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New Realities: VR, AR, and More in 2019

By Wilson Tang and Michael Schaiman


  • Virtual reality creates unlimited storytelling potential
  • Augmented reality offers new engagement opportunities
  • Mixed reality gives users the best of both worlds
  • Multi-user experiences are growing in popularity
  • Gesture detection takes projection mapping to the next level

What’s ahead for event technology in the next year? This fourth installment in a five-part series takes a deep dive on what we see becoming important for event professionals to consider in 2019. Missed the previous parts? Read about how data is growing up, how artificial intelligence is changing everything, and how the mobile web is growing up.

The reality is, virtual reality isn’t exactly new.

It’s been popping up on trend lists for years. But as the technology has become more affordable and en vogue, experiential marketers of all sizes are using it to tell dramatic and powerful stories that literally immerse audiences. Virtual reality, along with its siblings augmented and mixed reality technologies, is being used at events and on show floors as a powerful storytelling tool to entertain, engage, and educate attendees.

As the technology evolves to include more availability and new applications, digital realities will become an increasingly popular way to create immersive experiences. Here are the trends that we see right now in the event space:

Trend #1: Virtual reality

Virtual reality is so much more than an entertaining video game peripheral — it allows organizations to fully immerse attendees in their message. From product training to virtual tours to sharing a virtual experience across thousands of miles, virtual reality can make it happen. Putting virtual reality into play at an event or in a booth space creates an infinite number of possibilities for exhibitors and show organizers.

With VR, there are few creative limits to storytelling, as it grants the ability to drop users into almost any setting, from almost any perspective. The high level of immersion and interactivity possible in VR makes it the “ultimate empathy machine,” allowing people a viewpoint in situations they might not have otherwise experienced. Consequently, it takes true skill and talent to tell meaningful stories rather than use virtual reality as a gimmick.

Trend #2: Augmented reality

Augmented reality adds a little virtual reality into…well, actual reality. While not as immersive as VR, AR is a solution that doesn’t require a special headset, reducing costs and fashion faux pas at the same time. Attendees can experience augmented reality on show site, during a keynote, or even at home via smartphones and tablets.

Thanks to the portability of AR and new kits from Apple, Google, and others, consumer applications of augmented reality have become increasingly popular — like with IKEA’s Place app that uses mobile devices to see how virtual furniture would look in a real-life space, or Warby Parker’s app that lets shoppers try on glasses using their compatible phones. This creates new opportunities to create engaging ways for attendees to engage and learn about brand solutions utilizing mobile devices, like product walk-throughs and interactive guides.

Trend #3: Mixed reality

Mixed reality is the best of both worlds when it comes to enhancing reality. Mixed reality is exactly what it sounds like, taking the immersive nature of virtual reality and integrating the virtual objects that track onto real-world views, making them interactive with their literal surrounding environment.

Microsoft’s HoloLens is leading the charge, allowing users to communicate, learn, create, and more via a fully contained holographic computer headset that combines the most immersive stereoscopic views while grounding them in the real world. Magic Leap is another big player, with their Magic Leap One headset that blends natural light with synthetic lightfields, tricking the eye and the brain into more realistic immersion in virtual experiences.

Mixed reality also may combine green screen technology to allow larger audiences and even viewers at home to engage with immersive content and feel like they are part of the experience — no more lonely “single-player” VR. This can be used for a number of applications in the event space, from holographic product demos to fully immersive, interactive brand stories.

Trend #4: Multi-user experiences

Part of the fun of an event is experiencing something with others. The energy of person-to-person interactions is something that cannot be denied, and virtual audiences are craving similar experiences where they can engage with multiple people at the same time and duplicate some of that energy in a virtual space.

This doesn’t necessarily mean a bunch of people with headsets on. in fact, we’re seeing more and more people interacting in an ‘asymmetric’ way — that is, some people in headsets, some on mobile devices, and some on tablets. The barriers to interaction are breaking down, and all digital devices should be considered as potential mediums to allow for people to connect with one another.

Multi-user experiences amplify interactive stories for events as more and more organizers look to extend attendance beyond the confines of the venue — for example, giving audiences at home the ability to participate. Allowing remote registrants to experience the event in an immersive, interactive environment can create added value and help boost attendance and virtual engagement.

Trend #5: Gesture detection

Projection mapping continues to be a hot commodity at events, offering a cost-effective alternative to static signage and clings. But there is more value to unlock by making projection immersive and touchable through gesture detection, giving attendees the ability to literally touch and interact with projected images.

Combining projection mapping with reality sensing technologies like Microsoft Kinect can make any event surface — from a wall to a tabletop to products and objects themselves — interactive and engaging. For example, exhibitors could project a virtual product in their booth for people to spin, take apart, and explore; or, educators and speakers could utilize projection mapping for teaching and demonstrations.

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