BLOG: Adapting Industry 4.0 technologies for promoting and supporting Mental Health across the UK

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To celebrate Mental Health Awareness Week (9th – 13th May 2022) we highlight how Industry 4.0 technologies are promoting and supporting mental health, keeping us better connected, offering new avenues for communication, and bringing communities closer together.

The COVID-19 pandemic and multiple lockdowns have had a harrowing impact on mental health across the UK and beyond. It kept individuals isolated from ‘normal life’ for months at a time, as we experienced quarantine within our homes and suffered restricted access to family and friends, whilst other contributing worries took their toll on our mindsets.

According to the NHS, by the end of December 2021, 1.49 million people were in contact with mental health services whilst a concerning 20,894 people were subject to the Mental Health Act, as 15,647 people became detained in hospital.

The Virtual Engineering Centre (VEC) has supported numerous SMEs across the North West in developing innovation through numerous ERDF projects such as LCR4 START which aims to help businesses to develop their digital strategy and become better prepared for launching products and services to improve mental health across multiple communities and groups.

 

Improving inclusivity and accessibility through the performing arts

Upcoming theatre company The Purpledoor, offer an inclusive entertainment venue that seeks to engage with disadvantaged groups, using an array of digital technologies as part of a strategic accessibility plan.

Business owner, Karl Falconer aims to use immersive reality to add value to performance recordings using 360-degree cameras to offer remote access to a realistic experience, removing the need for travelling and visiting a busy theatre.

The VEC developed a comprehensive guide to mixed reality technologies within the context of a community theatre, recommending low-cost and off-the-shelf options, identifying local companies who would be able to support further, in addition to practical considerations for smooth implementation for use by specific groups and the general public.

PurpleDoor hopes to expand on this offering for educational purposes, enriching how children can learn and perform whilst interacting with this innovative technology.

 

Opening communication avenues for isolated communities

Southport based digital innovation lab, Overroad was passionate about developing a device that would encourage wider communication across the logistics industry, particularly drivers.

A study conducted by mental health charity MIND found that 30% of illnesses in workers in the transport industry are mental health-related. Often this can be caused by drivers being under pressure to deliver on time, unpredictable journey times and long hours on the road, causing a lack of social interaction.

Overroad developed an easy-to-use mobile phone app and paired small handheld device that drivers across the UK can use to stay better connected, develop support systems, and build friendships to curve the feeling of isolation and loneliness.

The VEC took Overrorad’s initial product concept drawings and dropped these into a virtual reality where the company could further explore and improve the functionality of their product before investing in physical prototypes.

 

Utilising immersive technology for enhancing education and improving the quality of life for ex-offenders and disadvantaged communities

Focus MRS (Mixed Reality Streaming) supports learning using immersive technologies such as Virtual Reality (VR) and boasts a mixed reality streaming platform with 360-degree live streaming capabilities for capturing classrooms and educational environments for improved remote learning and greater accessibility for more.

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, Focus MRS explored the benefits of introducing these technologies to ex-offenders for supporting the development of key skills that can help to improve their lives and circumstances whilst directly preparing for potential careers and jobs as they are integrated back into society.

Previous research has shown that re-offending rates are as high as 69% after less than one year following release with no employment, which is significantly higher than 32% of those who manage to secure P45 employment spells within 12 years of release from prison.

The VEC supported Focus MRS in exploring additional digital tools that could enhance this digital learning whilst ensuring the user experience is realistic and not overwhelming. The teams recommended Augmented Reality for improving interactivity and engagement levels. Being immersed in these environments can help users in building self-esteem in conjunction with learning new skills that can be applied to their own lives.

The teams have developed a working relationship with Inside Connections, pairing probation officers and prison leavers to support in skill development. A recent pilot project has seen Focus MRS provide virtual reality solutions as part of this training and access to realistic virtual environments for learning new skills.

Ministry of Justice: Analysis of the impact of employment on re-offending following release from custody, using Propensity Score Matching: https://bit.ly/3Kjgg9y

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To find out more about the Virtual Engineering Centre and how we aim to support businesses on their digital transformation journeys, please click here.

All case studies discussed, can be found here:

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