North East company leads the way in virtual world technology via mobile phone

Thousands of university students and museum visitors are exploring their surroundings in a new way using their mobile phones thanks to the cutting edge technology of a North East company.

Just by holding up their phone and using it to look around them, mobile users can view information about their location on their smartphone screens including photos, videos, audio, 3D models and can even obtain directions on how to get to the place they are viewing.

With the support of Newcastle Science City, Paul Smith, of Chester-le-Street, has launched new venture Virtuteq to lead the way in this emerging new medium, called mobile augmented reality, is using  geographic content to develop applications for a range of clients.

At the University of Sunderland and Leeds Trinity students are now using Virtuteq’s technology to find facilities on campus and the company is currently working with local museums to provide an interactive guide that allows visitors to have information about attractions at their fingertips, as well as discount vouchers for food, location maps with a ‘Take Me There’ functionality and even treasure hunts for children, with clues being triggered when the mobile user is near a particular location.

Dean Hale, web manager at the University of Sunderland, said: “Virtuteq's application is extremely simple to use and the additional content you can add to enhance the points of interest is invaluable. The application is a useful orientation tool helping new students, staff and visitors to the university find their way around the campuses.

“The application is available via the university's mobile web presence is one of the more popular applications within.”

Now, Paul is looking to secure investment to roll out the company internationally and to market the product to a wide range of potential users including local authorities and tourist attractions.

He said: “As far as I am aware there aren’t any other companies in the North East or even the UK doing exactly what we are doing. The closest competitor we have is in Austria but the service provided there isn’t as comprehensive as ours – so we really are at the forefront of this exciting technology and I’m really excited about rolling it out.

“The potential for the application is incredible – there are so many ways in which geographic content can be used to supplement the user’s view of reality with information relevant to their current location.

“The technology gives our clients a new, more powerful technique of engaging and immersing users into their environment much more than the equivalent paper leaflet, brochure or information board. It allows them to filter out irrelevant data that you get from generic internet trawls – and provide very specific information that they control so they can manage their corporate messages very carefully and closely.”

Virtuteq is one of hundreds of North East companies Newcastle Science City has worked with to commercialise new insight-led ideas, helping them to innovate and grow.

Simon Green, head of business support at Newcastle Science City, said: “The really innovative thing about Virtuteq’s location based content system is that it can be used by virtually anyone and updated in real time.

“There are a number of competing augmented reality systems out there but Paul had the insight that the ease of updating content was key. This is a great example of using known technology in a novel way to solve a market problem and then building a business out of it.”

Paul worked for 12 years as a software development consultant and architect before studying for an MSc at Sunderland University. The idea behind Virtuteq was born from his studies on the course and Paul went on to create a prototype application for the university which proved a huge success.

Newcastle Science City is part financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), managed by the Department for Communities and Local Government, securing £2.3million of ERDF investment. The ERDF Competitiveness Programme 2007-2013 is bringing over £300m into the North East to support innovation, enterprise and business support across the region.