#marketing technology

Animmersion strengthens growth trajectory with new Business Development Director.

Animmersion UK | User Interface Development | Virtual reality logo

Animmersion has strengthened its management team with the appointment of Virtual Reality (VR) commercialisation specialist Steve Carpenter as Business Development Director.

Relocating to the North East from Oxfordshire, Steve joins the immersive technology company to support its continued growth in UK and international markets.

Steve brings a strong technology background to the role, complementing his extensive sales and marketing experience.

With more than two decades in senior sales management, field sales and product marketing, Steve has delivered blue chip companies and education establishments with solutions to business challenges through advanced 3D visualisation, VR, and graphics-based real-time technologies.

Steve’s industry expertise will support the development of Animmersion’s market presence in sectors including offshore renewables, manufacturing, chemical process and utilities.

The Middlesbrough-based business has become one of the UK’s most established digital visualisation experts, with more than a decade’s experience in producing cutting edge, interactive, experience-driven solutions for industry.

With a team of talented and experienced designers, artists and software engineers, Animmersion provides a range of animation, immersive virtual and augmented reality, holographic and interactive technologies to support customer projects.

Steve Carpenter, Animmersion Business Development Director, said: “Animmersion is at the heart of the growing North East tech cluster and this is an exciting opportunity to join an established and agile company with huge growth potential.  The company has built a very talented team that are utilising leading edge technologies for a cross section of industries in UK and international markets, which is consistently opening up new opportunities to further scale the business.”

Dominic Lusardi, Managing Director of Animmersion, said: “Animmersion has established a presence in a number of key sectors, at home and abroad, and Steve will be instrumental in developing our market share.  Bringing Steve to Animmersion demonstrates the positive reputation the North East’s tech cluster is gaining across the UK and proves that we have the businesses and capabilities in the region to attract the best talent the industry has to offer.”

AI and the future of mobile apps.

Animmersion UK | User Interface Development | Virtual reality logo

AI has clearly been identified as a technology promising huge potential for business, healthcare, education, finance and many other sectors. In fact, the International Data Corporation has suggested the expected global spending on AI systems to increase to around $79 billion by 2022 compared with around £36 billion today.

One of the most likely areas for the adoption of AI technology is that of mobile apps where it will have a significant impact on personalisation, smart features, convenience and overall user experience – and on adapting to users changing expectations and requirements.

So, how can AI actually improve mobile app development and user experience?

Firstly, by enhancing audience engagement. As user expectations increase, AI, through a highly interactive environment, will analyse user patterns and behaviour to provide an increasingly high quality, personalised, user-centric app experience. The greater the user engagement, the more successful the app is likely to be – the better the app experience, the greater the user engagement.

Secondly, by the increased automation of tasks that can be completed without human intervention. Contrary to some opinion, increased automation will not render human beings obsolete. People will still be required for their design and analysis input however AI technology is likely to support and improve their decision-making process.

Thirdly a unique and personalised user experience, and the ability to prioritise app features, will become the main driver of user engagement. Apps will provide more personal products and recommendations, and more information, based on the user’s preferences, contexts and types of interaction.

AI is considered to be one of the most important technologies in the mobile app industry today and it’s unlikely that its potential regarding mobile apps in the future will decrease.

Why develop a mobile app for your business?

Animmersion UK | User Interface Development | Virtual reality logo

In August 2019, there were around 2.5 million apps in the Google Play store and around 2 million in the Apple app store. In addition, by 2020, apps are expected to be creating around £472 billion of revenue. Given that 90% of time spent on mobile phones is thought to be using a mobile app, it’s not unreasonable for companies to assume that a mobile app would benefit their business growth.

The premise of a mobile app is to take your services (including those on display on your website) and make them into a less complicated and more easily navigable customer experience – for example, by reducing what may be a two-step enquiry process on the website to a one-step process on the app.

Besides this, mobile apps allow businesses to have a direct access route to customers other than through social media or a website. Push notifications can inform customers of incentives, promotions and events directly.

An app also enables the connection of a business and its social media presence. Twitter and Instagram are easily set up allowing customers to share brand information and experiences with each other and a business. Nevertheless, this is only an effective tool if customers and clients are aware of it and understand the potential of the app’s use – time and budget must be spent marketing the app and highlighting its benefits for the user.

Obviously, once the app is ready to go live it doesn’t mean that the development work stops – maintenance and service work will continue. To keep the app operational, a developer will run updates, test for any potential security breaches, and ensure that the app remains compliant with iOS and Android software rules.

So, a company must be fairly sure they will recoup the cost of developing an app through sales for it to make sense. As mobile apps are usually developed for Android and Apple, it can be an expensive process – especially if the app has any functionality that differs from the website. An app cost-benefit analysis would be prudent before proceeding.

It has been estimated that small businesses are likely to see revenues increasing twice as fast as competitors by using mobile apps. If a business knows its target audience, then developing a mobile app may be the ideal way to engage with them further and more profitably.

VR tool that uses brainwaves to promote sleepiness

Animmersion UK | User Interface Development | Virtual reality logo

Researchers at RMIT University, Melbourne recently investigated whether an interactive virtual reality experience could induce sleepiness.

The multisensory experience involves wearing a VR headset while lying on a gently oscillating bed and is based on the principles of neurofeedback – a way to train brain activity. The brain’s electrical activity is monitored with an EEG and fed into the VR headset and the visuals in the headset then take on different colours and properties in response to the different brainwaves.

This results in a distinct visual representation of an individual’s electrical activity in the brain creating a feedback loop that may enable participants to focus on relaxed and positive thoughts – thus affecting the transition into sleep.

In a small study, participants reported a 55% reduction in feelings of fear and anxiety and a 21% reduction in negative feelings in general. They also reported a small increase in positive feelings and the state of mind linked to mindfulness – emptying the mind while focusing on the moment – and thus reducing stressful thoughts. Some of the participants relaxed in the VR session, while others creatively interacted with the technology – which is interesting because it has been documented that positive effects on emotion can be associated with creative expression.

Currently, the technology is not yet developed enough to offer as a sleep-health tool, though it certainly shows potential for a brain/computer interface system to promote healthy sleep in the future.

Animating avatars for VR in real time

Animmersion UK | User Interface Development | Virtual reality logo

Currently, creating a lifelike avatar entails capturing large quantities of high-quality audio and video footage of an individual, then adding existing functionality to make the VR environment believable.

However, researchers have developed a system that allows VR users to represent themselves with lifelike avatars, precisely animated in real time, which can interact with other users. With this system (called Codec Avatars), researchers aim to deliver the most engaging experience possible for VR users, building the future of connection within virtual reality, and eventually, augmented reality.

Up to now, photo-realistic avatars rendered in real-time have been achieved and used frequently in computer animation: actors are equipped with optimally placed sensors that capture geometric details of their faces and expressions computationally. However, this technology is not compatible with existing VR headset designs or platforms which typically obstruct different parts of the face making facial capture technology problematic.

By precisely animating photorealistic avatars from cameras mounted on a VR headset, the researchers have configured a headset with minimum sensors for facial capture, and enabled two-way, authentic social interaction in VR – a process at the forefront of computer graphics and interactive techniques.

The system works by tracking users’ facial expressions using a minimum set of headset-mounted cameras (HMCs). The headset prototype has cameras on the regular tracking headset for real-time animation plus cameras positioned for ideal face-tracking. It uses an artificial intelligence technique that translates HMC infrared images to images that look like a rendered avatar but with the same facial expression of the person.

By precisely mapping between the images from tracking headset and the status of the 3-D avatar through differentiable rendering, the neural network is trained to predict face parameters from a minimal set of camera images in real time, finding high-quality mapping for facial expressions

The researchers also aim to create and animate full bodies for expressing more complete social signals – as well as facial expressions – and though this technology still a long way from appearing in consumer headsets, it’s just a matter of time.

The importance of UI UX design

Animmersion UK | User Interface Development | Virtual reality logo

Given the start-up costs of any new business, capital outlay is likely to go on property, fixtures and fittings, operational expenses, recruitment and employment. This means that UI and UX experiences can appear quite low on the list of necessities.

Both of these are crucial to a modern business, and if the cost good design feels prohibitive, the price of poor design could be even more. We live in a digital world where people use computers and mobile phones on almost anything, and mobile apps are ubiquitous. So, every start-up that doesn’t have a website and a mobile app is already at a disadvantage in what will undoubtedly be a very competitive market.

However, UI and UX are not interchangeable as UX represents the technical aspect of the design while the UI refers to the presentation.

From the start, the user experience design must be right because the products or services being sold must be digitally accessible to customers.

Top UX design means that the design and development of an app can be user-centred – the convenience of the client is of utmost importance. They can get products or services easily and quickly within a few simple manoeuvres and the app is easy to navigate making it easy to return.

Whilst UX is technical, UI is concerned with functional aesthetics – aesthetic appeal and function working in conjunction. Inevitably then, UI design relies on user research. What are the optimum colours, fonts, and icons etc? This is where UI designers put their talent and experience into play, harmonising visual stimuli and user impact appropriately and effectively.

The vast majority of start-ups, if their product and services are not related to technology, don’t employ UX and UI designers, they take advantage of UI UX design services.

Prioritising expenses is a challenge for any start-up, but in today’s digitised world, superior UI and UX experiences are a necessary investment.