As the field of immersive technologies continues to grow at a rapid pace, people from all across the world are starting to wonder what their immersive futures may look like. Will immersive technologies such as VR and AR become part of our everyday lives? Affecting our jobs and the way we interact with friends and family? These are exactly some of the questions that we began discussing as we welcomed a group of Yr10 students to take part in Immersive Technology sessions at the University of Bristol. The students attend a variety of local schools and are from under-represented backgrounds, these immersive sessions contributed to their weeklong work experience at the University.

The students were introduced to Immersive Technologies by Professor Kirsten Cater, who provided an engaging insight into the history of immersive tech along with an overview of cutting-edge research being conducted in this area at the University of Bristol. Professor Cater also presented numerous case studies of how VR could be used in the future and the potential ethical issues they may present.

This led to the first activity of the session which involved engaging with the students to learn about their views and perspectives on using immersive tech in the future. They discussed potential Dystopian and Utopian futures in which VR/AR and XR were commonplace in their daily lives. The students enthusiastically envisioned their immersive futures and came up with fascinating concepts for future technologies such as a “Digital Memory Box”, where they described being able to store and access memories from their childhood in VR. They also discussed the pros and cons of attending a “virtual university” and how this may impact their career prospects or desire to continue with education. Some fun examples suggested by the students included “The AR Olympics” where you could compete live with real Olympians anywhere in the world and train with them in the lead-up to the event.

The students did not shy away from discussing hard-hitting issues such as the potential safety and security risks that VR could present, particularly for young people. One such example of this was their discussion and views around harassment in VR – the students shared concerns over cyberbullying becoming more dangerous than current online bullying given the “realness” of VR environments. Students all discussed the potential of inequality of immersive technologies as they didn’t see a way for these technologies to be affordable and accessible for all. The students even described a Dystopian future where the immersive virtual world had premium and free versions with only certain jobs and real-life benefits being offered to those who could afford premium memberships.

The second activity in the session allowed the students to trial VR apps and experiences for themselves. This was a particular highlight of the session given that many of the students had never experienced VR prior to the session. The activity was led by Dr Chris Bevan and each student was given their own VR headset and controllers to navigate through virtual worlds and experience some of University of Bristol’s immersive projects.

One such project was the “Virtual Reality Oracle” which is an AHRC-funded project aimed at using VR to enhance historical understanding of ancient Greek Oracle consultation and the oracle of Dodon. The students visited ancient Greece in VR and were able to imagine the role of VR in the classroom and how immersive technologies can augment learning in the future.

As the session came to a close and the students left ancient Greece to go for their lunch break, there was an electric atmosphere in the air as the students shared their VR experiences with one another. As the immersive technology industry accelerates, we could all learn something from the unique, thought-provoking and informed opinions of young people on this topic. Given their tech savviness and enthusiasm for immersive technologies displayed in this session, it is clear that the future innovators and users of immersive technologies are committed to creating a responsible, secure and accessible immersive world. We hope to see some of these brilliant students in years to come as University of Bristol undergraduates!

by Mairi Deighan