In recent years the city of Newcastle has been growing more and more as it seeks to become a digital city and the latest opening of a technology centre only adds to this.
Recently a new technology centre has opened its doors called PROTO, aiming to bring Virtual and Augmented reality as well as artificial intelligence to businesses.
The centre, located in Baltic Quarter, Gateshead is an £8 million-pound, state-of-the-art research and development facility with high quality co working and office space.
It is owned and managed by Gateshead Council and gives businesses access to technology that can help them push boundaries of content creation.
PROTO is also part of the Digital Catapult Centre North East & Tees Valley (NETV) – the regional arm of the UK’s leading advanced digital technology innovation centre.
Access to the hardware and software PROTO has on offer is usually very expensive, but PROTO seeks to offer an inexpensive alternative by providing access as and when companies need it.
This enables those smaller and emerging businesses who are just starting up to use technology to greatly enhance their products.
Alex Cook works as an innovation manager and spoke about why PROTO was set up in Gateshead: “The Council had recognised the amazing things that some of the companies in the region were doing with immersive technologies.
“They wanted to provide a facility that would support the continued growth of the sector in Gateshead and the North East, and what better place that Baltic Quarter?
“It’s a dynamic environment full of creative, tech, digital and design companies and only a stone’s throw away from the Quayside.”
As technology is enabling more people to work from anywhere, making a city like Gateshead an attractive place to set up base can be a challenge as Alex says: “We want the days of talent leaving the North East and heading for London and the South to be behind us.
“With the support networks that exist here and the infrastructure with developments such as PROTO we’re making progress.
“We’ve already seen companies relocate back to the North East because of the quality of life and value for money up here. We’ve always been known for innovation in these parts and we want to continue to be recognised for that in the future.”
PROTO is home to the Immersive Lab North East and Tees valley which houses all the latest VR and AR headsets from Oculus Rift to HTC Vive.
It even has access to some of the lesser known headsets such as Meta 2 and Daqri smart glasses alongside haptics, a mixed reality green screen and unique photogrammetry devices.
In addition to its extensive lab the centre also has a 3D character scanning stage which features a 120-camera rig which creates high res digital scans of characters in games, film, media and immersive applications.
Speaking about the rig Alex said: “We’re really excited about the potential uses for the stage and from the initial test scans, the assets that we’re producing look really cool.”
The centre is also currently in the process of installing a large motion capture stage allowing them to create natural human movements.
This helps create hyper realistic movements and gives games creators in the North-East access to state of the art motion capture technology and the ability to create multi player VR experiences.
Motion capture is also being increasingly used for scientific research, design and engineering.
Gateshead features strongly in the computer gaming industry, and has several local companies designing some of the world’s most popular and profitable computer games.
With interest in VR and particularly VR Gaming growing, the ability to use it at PROTO will hopefully attract a wide range of companies in the gaming sector.
VR isn’t just for games though, as immersive technologies could be used to place history students right at the heart of a major battle and train emergency service providers, engineers or deep-sea divers.
Speaking about this Alex said: “Immersive technology is becoming so important as it will significantly impact everything we do from how we spend our leisure time to how we work and its applications are endless.”
In terms of office space the centre created a hot desking space which offers freelancers and start-up’s a place to work without cost.
They also have a number of key events, meet ups and brought a number of influencers to Gateshead and a programme of support offered by Digital Catapult.
Alongside hot desking the centre is offering flexible packages for dedicated desk and office space.
This has shown the company some understanding of the issues faced by tech companies who are just starting up as Alex said: “There’s more to be done in terms of supporting further business growth, creating more and better jobs in the area and the upskilling of local residents.
“That’s where we are working with our key partners, such as Gateshead College and support organisations such as Newcastle Tech Trust, Digital Union, and others. “
The centre has high ambitions for the future Alex says: “We want PROTO to be a recognised centre for excellence for emerging technologies and to play our role in growing the tech and digital sectors in the region and in doing so creating jobs and prosperity for local people.”
Naomi Morrow, lead for Digital Catapult NETV LAO spoke about the project: “PROTO is the latest development to contribute to the North East’s growing reputation as a global leader for innovation.
“The facilities are the first of their kind and should attract global brands who want to benefit from the cutting-edge hardware and expertise we have in the region.”
Since the centre opened PROTO has had events focusing on innovation, new technologies and industry practice.
It also has a networking lounge perfect for meet ups, workshops and other events.
You can view any of PROTO’S upcoming events here.
For more information about PROTO visit their website.