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Taking AR innovation to South Korea

Written by Leigh Jenkins on 28 May 2019

“Beyond anything we imagined” - how a Staffordshire e-learning startup's AR expertise is providing mental health support in South Korea

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Meditating by VR

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After taking part in a Global Business Innovation Programme (GBIP) visit to South Korea in 2018, Tamworth-based e-learning business Enlighten has since been invited by the South Korean government to support its suicide prevention strategy because of the company’s experience in delivering mental health campaigns via augmented reality (AR).


The GBIP immersive technology visit was organised by EEN to help UK SMEs working in areas such as VR and AR to exploit growing opportunities in South Korea.


During the visit Steve Wileman, chief executive officer and head of technology and development at Enlighten, learned that South Korea was in the grip of a mental health crisis and was looking at innovative ways to tackle it. Its extensive 5G networks and high levels of smartphone usage meant that Enlighten’s AR phone-based mental health resources were suited for South Korea’s needs.


“Without the help of EEN we would never have been able to travel to South Korea and meet so many high-level government officials and organisations,” says Steve Wileman, chief executive officer and head of technology and development at Tamworth-based Enlighten. “The team did a lot of work behind the scenes to identify potential partners for us and to set up meetings. As a small startup, this really was an amazing opportunity.”


Enlighten has developed a range of material which is being used by UK mental health charities, colleges and universities and the armed forces. The South Korean link would see Enlighten work with that country’s first suicide prevention centre and wider health bodies.


“We have introduced AR solutions into local colleges, worked with armed forces and are part of the West Midlands Smart City Alliance, but the South Korean interest is beyond anything we imagined,” says Wileman.


The company has since hosted a delegation of senior South Korean government officials and introduced them to business, education and local government leaders in Tamworth, Stoke-on-Trent and Birmingham.


Support for new city suicide prevention centre


Enlighten will be working with urban designers, construction and digital companies such as Naviworks, who have a 19-year history supplying virtual reality training tools and systems for defence police and security services worldwide.


“Together we will be working to help reduce the number of suicides and improve the mental health of high-risk groups in the newly-built city of Pyeongtaek in Gyeonggi Province,” says Wileman. Gyeonggi is the most densely populated region in South Korea and major centre for technologically advanced industries, while the city of Pyeongtaek has a population of over 400,000 people.


South Korea has the highest rate of deaths by suicide in the developed world. One of the range of solutions that its government is exploring is to build a suicide prevention centre within the new city.


“Migrating 20,000 people into a new city is going increase feelings of isolation yet suicide is still highly stigmatised in the country so people find it hard to talk about,” explains Wileman.


“We’re developing content and an AR platform that residents will be able to access via their smartphones when they move to the city. This interactive resource will provide mental health support alongside general city information.”


AR as a tool to support mental health


One in four people in the world will be affected by mental health issues at some point in their lives. Enlighten want to reduce the stigma of this as well as using AR as a force for good.


Enlighten’s world-first augmented reality mental health campaign resulted in a 47% increase in self-referrals via AR posters, a 43% increase in self-referrals for anxiety and depression, and an eight per cent increase in self-referrals for suicidal thoughts and tendencies.


Resources from Enlighten’s updated campaign – “AugMental Health” – created with the UK charity, Rethink Mental Illness and drawing on resources supplied by BBC Three, were used around the globe to support World Mental Health Day. This campaign also resulted in Enlighten being ranked sixth in the top ten list of Twitter influencers for World Mental Health Day.


“AR can help in two ways,” says Suzanne Edward, Enlighten’s co-founder. “Teachers and health professionals can use it to identify people who are at risk of suicide. It can also help people who might be feeling suicidal.


“Traditionally, 16 to 24-year old males have been the hardest to reach but our research shows that, because they’re more comfortable using new technology, they’re more likely to access content in this way.”


A growing global market


The global market for VR and AR is predicted to be worth $120bn by 2020, with AR accounting for 70 per cent of the total. It showcases the development of business innovation and skills. For this reason, there are a growing number of augmented reality business opportunities waiting to be taken advantage of!  


EEN has been helping Enlighten with a bid for £1.9m funding from Eurostars for the Pyeongtaek project. If successful, the company aims to create up to four new jobs within the next few months.


“We know we’re in the right place to harness this emerging technology,” says Wileman. “We can’t thank the EEN team enough for believing in our potential.”

Without the help of EEN we would never have been able to travel to South Korea and meet so many high-level government officials and organisations

Steve Wileman, chief executive officer and head of technology and development, Enlighten