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Virtual Reality is Here, and Events Will Never Be the Same

In 2017, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich took 250 people on a wingsuit flight over Moab, Utah. After landing on the desert floor, the flyers were quickly shuttled to Vietnam where they took in the sights of the Ban Gioc waterfall. From there, they once again took to the skies for an aerial inspection of a Nevada solar power plant. And after a successful inspection, they enjoyed courtside seats at an NCAA basketball game.

Once they removed their virtual reality helmets, they found themselves sitting in the audience at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Krzanich and industry leaders are using virtual reality at events to completely change the way attendees experience exhibitions, shows, and events as large as CES.

Despite being such a young field, virtual reality is making waves at events and trade shows around the world. Through virtual reality, Krzanich was able to take an entire audience on an audiovisual trip around the world, from visiting natural wonders to watching sporting events. Companies are likewise using virtual reality to market their products, engage customers, and provide incredibly compelling sensory experiences.

Virtual Reality in the Event Industry

I’ve noticed that using AR/VR activities onsite is getting popular in the events industry. Event planners realize the potential of the technology. We have been receiving more requests to integrate VR/AR technology with the event management platform lately.  As an example, AR photo/video activations provide great opportunities for event planners and event marketers to engage with attendees, create social media buzz around an event, and scan more leads. To implement the integration, we need to consolidate attendees’ personal contact data that is collected through an event registration app with a static camera.

Anna Tomakh, digital marketing manager GEVME – a prominent event tech vendor.

While VR is often used at home, companies are bringing it to shows and events to draw in and engage attendees. However, there are a few considerations to bringing VR to your next event.

What Do I Need?

First and foremost, you need VR hardware. The type of hardware depends on the level of immersion you want to provide, as well as your budget. A fully immersive environment requires dedicated hardware like an Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, HTC Vive, or Sony Playstation VR. This also means bringing a computer capable of pushing high-resolution 3D graphics at high frame rates for each headset.

Less immersive options are visually less impressive, but are more affordable and often more accessible. Google proved this by building a usable VR headset out of an Android phone and a bit of cardboard, which they gave away to everyone at the 2014 Google I/O conference. Now that many low and mid-range smartphones are powerful enough to run VR apps, you can get away with providing a headset and a mobile app for attendees to download to their phones.

Finally, you will need VR content. Most VR content is computer generated, although many companies are using 360-degree cameras to create equally immersive content pulled straight from the real world. For smartphone VR, Google and Apple provide toolkits for developing VR-ready content. For desktop and laptop VR, gaming engines like Unity and headset developers like Oculus provide toolkits for building VR applications.

What Can I Do?

Companies are still exploring different ways of using VR at events, but here are some of the more effective applications.

Demo Products and Services

Product marketing is one of the top commercial uses of VR today. 1 in 3 consumers are more likely to shop with retailers that utilize VR, and 70% of younger U.S. consumers are interested in brands that offer VR-powered shopping experiences.

One insurance provider used VR to promote its products in a rather unusual way. NRMA Insurance designed a car crash simulator to show how car safety features have improved over three decades. “Victims” put on a VR headset, climb behind the wheel of a showroom car, then (virtually) crash into a barrier at the same speed that actual crash tests are conducted. The user then goes through the same simulation, only behind the wheel of an older car with fewer safety features. The user has firsthand experience in being in a major car accident, but gets to walk away at the end. It was an effective campaign strategy that earned “Best in Show” at the 2014 Sydney Royal Easter Show.

Provide Tours

Some companies aren’t limiting themselves to products, and are instead bringing entire buildings with them to shows.

In 2016, Anheuser-Busch gave SXSW attendees a VR tour of their St. Louis brewery that involved seeing, hearing, and even smelling different parts of the facility. After being led into a special room, users donned VR headsets were led on a tour of different rooms. When attendees entered a colder part of the facility, fans blew actual cold air into the room. When the tour brought them near the hops that went into the beer, real-world employees held actual hops under the attendees’ noses. And of course, attendees got to taste the beer afterwards.

Attend Events

While it may seem strange to attend a show while you’re at a show, VR lets people from around the world meet in the same place at the same time. You could walk through the CES showroom or attend a workshop at SXSW simply by putting on a headset.

One area where VR is used to literally put on a show is the music industry. Nothing compares to attending a live concert, but companies like Live Nation and NextVR are coming close to fully simulating the experience. Through VR, viewers can not only move through the audience, but they can also stand front and center, hop up on the stage, or go backstage with the band. With 65% of VR consumers expressing interest in live events, VR is set to revolutionize the way we experience concerts, sports, and other live events.

Bring Fiction to Life

VR is the perfect medium to breath life into fictional worlds and characters, and content creators are taking advantage of it to make viewers feel like they’re in their favorite movies and shows.

At the 2016 San Diego Comic-Con, FX Networks created a fully immersive simulation of the American Horror Story universe complete with an enclosed room, employees in lab coats, and beds with hospital sheets. After lying down, attendees put on VR headsets and were transported through a 5 minute psychological roller coaster ride complete with creepy characters and haunting scenes that played on common phobias. The experience was so popular it was fully booked through all four days of the convention.

Offer Training

VR is also ideal as a training platform. Although actions in the virtual world are free of real-world consequences, the simulation feels real to the user. Users can make decision that feel impactful, but can still be changed or reset entirely. This is especially important in fields like medicine and healthcare, where one mistake could cost a life.

For this exact reason, Osso VR is creating a virtual training platform that accurately emulates surgical procedures. Although the human body is an extremely complex system, companies like Osso want to give surgeons in training the opportunity to practice in life-like environments. Not only can students make mistakes, they can also reset the operating room at any time. It’s also significantly cheaper than having to source a sample to practice on.

While you may not see many surgeons in training at an event, you might see an artificial intelligence in training. Graphics manufacturer Nvidia developed Isaac, an artificial intelligence who learns by interacting with other people. In 2017, Nvidia brought Isaac to SIGGRAPH where he directly interacted with attendees. After putting on a VR headset, attendees entered a virtual room where they could play a game of dominoes with a digital avatar of Isaac. It’s a new step in VR that gives an actual body to an artificial construct, further bridging the gap between computers and people.

Recruit Talent

It’s no secret that VR is more popular among younger users. 50% of users between the age groups of 20—29 and 30—39 are very interested in virtual reality, with only 6% expressing no interest at all. As a result, companies looking to hire are turning to VR as a medium for attracting young, computer-savvy professionals.

German railway company Deutsche Bahn took VR headsets to career fairs for this exact purpose. Candidates could experience first-hand the lives of train conductors, electricians, and construction workers. The initiative was sparked by a realization that much of Deutsche Bahn’s workforce would be retiring, and the company needed to acquire 10,000 people per year in Germany alone. The recruiting team found that exposing candidates to this experience resulted in higher-quality applications and candidates who were more interested in the position.

Conclusion

VR is still a young field, and companies around the world are still finding innovative new ways to bring it to their events. The rise of commercial VR has made it even easier for companies to bring virtual experiences everywhere they go. While VR won’t replace face-to-face contact anytime soon, it can greatly enhance the experiences customers have with your brand.

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