Virtual reality has and continues to be a much discussed concept by event professionals. However, for the best part of a decade, it has been deemed more aspirational rather than an actionable item. Despite previous discussions, there are emerging signs that point to virtual reality deployments actually coming to fruition in 2016 and beyond.
Virtual reality (VR) is a term that is used to describe a computer-generated environment that allows participants to interact and move with images in a manner that simulates the real world. It entails the use of hardware- gloves, helmets, goggles etc. - that trick the user’s brain to believe that they are actually flying through space or walking on the surface of the moon.
Virtual reality experiences are meant to be highly immersive i.e. extremely effective VR technologies can place users in alternative states where they are able to absorb information or experience situations in a manner that is either physically impossible or too difficult to experience in non-VR environments. This kind of disbelief or suspension can prove invaluable in certain circumstances.
To create virtual landscapes requires 3 components: a computer (laptop, PC, smartphone, or game console) to operate applications, a display or headset placed in front of one’s eyes, and devices (trackpads, microphones, and controllers) to deliver instructions or input from the user to the app.
Videos are sent from the PC to either one of the displays in the headset (one for each eye). Thereafter, lenses placed inside the goggles reshape and refocus images so as to make them appear three-dimensional while further reality is added by the app plotting movements of a user’s voice, hands, or head into virtual landscapes.
There are various reasons why VR could actually penetrate events planning in 2016 and beyond. To begin with, Google, Samsung, Sony, and Facebook are all involved. And while these entities are not major players in the events industry, their participation should, nonetheless, validate the technology thus bringing down the cost of applicable devices.
Secondly, experience- the hallmark of VR- is becoming a fundamental building block, not to mention buzzword, at events. This means that in future, organizers will be constantly challenged to deliver exciting and new experiences such as VR in order to keep events lively and fresh.
Lastly, with attendees to events getting younger, it is likely to be more difficult in future to capture the attention of young, smartphone-clutching, video-game playing audiences with staid cocktail parties, boring lectures, and square stands. Event organizers will be left with no option but to embrace virtual reality in order to maintain their client bases.
Virtual Reality experiences are meant to be highly immersive, but how does it work?
While it may not presently seem safe or feasible to imagine event attendees walking through events wearing VR headsets, there are several viable event use cases for this technology. Some of these include:
1. Product demonstrations
With product demonstrations being a mainstay of trade shows, it is conceivable that an exhibitor would prefer the impact of a vivid and immersive virtual reality-type demonstration rather than a video presentation or people on stage. One can easily conjure up images of visitors with VR headsets on trying products or pieces of equipment that may be too large for a booth. In addition, VR is an ideal fit for event organizers showcasing video games as they could use the reality experience to make games appear even more vivid.
2. Company events
With sponsorships and sponsors evolving, many companies are no longer willing to just enjoy the simplicity that is synonymous with signage and graphics but are instead keen on taking advantage of available opportunities to interact with attendees in different and new ways. Since many events deliver training and education, virtual reality simulations can be highly effective in helping individuals remember and learn new skills.
3. Keynote addresses
New technologies- from Telepresence to holograms- have been slowly finding their way
This much discussed but often discounted technology is finally making its way to mass consumers with VR developers exploring new ways of moving it beyond the entertainment industry and on to other fields. For event organizers, the good news is that costs for creating and viewing content are constantly coming down as use cases come into view. If the events industry is truly focused on creating new experiences, then virtual reality is, undoubtedly, a splendid option.