Belfast technology firm Immersonal has been using virtual reality to help victims of crime and witnesses prepare for the daunting experience of giving evidence in court.
The startup, which specializes in designing “self-authored, immersive training experiences,” enables individuals to converse with members of the judicial process in a simulated digital environment.
Preparing for your day in court
MetaNews previously reported on how a Colombian court held a judicial hearing in a VR environment. Immersonal’s software, though, is geared towards helping victims and witnesses mentally and emotionally prepare for a real-life court room.
Formed two years ago by the directors of Sentireal, one of Britain’s top VR and AR software development firms, Immersonal has already secured two large contracts for the use of its software in legal settings: one, worth £500,000, will see it rolled out across 52 courts in Scotland over the next 12 months. The other, with the Foreign Commonwealth Development office, will see the same software piloted in The Hague as part of the International Criminal Court.
“Going to court can be intimidating but this technology allows you to walk through a three-dimensional world which recreates the actual court building where the case is to be held,” Immersonal CEO Tom Houston told the BBC.
“You can interact in a virtual environment that includes the people and objects you will encounter during your case.”
Immersonal’s software, which was two years in the making, simplifies the process by which users can create VR experiences and obviates the need for an on-hand software development team. Thus, non-technical users can craft advanced VR simulations for use across a range of platforms.
“It is giving lay people – not software developers – the chance to create virtual reality experiences,” Tom Houston explains.
A futuristic criminal justice system
Ahead of the court roll-out, Houston revealed that Immersonal had been working with Victim Support Scotland and CivTech, a digital and economic initiative set up by the Scottish government, to create and test prototypes.
“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,” Houston said.
Such benefits are likely to be keenly felt by vulnerable witnesses and crime victims, particularly those who suffer from shyness and anxiety. Instead of being overwhelmed by the prospect of stepping into the court room, they can instead familiarize themselves with the settings, people and processes from the comfort of their own home.
Northern Ireland’s Victims of Crime Commissioner Geraldine Hanna told the BBC that “developments in using virtual reality in the criminal justice system feels like the next step in the journey to help improve a victim’s experience.”
Houston, meanwhile, said Immersonal is already in talks with an English police force that is considering using the software in schools to help address bullying, drugs and gangs.