For the second year in a row, the city of Bristol was host to the Virtual Reality World Conference (VRWC) that saw over 750 delegates from 20+ countries arrive at England’s south-west coast.

With over 36 expert speakers and 27 exhibitors, the VRWC is one of the world’s leading international VR events. The conference took place in the heart of the city across multiple venues including the ‘Watershed’, ‘At Bristol’ and an exhibition hall erected in Millennium Square.

The three-day event [11th-13th April] organised by Opposable VR provided attendees and delegates with the opportunity to attend an impressively diverse exhibition, an investor showcase, a match-making event, and VIP mixer.

The investors’ showcase was held by legal firm TLT in association with Silicon George for VR, AR, and 360 content creators – offering from £25,000 up to as much as £2 million in investment toward viable applications.

Headline sponsors included AMD, BMT Reality Studios, Unity and Bluegfx.

Lead Keynote and Corporate Vice President of Raedon, Roy Taylor, opened the event by announcing the strategic partnership of AMD with game developers Bethesda for the launch of Fallout 4 in VR.

The news accompanied other announcements such as the launch of AMD’s new Ryzen Processors that are set to challenge Intel’s core line – both in terms of speed and price-point.

There was also talks of AMD’s acquisition of Nitero – “pioneers in wireless VR” whose new chip can operate at the highest performance level of 60 GHz wireless – with multigigabit low latency transmission. There is plenty of work yet to be done before the devices become lighter and more energy efficient – but work is definitely underway.

Other keynote speakers included Bristol local and HTC senior project manager, Graham Breen, Microsoft duo Mike Taulty & Peter Daukintis, and Sam Wang, co-founder and president of ‘SoReal’ – who travelled all the way from Beijing to attend the event.

SoReal is a 10,000 square foot ‘VR Theme Park’ that was co-founded by Chinese VR content creators Danghong Qitan in association with computer hardware company Lenovo in the basement of a Chinese shopping mall. You can see some cool pictures of the impressive complex by clicking here.

Graham Breen spoke about the Vive Tracker – a device you can attach to any object you want to turn into a virtual object – which have already sold out but are “still on sale” with increased traction expected as applications diversify.

Conference goers were also treated to a preview of the ‘Ghost in the Shell VR Experience’ by Sol Rogers – CEO and founder of VR content creators REWIND.

The real-time VR experience combines 360 audio, rogue motion capture, and even AI city traffic, to produce an aesthetically pleasing and incredibly impressive looking VR experience – processed through the Unreal engine which Sol felt provided the “highest visual fidelity”.

The VR Experience is based on recreating – “but not replicating” – the feel of the newly released Scarlet Johansson movie. The content is an example of how VR production teams are continuing to diversify – hence the presence of creative agencies and marketers at the VRWC. The consumer market is ever changing, however, it could be changing a whole lot sooner than many people think.

Recent announcements by Mark Zuckerberg relating to the ‘Surround 360’ camera – let alone the investments Facebook has made in Facebook VR – all combine to tell the story of where the marketplace is going.

Mark Zuckerberg is predicting – and in many ways shaping – the future of human-computer interaction. Such an influential social platform has a lot of marketing power when it comes to the newest, coolest technologies – especially when it newest technology is so cool. People just still – haven’t – tried it.

The youth population of today are set to grow up and develop in a very different world to what we have been seeing up until now – at an increased rate as the technologies become more ubiquitous. Cheaper and more impressive – and it won’t take long.

A speaker who got everyone excited was Tom Carter – CEO and founder of Ultrahaptics – who spoke about his recent trip to AR Headset company META in California, as well provide expo-goers with the opportunity to get their hands on the demo themselves. The remarkable technology uses ultrasound to project sensations onto your hands and is responsive to gestures. The technology is already being used by BMW in their ‘HoloActive Touch’ system. You can watch a demo of the technology here.

Big industry is looking more and more interested in sourcing partners and products from the tech world-  to implement concepts and designs that are in unique and early stages of development, and where investors are ever more receptive to the next ‘big thing’.

Companies like Ultrahaptics will play an important part in assessing the acceptance and adoption rates of such technologies by consumers, and whether or not they will take off.

To close. ‘Touch’ in VR is an interesting area to pay attention to as it has become one of the most creatively-addressed issues when it comes to the challenge of feeling like you’re interacting with real objects in virtual spaces.

The Tyndall National Institute in Cork are one such group and have been working on a VR Glove that uses “flexible electronics, inertial sensing and application specific hardware/software embedded co-design” to create a product that integrates with the Unity VR platform.

Other companies like Toia Tech (also known as Generic Robotics) – who were in attendance of the VRWC – bypass haptics, ultrasounds or VR gloves altogether and use calibrated robotics in their VR Experiences.

I had the opportunity to use the two devices on display and the experience was fantastic.

Their finger-tip device allows you to feel as if you were holding a virtual object – such as a pool ball or brush – and can even simulate smooth and rough textures on you finger-tips.

Wearing a Vive headset, another of their pieces on display was a robotic medical instrument – in this case, a dentist’s anaesthetic needle. The device combined with the software gives the user the relative feeling of resistance when you pierce the VR gum with the needle. It can be seen briefly in my highlight video above.

The program also provides analytics on the needle’s trajectory, as well as a function to see under the virtual patient’s skin – in order to highlight the trigeminal nerve and jawbone. There could be huge potential in such devices if they were to become validated as a training tool for dentists.

Overall, the event was an impressive showcase of the latest and greatest from in the world of VR in England