is CEO as well as a founding member and architect of Rescape Innovation. Cardiff-based Rescape works to develop virtual reality products that help patients deal with pain, rehabilitation, stress and anxiety by distracting the brain. To learn more, contact Matt and his colleagues at info@rescape.me

(Lead Image: University of Wales Trinity St David)

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Welsh and UK Governments agree to establish Freeports in Wales

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The Welsh Government has reached agreement with the UK Government on the establishment of Freeports in Wales.

Welsh Ministers have agreed to support Freeport policies in Wales following the UK Government’s agreement to meet the Welsh Government’s demands that UK Ministers provide at least £26m of non-repayable starter funding for any Freeport established in Wales, which represents a parity with the deals offered to English Freeports.

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The UK Government have agreed to meet a number of other demands – including that both Governments will act on the basis of a ‘partnership of equals’ to deliver any Freeports in Wales.

In addition, both Governments have agreed a Freeport will only be implemented if it can be demonstrated clearly it will operate in a manner that aligns with the Welsh Government’s policies on fair work and environmental sustainability, including the commitment to Wales becoming a net-zero carbon nation.

Economy Minister, Vaughan Gething said: “Following considerable engagement between our Governments, I’m pleased we have been able to reach agreement with UK Ministers to establish Freeports in Wales. The agreement we have reached is fair to Wales, and respects the Welsh Government’s responsibilities in devolved policy areas.

“However, we have made it clear to the UK Government that a Freeport will only be implemented if it can be demonstrated, using robust evidence and analysis, that it will support our fair work agenda and deliver long-term, sustainable benefits for Wales, and value for money for Welsh taxpayers.

“I very much hope that the UK Government’s willingness to work with the Welsh Government as equals on Freeports can provide a positive model for future co-operation between our governments on other initiatives.”

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The UK Government’s Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Michael Gove said: “I am delighted that Wales is the latest area in the UK set to benefit from a new Freeport.

“The UK Government’s ambitious Freeports agenda will help to level up our coastal communities and create new opportunities for people right across the country.

“Together with the Welsh Government, I look forward to seeing innovative proposals come forward that demonstrate tangible benefits for the people of Wales.”

In addition, Welsh and UK Ministers have agreed that the UK Government will provide tax incentives for Freeports in Wales in parity with Freeports in other parts of the United Kingdom for the reserved taxes that have been designated to advance the policy aims. The Welsh Government will design tax reliefs from local and devolved taxes (Non-Domestic Rates and Land Transaction Tax) to support the policy aims.

Both Governments say they will remain open to the possibility of a multi-site Freeport in Wales. In recognition of Wales’ unique economic geography and the Welsh Government’s aspirations for economic development in Wales, the UK Government is willing to relax the 45 km boundary limit for a multi-site Freeport solution, should there be a sufficiently compelling case for doing so.

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Both Governments will also remain open to the possibility of allowing more than one Freeport in Wales, should they be presented with a sufficiently compelling business case.

As with English Freeports, a fair and open competitive process will be used to determine where the policy should be implemented in Wales. Both Governments will work together to co-design the process for Freeport site selection, and both will have an equal say in all decisions throughout the implementation process. This includes the final decision on site selection.

Both Governments have begun the process of designing the bid prospectus for the competition and further details about the timing of next steps will be released in due course.

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Swansea digital agency iCreate enters the metaverse with bespoke digital environments

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Swansea-based creative agency iCreate is entering the metaverse by creating 3D visual environments for Dubai-based NFT boutique Jumi – a new outlet for curated digital art.

The metaverse hit the headlines last year when Facebook’s parent company rebranded to Meta, reflecting the growing potential of the internet to offer an interactive virtual world through AI and 3D digital animation.

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The metaverse offers social connection through technology, interaction with brands and businesses, and online recreation.

It encompasses everything from online video games to virtual shops where you can digitally try on items before you buy them, and bespoke venues for online events of all kinds.

It’s expected to expand into an online world where people will have their own virtual avatars which they take from one virtual environment to another, purchasing virtual products for them and housing them in virtual homes.

This is where iCreate – which specialises in creating digital environments – comes in. The company provides CGIs, 3D flythrough animations, VR tours and marketing brochures to the off-plan property sector.

From interactive, customisable home interiors that enable buyers to plan every detail of their dream home, through to large-scale digital animations of new housing developments, iCreate is adept at creating virtual environments that look and feel like the real thing.

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Now it’s teaming up with Jumi and other partners to create digital environments that will never be built in the real world, but will exist in the metaverse, where people’s avatars can explore and socialise in them.

A key aspect of the metaverse is non-fungible tokens (NFTs): digital assets that can be bought and traded. These are increasingly hitting the headlines as everyone from independent artists to big brands creates and sells digital-only products, music, artwork and more.

Dawn Lyle (right) and the team at iCreate

Jumy, which completed a $1.2M seed funding round last year, is the ultimate NFT boutique marketplace for exclusive digital art. All artworks are curated from the world’s most creative digital artists, to guarantee outstanding quality.

The platform is the world’s first to offer a fully integrated digital art experience where visitors will be able to purchase pieces with payment cards, trade their NFTs, order NFT frames (digital frames for NFT art) and flex their NFTs on metaverse – all in one place.

By collaborating with Jumi, iCreate will make beautiful, exclusive digital environments for displaying NFTs in the metaverse. From here, it’s expected that a new market in bespoke virtual homes and offices will develop over the coming years, as more aspects of all our lives are lived in the metaverse.

Dawn Lyle, iCreate’s co-founder, said: “We’re delighted to have formed this new partnership with Jumi and to be taking our bespoke digital environments into the metaverse.

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“The metaverse offers such a wealth of possibilities, and over the coming years it will become increasingly common to play, meet and do business with people all over the world in virtual settings.

“We’re excited to be creating stunning digital environments in which these activities can take place; in the metaverse, there are no limitations and it’s possible to bring dreams to life, creating astonishing virtual places that delight and surprise. It gives us the opportunity to put all our creative skills to use in exciting new ways and we can’t wait to get started.”

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River Island launches its brand new Swansea concept store this weekend

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Fashion chain River Island is revealing its brand new concept store at Morfa Retail Park in Swansea on Saturday (7 May).

Located at the former New Look store at Unit 6 on the Brunel Way shopping centre, the new store is just a few doors down from its previous outlet, although promises to be an even bigger and better boutique shopping experience.

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Located across two floors, the 8,253 square foot store has been specially curated to the tastes of Swansea shoppers according to the fashion chain.

Set across one level, womenswear will occupy just over half the space, with the remainder split between menswear and kidswear, stocking kids, mini and baby.

To celebrate the new opening, River Island will be hosting a launch event weekend in-store on the 7th and 8th of May, where shoppers can expect to hear celebratory sounds with in-store DJ sets, whilst the first lucky 100 customers through the doors will receive a £10 gift card which can be redeemed in-store or online.

Frances Baker, River Island Property Director said: “River Island is thrilled to be relocating and open ing a new boutique store in Swansea, Morfa as part of our segmentation programme.

“We are excited to introduce our concept store to our existing loyal customers, with exciting opportunities to acquire new customers with our new look-and-feel store.”

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River Island say the store upgrade strengthens its 300 strong estate and solidifies its message of “standing by the high street”, a campaign set up in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic to show solidarity with other high street brands negatively hit by the effects of the pandemic.

The fashion chain say that by investing in finding ways to encourage and entice customers to return to in-person shopping it hopes to “enhance and improve the shopping journey for its customers”.

(Lead image: River Island)

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