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VR defence tech company secures funding to power UK Offshore Wind workforce

Immersive technology company VRAI and Durham Energy Institute awarded significant Offshore Wind Growth Partnership funding in England’s North East

Data driven virtual reality company VRAI has today announced they have been awarded part of an Offshore Wind Growth Partnership (OWGP) grant worth £1.2m  to help improve training within the sector across the UK. In partnership with Durham University Professor Simon Hogg, Ørsted Professor in Renewable Energy at the Durham Energy Institute, VRAI is one of 12 companies to secure such funding. VRAI creates data driven VR simulation training for high hazard environments with clients including the IAG in Heathrow Airport, the United Nations in Somalia, and the RAF. The innovative company is headquartered in the North East’s tech hub at the Proto Centre, Gateshead.

This latest project will see VRAI bring their groundbreaking virtual reality simulation training (previously used in military training) to the UK’s growing offshore wind industry. The project is intended to find more efficient ways of training employees remotely and at scale, all the while using data-driven insights to help improve safety and performance. It follows VRAI’s expansion into England’s North East last year. By focusing on the region, the company hopes to align with its ambition to stay close to its customers and recruit local talent. With over 5,000 computer science graduates qualifying annually in the North East, VRAI hopes to create further opportunities for graduates looking for a career within the VR sector. The recent expansion created three new full-time jobs based on their work with the Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA) and RAF X, the RAF’s digital innovation unit. VRAI plans to continue its growth trajectory and expects to double the number of full-time employees in Gateshead by the end of the year. 

The OWGP launched in June 2019 as a long-term business transformation programme that aims to support offshore wind supply change growth in the UK. It has a budget of £100m over a ten-year period. The programme is a key element of the Offshore Wind Sector Deal between industry and government and is funded by members of the Offshore Wind Industry Council (OWIC) and delivered by Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult. Expansion of offshore wind is central to Government plans for sustainable economic growth in the UK and a net-zero future. It includes the target to reach 40GW by 2030, enough to power every home in the UK, which alone will support up to 60,000 jobs. The Durham Energy Institute and its strategic partners will be responsible for ensuring the UK achieves its target. The Durham Energy Institute’s strategic partners include Ørsted, The Energi Coast, Aura Offshore Wind Clusters, and ORE Catapult.

According to recent figures from renewableUK, Britain is a global leader in offshore wind, with more installed capacity than any other country. In addition to this, it is estimated that the sector powers over 4.5 million UK homes annually. On the back of these findings, a research study commissioned by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (NELEP) has identified significant opportunities for economic growth and employment in offshore wind across Britain, with the potential creation of up to 9,500 jobs both indirectly and directly servicing the sector. 

Commenting on securing the funding and the sector, Lord Gerry Grimstone, Minister for Investment said: “The offshore wind sector is a major British success story and partnerships like the one between VRAI and Durham University help ensure the UK stays at the forefront of global innovation in renewables. I am pleased to see funding from the Offshore Wind Sector Deal supporting the development of new capability here in the UK.

It’s fantastic to see this Irish investment into the North East develop as expanding the UK’s offshore wind capability will be key as we build back better, and greener, from COVID-19.”

Speaking about being awarded the project by OWGP, VRAI Managing Director Niall Campion, said: “We are delighted to be part of this exciting partnership with Professor Hogg to support the expansion of the offshore wind industry workforce. I think this partnership shows the potential for the “levelling up” agenda to be supported by the high-quality technology companies in the North East of England, as well as our top research institutes. Data and technology could fuel the next economic boom, as oil did in the past.”

Talking about the significance of the project, Simon Hogg, Ørsted Professor in Renewable Energy, Durham Energy Institute and Energi Coast Innovation Group lead said: “Durham Energy Institute are delighted to be part of this new project in partnership with VRAI. We believe the data-driven virtual reality training VRAI is developing will be a great asset for training and skills development in the expanding regional workforce for offshore wind. Further strengthening our region’s position in the UK, and global offering in offshore wind. Being able to attract such an exciting cutting-edge technology to the region and offshore wind is a real testament to the strength of the North East Offshore Wind sector and opportunities for growth that it represents. This is a wonderful example of the innovation opportunities we are helping to develop through the Energi Coast, regional offshore wind cluster, Innovation Group.

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