International Criminal Court to use Belfast start-up’s virtual reality tech

Immersonal chief executive Tom Houston with company founder David Trainor.
Immersonal chief executive Tom Houston with company founder David Trainor.

A BELFAST-based start-up has landed major contracts with the International Criminal Court in The Hague and the Scottish government for its pioneering virtual reality tech to support victims and witnesses in court settings.

Immersonal has developed a simplified and affordable way for businesses and organisations to create their own virtual reality (VR) experiences and training simulations.

Set up in 2021 by David Trainor and Tom Houston, the company has spent two years developing the software for its Immersonal360 platform.

The start-up has already secured a £500,000 contract with the Scottish government and another with the International Criminal Court in the Hague to help make court processes easier for victims of crime.

Chief executive Tom Houston described the platform as “a game-changer”.

“Until now it was expensive and too complex a process for end users to create virtual reality experiences without the support of a software development team.

“Immersonal’s technology is designed for non-technical users to create advanced VR simulations that can automatically be used across a range of platforms.

“It is giving lay people – not software developers – the chance to create virtual reality experiences.”

The Belfast firm has developed a working prototype for both Glasgow Sheriff Court and the High Court in Glasgow, with roll-out to all 52 Scottish courts expected in the next year.

The Immersonal technology allows victims and witnesses in Scotland to use virtual reality headsets to walk through a three-dimensional world which recreates the actual court building where their case is to be held.

It enables them to interact and familiarise themselves in a virtual environment that includes people and surroundings they can expect to encounter in court.

The contract was secured through CivTeach, a Scottish government digital and economic initiative set up to drive innovation in the public and third sectors.

“We have been working with Victim Support Scotland and CivTech creating prototypes, and testing for the past six months,” said Mr Houston.

“Now to see it live and active in the hands of users and the benefits they derive from it is an incredibly gratifying experience for the entire Immersonal team.

“The Foreign Commonwealth Development office has also contracted us to develop it for the International Criminal Court.

“Initially they want to use it for lay people and particularly kids who, when brought into the formal legal environment of a court room, can be overwhelmed with anxiety, and often just freeze.

“Our technology takes the pain out of that process allowing them to familiarise themselves with court room settings, people and processes. This can be done in the comfort of their own homes if need be.”

The foundations for the technology have been laid by Immersonal’s sister company Sentireal, which has developed bespoke virtual reality and augmented reality software applications.

Sentireal has worked with the Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (NIACRO) to create VR health and safety training for prisoners.

Tom Houston said the success of its court prottypes has created considerable interest in the Immersonal360 platform.

“The interest has been phenomenal and we are currently in talks with a number of organisations and companies, including a police force in England hoping to bring it into schools to help tackle bullying, drugs and gangs.

“We believe this is a game-changer in how virtual reality technology can help in all sorts of work and real-life environments.”