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Belfast City Council funds immersive tech projects for visitor experiences


Mark Say Managing Editor

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Boy and family playing with VR headset over map of Belfast
Image source: Belfast City Council

Belfast City Council has awarded funding for 10 SMEs and entrepreneurs to develop immersive technology experiences to support tourism in the city.

It has provided the money under the Augment the City competition for the companies to work with the region’s tourism partners to find new ways of using the technology to encourage local people to share their stories.

Belfast City Council chief executive John Walsh said: “Experts agree that immersive technologies such as augmented, virtual, and mixed reality, will have an important role to play in enhancing future attractions across the region, including our highly anticipated Belfast Stories. With funding from the Belfast Region City Deal, Augment the City is bringing creative industries companies to work directly with our leading tourism organisations to explore what forms this role might take. 

“The funded companies have proposed some really exciting ideas for using these technologies to help broaden the range of voices that can be preserved and enjoyed including children and young people, deaf and hearing impaired people and those who are neurodiverse.  

“This is a unique opportunity for the companies to push the boundaries for innovation. And at the same time, it’s giving our tourism and City Deal partners valuable insights into the possibilities of immersive and advanced wireless technologies that can inform the design of new visitor attractions.” 

The projects being supported in this first phase of Augment the City are: 

  • Belfast Stories Generator - Hamilton Robson will combine AI and immersive tech to create an interactive platform for exploring the city's history and culture. 
  • Echoes of Belfast: Imvizar will focus on location based augmented reality (AR) to recreate and share Belfast's historical and contemporary narratives.
  • Yarns, Craic, and Danders - Darin Smyth will utilise AI, Metahumans, AR, and game engine technology to create immersive experiences in interactive booths and a complementary AR guide.
  • SIGNAura Digital Studios will help to empower the deaf and hearing impaired community to share their stories both locally and globally using haptics and AR technologies in a dedicated physical space equipped for motion capture. This will take place through a mobile app using AR and a network of visual triggers and QR codes guiding an independent walking tour across Belfast, linking audiences to site-specific performances.  
  • Belfast Memory Machine -SENSEcity will develop an AI powered immersive storytelling experience, in which participants will be provided with 3D printed miniaturised models of Belfast buildings and landmarks, e-ink displays, and a smart microphone.  
  • Amergin - Liquid City will develop anAI powered interviewer, archivist, curator and broadcaster accessible on social media, the web, mixed reality and in a visitor centre.  
  • Storyfields - Animorph will develop an innovative platform to allow residents to create and share immersive storytelling experiences using their smartphones in an interactive treasure hunt. Designated areas in Belfast will become ‘storyfields, where users plant their personal stories and discover those planted by others.  
  • Belfast Back Beats - Cooperative Innovations and The Performance Corporation will develop interactive virtual environments to showcase transformative moments in Belfast's performing arts and music scene. 
  • Perspectives -Neurotech and Belfast Hidden Tours, in collaboration with artist Mark Mullan, will create an interactive mythology and history tour app. The project will have a particular focus on children and young people, including those who are neurodiverse or have other accessibility needs. 
  • Memory Fractal - Ekaterina Solomatina will combine mixed reality and 5G technology to create a narrative sculpture, offering a new way of digital storytelling about the city’s vibrant artistic heritage.

In phase two of Augment the City, five of the companies will receive additional funding to further develop their concepts this autumn. 

The Augment the City Challenge competition is part of Belfast City Council’s XR Belfast programme which provides a range of funding, skills development and business support to people working in Belfast’s innovation and creative industries sectors to help build their capacity in using and exploiting emerging technologies. 

Professor Liam Maguire, chair of the Belfast Region City Deal’s digital advisory board and pro-vice chancellor for research at Ulster University, commented: “Augment the City demonstrates a central aim of the Belfast Region City Deal’s digital pillar. It’s encouraging collaboration with some of our most exciting creative digital companies. And by doing so, it’s stimulating R&D investment in one of the region’s high growth sectors.

“Ultimately, this investment is contributing to a more productive economy, while helping to ensure that new visitor experiences are better placed to harness digital tech.” 

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