Daily Archives: August 4, 2017

Broadening the Boundaries of Education – Virtual Reality’s Learning Benefits

Virtual reality is set to change the future of higher learning thanks to the countless practical training applications. The augmented and virtual reality landscape is not set to be an asset for only academia, but skills development, risk management construction training such CCNSG training courses as well.

Educators are quickly learning that any subject can be paralleled within virtual reality. The safety of such training alone is reason enough to begin relying upon immersive simulations. Here we’ll be taking a closer look at the benefits of virtual reality within all levels of education and across all sectors. We are seeing exactly how and why the industry will be worth an estimated 40.4 billion US dollars by just 2020.

The Growth of Virtual Reality

From roughly the start of 2016, virtual reality was estimated to bring in $2.7 billion in revenue whereas just one year later its earnings skyrocketed to $7.2 billion. This massive growth has even impacted the artificial intelligence sector, as virtual reality hinges on it for efficient delivery of an automated experience.

The Global X Robotics and Artificial Intelligence fund alone, just one major player in the industry, has grown over 30% in a little over six months. All these movements are doing is highlighting the massive impact which virtual reality is beginning to impress upon our lives. As the technology becomes more commonplace there is a higher availability of developers and interest in simulation for training, distance learning and skills development. Let’s see which industries are showing the most significant expansion within education.

Distance Learning and Virtual Worlds

Virtual reality learning environments (VRLE) are excellent for long-distance learning. Never before has an educator been given the opportunity to share an interactive space with their learners in this way. Social virtual reality learning simulations allow for collaboration of various educators and students all within the same rendered classroom.

With the cost of entry-level smartphone based virtual reality being extremely low, devices such as Google Cardboard afford the disadvantaged an opportunity to receive proper education. The most basic example of affordable VR learning is the 360 degree videos available on free platforms such as YouTube. The chance to be walked through a battlefield or escorted through the Whitehouse while being narrated your syllabus fascinates learners. The knowledge retention of virtual reality-based education is outstanding.  These videos are only beginning to show what is possible given a bit of innovation and creative thinking.

Combat & Military Training in Virtual Reality

Whereas cutting edge military simulations are understandably not common knowledge, the public has been made aware of a few leading exhibits. VIRTSIM is a prime example of a military technology which has been shown in glimpses to the public. Developed by US defence contractor Raytheon, VIRTSIM uses full-body motion tracking to facilitate a massive virtual reality world which is used for military and emergency personnel education.

Their simulation includes muscle-stimulation via electric shock and full free and natural movement within an area comparable in size to a basketball court. With completely custom software and a hardware cost of over $100,000, this is high-end virtual reality. The University of California, Los Angeles is even promoting military developments for the US using VR. Their recently released 360-degree video entitled ‘Leaders Made Here’ allows prospective cadets to become immersed in a glimpse of training from the first-person perspective of a US Army officer.

Virtual Reality & PTSD

Realistic training simulations are not the only benefit which virtual reality holds for the military. Psychology has also found its uses through the treatment of PTSD, or posttraumatic stress disorder. Psychologist and Director of Medical Virtual Reality at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies, Albert “Skip” Rizzo, has been successful using this technology to assist those returning from war.

His virtual reality-based exposure has successfully treated those suffering from all forms of trauma, PTSD and both sufferers of cognitive and motor decline. Once more psychologists grasp the potential of virtual reality and the scope of treatment available in a custom-created environment, it becomes inevitable that we will see great therapeutic value from this technology.

VR for Healthcare

The healthcare training functionality of virtual reality technology is invaluable. Surgeons and other medical staff are given the chance to carry out dangerously precise procedures with no risk to human life. Similarly, complex operations such as organ transplants can be simulated and practiced by the operating surgeon beforehand.

Developments such as Medical Realities for the Oculus Rift offer a full range of cost-effective surgical and medical training solutions. Access to a safe training environment of this calibre is a rarity in underdeveloped areas. This technology also allows surgeries to be broadcast via the virtual landscape. For example, the Royal London Hospital pioneered the way when Dr. Shafi Ahmed live-streamed a cancer surgery in 2014 via Google Glass. Today the practice is far more commonplace.

Medical students can study seasoned professionals from every angle, viewing the procedure as if they were present in the room. The newly launched HP Z back is a new technology which allows for full roaming in a virtual environment. The relatively low cost and across-the-board capabilities are toted to make it perfect for job training with telemedicine a prime application. We are soon to experience even more complex procedures at higher levels of immersion than ever before seen.

Virtual Reality – Evolving the Study of Art

Every area of arts, culture and education has been touched by the deployment of virtual reality. Recently the University of Virginia started up revolutionary art history classes, headed up by instructor Eric Hupe. This resourceful Italian renaissance art and culture instructor has begun including virtual reality in his classroom. He allows students to explore custom-created renderings of frescoed walls and art found in early renaissance Italy. The ability to show art students the magnificence, detail and beauty whilst standing before perfectly recreated inlaid wood panels and elaborate frescoes from the 14th and 15th century is unmatched by any other art class. Yet despite being unique in the execution, many other art instructors are turning to virtual reality to expand their creative horizons. Google has even released what is termed the ‘Tilt Brush’ to assist virtual artistry. Granting a glorious canvas in full virtual reality, this tool allows you to paint in or on a full 3D room. The entire area is available to your imagination. The possibilities are near endless. This marks just the beginning of artistic innovation within education and expression.


How VR Development Impacts Corporate Infrastructure

As one looks closer at the impact of virtual reality, it soon becomes clear that corporate enterprises have long been looking for this technology. From aviation to motor manufacturing and even natural resources, every industry can find practical training benefits by integrating virtual reality.

Fuel giant BP recently partnered with Igloo Vision to lower their risk at the Hull, England-based refinery. By running emergency procedures in a VR simulation maximum safety is guaranteed. Even the titan of aviation, Boeing, has begun investing in virtual reality.

Their venture capital arm Horizon X has poured over $3.5 million into an augmented and virtual reality start-up named C360 Technologies. They hope to facilitate improved employee training as well as an upgrade to their autonomous systems. These are but two of the many examples of how much change VR research and development brings. The European sector alone has grown to 487 companies as of midway through 2017. This number will continue to rise as the industry surges forward around the globe.

Public Virtual Reality Education Platforms

Expeditions VRGoogle Expeditions VR is a premier virtual reality learning experience which transports learners through guided educational 360-degree 3D tours. It allows students from around the world to visit historical landmarks while connecting multiple people to the same lesson through either Google Cardboard or a Daydream headset.

ClassVRClassVR is a highly flexible virtual reality platform which allows educators to develop their very own virtual reality classrooms and simulations. It gives easy access to an interface which makes over 500 preset subjects and their learning material available to be compiled into custom VR lessons. It even allows you to capture your own scenes and other multimedia content. Remote learning is made easy and cost-effective through this innovative development.

Virtual SpeechVirtual Speech has a singular focus, the development of public speaking skills and interview training. It is a great example of how virtual reality can be used to deliver specific training to remote learners. A better correspondence course on interpersonal communication is hard to find. Training real life skills in a virtual environment relieves most of the inhibiting pressure, while leaving just enough realism to simulate speaking in front of large amounts of people.

KinfulKinful is a platform which describes itself as a social-emotional learning curriculum. This setup encourages students to exchange interactions regarding their life and learning experience. The intercultural benefits of connecting learners from around the world are invaluable to long-term growth. Using Kinful, students can literally view the world through another’s eyes, in addition to meeting their peers in a virtual classroom.

The Future of VR and Education

Virtual reality is expanding in all areas.  Yet it is said that while virtual reality may be big, augmented reality has an even larger role in training and skills development. The ability to superimpose objects, people and machinery within a true-to-life environment grants immersion like no other virtual experience can.

Students will soon be capable of interacting with virtual objects and learning implements. This concept, termed embodied learning, grants far more potential than conventional means of education. Students are no longer forced to rely on interpretations of academic descriptions but can instead observe a rendering which looks and feels authentic.

Life is a journey of experience and both virtual and augmented reality allow for experiences which are normally out of reach of most individuals. By broadening the boundaries of our perceived reality we are extending the limits of education, innovation and inspired creation.

6 pieces of tax advice for every small business

Whether you’re just starting out or are well established in business it’s vitally important that you seek good tax advice – without it you could literally be giving money away. While there’s no replacement for a qualified accountant, there are some pieces of advice that apply to all small businesses.

Have a look through our 6 pieces of tax advice and see if there are any areas you could be working more tax efficiently…

  1. Explore flat rate VAT

VAT is VAT right? If this is your assumption – you’re wrong – and you could be missing out on a healthy size chunk of profit.

A flat rate of tax applies when you choose to pay VAT annually on your turnover – rather than individual transactions. A flat rate also means that the rate you pay is based on your industry, for example:

  • Advertising – 11%
  • Computer repair services – 10.5%
  • Printing – 8.5%
  • Labour-only building services – 14.5%
  • Security – 12%
  • Transport (including taxis and removals) – 10%

…and that is to name just few.

So, VAT is charged at 20% – but if you choose to pay that one-off flat rate then you’ll be paying a reduced amount to HMRC – with the remainder retained by your business. And if that isn’t good news enough, HMRC even give you an additional 1% discount for your first year of operating that way. Well worth looking into in more detail.

  1. Work from home?

If you’re a sole trader or small self-employed business it’s easy to settle for the most basic tax perks of working from home – HMRC offer a fairly small £2 per week allowance if your home is your business base. However, there’s much more available if you do a little homework.

As an example, let’s say you have a house with 5 rooms, if you use one of these as an office then effectively 1/5th of your household costs can be attributed to the business – so if your electricity bill £500 then there’s £100 worth of electricity that is being used to power your work if you’re there full time.

There’s a sliding scale too, so even if you just work one day from then there’s still a proportion that can be claimed. And it’s not just energy bills, you can claim against a proportion of the following:

  • Heating
  • Electricity
  • Council Tax
  • Mortgage interest or rent
  • Internet and home telephone use

It can be tempted to just keep things simple and claim the most basic amount – but remember this is likely to be far less than it actually costs to run your business from home, so calculate what you’re entitled to with a ‘Use of Home’ claim.

  1. Staff perks can be tax perks

Perks for staff might sound like something that’s going to impact your bottom line – but in actual fact, used smartly there are perks that can save your business money at the same time as keeping employees smiling!

  • Car leasing – Have you considered offering a salary sacrifice car leasing scheme? There are lots of companies who’ll walk you through the kind of services they provide and explain the benefits in details. You’ll instantly do away with those ‘car won’t start’ excuses for days off too!
  • Ride your bike to work – There are a variety of Cycle to Work style schemes – staff can save a huge amount on buying a new bike, have a small monthly sum taken from their wage for doing so and your company receives a tax incentive for promoting green travel methods.
  • Child care – Providing tax free childcare vouchers can be a huge benefit to employees with families – especially considering the lofty prices of professional nurseries and child-minding providers.

And that’s not all – there are various salary sacrifice schemes available for businesses of all sizes, cutting your tax bill and giving excellent incentives that could help you recruit and retain excellent staff.

  1. How are you paid?

If you’re smart with how you take money from your business you can make some really big dents in your tax bill. The goalposts can move on what’s going to be best for you, so discussing options with your accountant is important – but some things to think about might be your level of salary, how much is drawn as dividends and anything that can be considered a ‘benefit in kind’.

Generally speaking the most common benefit in kind is the use of a company car – usually a positive step for someone self-employed – however, do make sure that HMRC are made aware, even delaying notifying them by a couple of months can mean a chunky tax bill.

The guidelines on how company directors are paid look set to change – so an on-going dialogue with your accountant is important. Which takes us neatly to…

  1. Talk to your accountant

We’re in an age that makes finding a ‘tick-box’ accountant really easy… That’s to say, every company needs an accountant – and many decision makers feel like having one onboard is just a formality – when, in reality a business-accountant relationship should be much more than that.

If you’re not talking to your accountant on a regular basis you’re missing out on what you’re paying for! An accountant isn’t just someone who’s there to keep track of the business money, in actual fact, proper financial advice is worth far more than the advanced admin skills that many are used for.

There’s no tangible amount of percentage of tax benefit that talking to your accountant will return, but if there’s one thing you can be certain of – it’s that they know more about tax than you do – so talking to them should be done as frequently as is practical!

  1. Keep organised!

Again, we’re finishing up with a non-specific piece of advice – but one that has the potential to save you a fortune in unnecessary tax. Keep your receipts and expenses in an organised manner! That means different things to different people – but the more detailed you are – the more efficiently you and your accountant can work together.

Can you face keeping a spreadsheet with all your business expenses? Can you just manage to keep all your receipts in one folder?

If you’re feeling really lazy, consider having a company credit card that you only use for expenses – pay it off at the end of every month and your statement suddenly becomes a very neat and organised list of your expenses – all kindly provided, printed and sent by your card company!