Bringing a creative flair to the world of immersive technology

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  • Deepa Mann-Kler is well-known within the creative industries. And now her latest venture sees Deepa bring her creative flair to the world of immersive technology.

    Through NEON, Deepa creates immersive virtual, augmented and mixed reality health and well-being software applications.

    According to Deepa, Neon combines creativity and latest technological innovations “to improve people’s lives” and create better health outcomes for users.

    “I have come to this in a slightly different way to other start-ups,” she says. “I was and am a visual artist. But once I experienced virtual reality (VR)  for the first time, I decided that I really wanted to work in it.”

    Deepa's artwork has been displayed in China, America, Germany and Ireland, and her light installations won high praise at the Derry-Londonderry UK City of Culture festival and later at London’s Lumiere festival in 2016.

    Right now, Deepa is focused on developing a virtual reality app -  BreatheVR - for Gear VR that helps people de-escalate their pain using breathing techniques alongside immersive content.

    “VR has proven to be so beneficial within the health field in terms of dealing with pain management, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorders, and when you combine VR with your breath, you really have something very powerful,” she says.

    I've worked with a lady who registered a 50% drop in her pain level as a result of using BreatheVR. All 10 people that I'm working with at the moment have responded well to the app and all 10 said that they would pay for it if it when it goes to market.”

    She feels the app is primed for the US market, and in January she flew out to San Francisco to meet with pain management centres.

    “There is a lot more flexibility in America where hospitals are private, so I'm planning to partner with a couple of US hospitals to move things further,” she says.

    But she feels there’s plenty of scope for the app within the local marketplace. According to Deepa, around 400,000 people here suffer from chronic pain and anxiety and are desperate for distraction tools to access.

    “Over the past five years we’ve seen a huge growth in mindfulness and the breathing meditation market has grown massively. I'm very keen to target VR solutions directly to people who could benefit from pain relief.”

    Deepa is also working with a Queen's University student on an AR app designed to distract children during invasive hospital procedures, such as cannula insertions. The app is in prototype and the plan is to go to launch by the end of the year.

    “The prototype is extremely interesting. There's massive scalability in terms of AR because everybody has a mobile phone and I'm really excited about doing something useful for children in need.”

    For Deepa, the big challenge in working with VR is that development costs can be high. But while costs are a consideration, Deepa plans to carefully select the projects she works on.

    “There is a tendency in the tech world to rush towards investment funding,” she says. “I want to do what's right for the company in terms of product growth and content creation. It will be important to have initial seed funding when the time is right because there are going to be costs associated with copyright, website development and branding which are important to get right.” Integral to this will be advice from Neon company directors Tom Gray and Dr David Hill. 

    Her standout VR success to date is the creation of RETNE (for more about RETNE, read Deepa’s blog here).

    The result of a partnership between Kainos, NI Screen, Invest NI, Digital Catapult, Enter Yes and David Baxter. RETNE enables the user to travel through VR Land, visiting magical attractions accompanied by a quirky tour guide called ‘Lil Mo’. Lil Mo is voiced by the well known Northern Irish actor Michael Smiley.

    According to Deepa, much of the RETNE narrative is a metaphor for the concept of VR - the mirroring of the real world to create new and exciting environments and possibilities.

    “We've launched RETNE on STEAM and gaming platform Viveport - it's had over 20,000 downloads so far,” she says. “We’ve signed deals with VR arcade companies in Canada who have big expansion plans.”

    RETNE was recently shortlisted for the Royal Television Society awards in the interactive entertainment category. content award.

    “RETNE was my first role in terms of directing and producing content so it was great to have been shortlisted,” she says. “It's great that the RTS created that interactive content award because this is going to be a really big and growing area in the industry.”

    Looking ahead, Deepa is currently enrolled on the Propel pre-accelerator programme with Ignite and supported by Invest NI. Neon was one of 20 companies selected from over 300 applications and is based for the rest of the year in Ormeau Baths. 

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