Augmented Reality (AR), Extended Reality (XR) and Virtual Reality (VR) could transform online events

Being rather weary of the Zoom and PowerPoint combo for online events I’ve recently attended two mind-blowing experiences that show how Augmented Reality (AR), Extended Reality (XR) and Virtual Reality (VR) could be used to improve the future digital client experience. Here are my experiences and insights from a talk on XR and AR hosted by the Worshipful Company of Marketors  and the VR Awards  to see how Augmented Reality (AR),  Extended Reality (XR)  and Virtual Reality (VR) could transform online events.

Past experiences with VR and AR

Back in 2003, despite not being a gamer, I was entranced by the Second Life virtual world. A few of the largest management consultancies dipped their toe in these technology waters with virtual graduate recruitment booths. There were even a few far-sighted boutique law firms who endeavoured to interact with their tech clients there.

More recently, I admired the property industry’s experiments with Blippar. A code reader on your mobile connects you to interactive web and video content. It provides an information overlay onto real estate destinations. There’s similar AR technology in the telescopes at the top of The Shard.

What’s the reality about AR in 2020?

On 5th October, The Worshipful Company of Marketors  presented a webinar on AR and XR featuring Omaid Hiwaizi (Emerging Technology Marketer, ex CMO Blippar) and James Simpson (Creative Technologist, founder of Copper Candle).

AR was defined as “a technology that combines computer-generated images on a screen with the real object or scene you are looking at”.  Pokemon Go is a well-known example with 14% of the world’s population having downloaded it. Google Maps in walking mode is another.

James – coming from the theatre industry – shared examples of XR. Most impressive was the AR simulation of the Royal Opera House. It shows scenery designs in situ – and allows you to sit in different audience positions and back-stage to check the views. Simulations show lighting and particle (stage smoke) designs. It also enables virtual dress rehearsals – with actors moving on stage, showing how their costumes move and how they interact with dancers.

But the most exciting demonstration was the use of the HoloMe app (this is now Beem) so that the presenter appeared as a live hologram right in front of me in my home office.

I can’t say that I fully understand all the technology – especially when it extends into hyper-reality – but I was truly excited at the potential. Interestingly, they mentioned law firm Bird & Bird’s efforts to consider the legal implications of data in AR applications. The AR market is estimated to be worth $70-$75 billion by 2023.

(Read about why I became a member of The Worshipful Company of Marketors)

4th International VR Awards

The Academy of International Extended Reality (AIXR)  announced its 2020 VR Awards winners at the world’s first fully immersive VR awards ceremony on 12th November. I attended the press event as a digital guest. I had no idea that VR was such a major force – with over 157 international nominations and 94 finalists across 13 categories and a panel of 70 expert judges.

I admit I struggled a bit with the technology as I don’t have a VR headset. The day before I followed instructions to use Steam to download the VRChat app onto my laptop. But then I hit some glitches trying to register for the event. But the brilliant tech people telephoned to talk me through the process. With their help and some support from my 20-something daughter (who reminded me of the WASD keys for moving about in a virtual world) I managed to get in.

I was astonished to be welcomed by a conversation with tech guy Daniel (one of 40 volunteers who created the whole experience). It was weird talking to a real person who appeared on my screen as a robot avatar. He patiently explained the basics to this Newbie and watched my clumsy attempts to walk around lobbies and lounges until I finally moved through the portal (very Star Trek) into the four curated Acts of the event.

I am so proud that I managed to walk through the virtual worlds and virtually press buttons, pull levers and grasp watering cans. I wasn’t quite bold enough to fire up the tech to interact with some of the other 1,000 guests. I listened to the narrator, read on-screen tips, watched show reels of shortlisted entries and heard speeches from the winners who showcased their applications.

I was stunned at the breadth of the categories – from health (an MRI machine room), enterprise and  training (I was in an aeroplane cockpit and then a science lab!), games, social influence, film, innovation and even marketing.

Unsurprisingly, there was little evidence of the professional services sector although Accenture sponsored the Lifetime Achievement Award, which was awarded to HTC founder Cher Wang who accepted the award via video.

I felt like I was immersed in the film Avatar (and yes, I helped bright flowers to grow!). Yes, really. What an experience. There was even an after-event with a “live” DJ! Further information is available on Twitter, Instagram & Facebook: @VRAwards and @AIXRorg

And the impact on future online events?

I know that the professions are hardly early adopters. But with so much money and time invested in events to showcase expertise and support networking and relationship building, Covid-19 has impact many M&BD plans and activities.

Most firms have transitioned to digital events. And some have adapted to platforms such as Remo and So wouldn’t it be great if some were bold enough to embrace technologies such as AR, XR and VR? And maybe it might extend beyond marketing and communications to create virtual offices and transform professional service delivery. Exciting times.