TJ Interviews: Dr Neil McDonnell

TJ meets Dr Neil McDonnell, LKAS Fellow for Virtual and Augmented Reality at University of Glasgow and speaker at AR & VR in the Public Sector.

Reading time: 3 minutes

Tell us about your talk at AR & VR in the Public Sector on 4 December in London.

I will be presenting on Project Mobius, our VR teaching project. Mobius is a collaboration between Sublime (AR/VR tech start-up) and the University of Glasgow, and will integrate VR teaching seamlessly into higher education.

I will outline the project, and share the principles that drive our work with VR teaching/training in the public sector.

VR seems to have been the latest thing for about the last five years. What’s changed recently?

The hardware has not yet achieved widespread consumer adoption, and that is for reasons of cost, practicality, and the lack of a ‘killer app’ that drives people to the platform.

The first two issues are largely taken care of with the release this year of the Oculus Quest – a remarkable standalone VR device (no PC, no sensors, no wires) that can be had for just £400.

With VR, you are taken to another environment, and with AR virtual objects are brought into your existing environment.

We think this is driving consumers to the platform, which should in turn hasten the development of a platform-defining app (think Sonic for the Megadrive, or Goldeneye for the N64).

How can AR and VR add value beyond the traditional training session?

Immersive technology offers us a 3D medium for information. With VR, you are taken to another environment, and with AR virtual objects are brought into your existing environment, but in both cases what you gain is 3D understanding.

When the topic of the training is 3D understanding (of a system, a building, an object, a molecule…) then this 3D media is a natural fit.

Our Project Mobius aims to examine which topics and practices work best.

Where can people go to see VR in action in the public sector? What good examples are out there?

There are isolated applications of VR in the public sector that show promise – medical training, fire service training, and in therapeutic contexts. From what I can tell, they remain isolated for the moment.

One of our ambitions with Mobius is to go beyond an isolated application and to roll out VR teaching across the higher education sector.

Where do you see both technologies being applied in future? Does one technology lend itself to certain areas of the public sector better than the other?

I think VR requires dedicated space and dedicated time, and that will always limit its consumer uptake.



In work contexts, both public and private, this will be less of a barrier and we should see VR applied as a remote-viewing, or remote-collaboration tool.

Bringing an expert to a given location instantly, safely and without a carbon cost will be highly attractive.

AR will become ubiquitous, replacing the smartphone. We will see data about the world, ‘on’ the world, not on a rectangle in our hands.

This will liberate many tasks that require heads-up, and hands-free, conduct (such as construction and manufacturing), but it will also allow exotic, dangerous, minute, or even fictional objects to come into classrooms, doctors surgeries, and courtrooms across the public sector.


About the interviewee

Dr Neil McDonnell is Lord Kelvin Adam Smith Fellow for Virtual and Augmented Reality, University of Glasgow. He will be speaking on ‘Understanding AR and VR to Create an Immersive Learning Experience’ followed by a Q&A with Jon Kennard at AR & VR in the Public Sector


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