Technology and Art Collide at Inspirefest, Dublin

“Imagination is the thing that strives to make visible the invisible. That strives to make visible the unfathomable – it is a change maker.” So began Noeline Kavanagh’s rousing talk on Art and Technology at this year’s Inspirefest. Noeline is Artistic Director and CEO of Macnas, an internationally acclaimed interactive theatre company based in Galway. Macnas have been pushing boundaries in performance since their inception. And they continue to do so, recently becoming the first company in their genre to premiere at the famous SXSW Festival. Noeline recalled: “We stepped outside the world of low tech, and went on a blind date with high tech. We created a beta test prototype AR app which enabled a test audience to hear the inner voice of an 18-foot tall kinetic giant as he passed through the street.” Yes, you read that right!

The Power of AR

Noeline was enthusiastic about the potential of AR in performance: “AR, in my opinion, is the only technology that transforms passive into interactive. It provides a massive opportunity to increase participation and send stories beyond borders.”

For Noeline, magical things happen when art and tech collide. “The role of art and tech represents a glittering oasis of light and dark magic,” she enthused. “It has the potential to shake us out of monotony, the burdens of everyday life and even, at times, politically motivate us.” Powerful stuff indeed.

Creating a Virtual Pharmacy

Another area with the potential to be transformed through the merging of art and tech is healthcare. Deepa Mann-Kler took to the stage to speak about her pioneering company, Neon, who are using the power of art and tech to build something incredible – a ‘virtual pharmacy’ using AR, VR and MR technology.

The company’s flagship experience, Breath VR, offers an alternative solution for non-intrusive pain relief using VR. The technology helps people to use their breath as medicine by encouraging a process of deep diaphragmatic breathing. And it works, as Deepa explained: “Neon conducted a study last year with people suffering from fibromyalgia, repetitive strain injury and spinal fusion surgery. After using Breath VR for as little as 3 minutes, 80% of our respondents reported a de-escalation in their pain. And not just a slight drop but a staggering 50% drop.”

Coping With Chronic Pain

The potential for the technology to positively impact the lives of millions of chronic pain sufferers is huge. Deepa noted: “In the UK last year, 20 million opioid prescriptions were written for chronic pain. Every day 20% of the world’s population are in chronic pain and they need choice. This is where I think technology has a role to play, in particular, immersive technology like virtual and augmented reality.”

AR Helping Sick Children

Breath VR is just the tip of the Iceberg for Neon. Recently, play therapists at the Belfast children’s hospital approached them looking for a solution to help distract children undergoing routine procedures like canular insertions for chemotherapy. Deepa explained: “If the procedure doesn’t go ahead it can cause a delay of treatment for the child and result in extra costs but, most critically, it can be really distressing for a child.” In response, Neon created an AR game called ‘Whack a Mo.’ “It has 3 levels of difficulty to keep the child engaged and it’s only available in the hospital setting, ensuring the novelty aspect,” Deepa said. “Play therapists and children were instrumental to the design process.” The company have just begun to pilot the project, so watch this space.

There’s So Much Going On in Tech in Ireland

Inspirefest is just one of the many tech events that take place in Ireland. From meet-ups to conferences, there’s so much going on. Check out our events section to find out more.