Event Tech Talk: How to get started with AR and VR on a budget

‘Event Tech Talks’ is a series of events by Event Industry News, which ignites debate and discussion in the sphere of event technology and its impact on the events industry. This month, as Business Development Manager at drpdigital, I joined the panel for “How to get started with AR and VR on a budget”.

AR and VR are innovative and revolutionary technologies that have been utilised in many of the live events we run for clients, but they come at a price. This panel considered how to get started with AR and VR with a smaller collection of pennies in the back pocket. The panel was hosted at 1 Wimpole Street in London and I was joined by Adam Jones, Director at Digital Products, Adam Price, Business Development Executive at DB Pixelhouse, Tim Manning, Co-Founder at SWARM, and moderated by James Morgan, Founder of Event Tech Lab. Here’s a brief overview and top-line points of the discussion:

What is AR?

Augmented Reality (AR) is the combination of the real world (what we see through our eyes) and digital (what we can see through a device) to create a visual story, image, interactive game or video, generally triggered from markers in a set location. For example, you look at a tree and it looks like a tree but, when you hold a tablet over it, this same tree is covered in moving monsters, or fire, or something.

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What is VR?

Virtual Reality (VR) is the ability to put on a headset and be anywhere in the world, or play or do something you can only imagine doing, such as fighting spaceships or walking along a beach in the Maldives, or skydiving off a mountain, or riding a rollercoaster you’d be too terrified to step onto in real-life. VR removes the reality of our own worlds and invites us to be immersed into a fully virtual world.

How does it work in events?

On the large conference scale, virtual reality doesn’t always work, because it is quite a siloed experience. If 300 delegates all put on a headset, they’re temporarily removed from the event and any connection with the presenter or one another. You can overcome this by being clearer with the way you introduce VR at your events – ensure sessions are carefully facilitated and the time within the virtual world is relatively short.

For individual installations and exhibitions, VR can be a great tool. A user may be in an expo hall but you can get them to experience anything visually, anywhere in the world, or out of this world, or purely conceptually. However, queuing can be a problem. Delegates may have to wait for headsets to be available. Are those queuing simply watching that person wearing the headset, as they enter a world unknown to everyone else? This situation can be improved by either sharing the user’s view port or creating secondary activities in the build-up to the experience.  Also, the more introverted amongst us would feel nervous being centre stage. It’s important to create an environment that’s comfortable.

Adam Price: VR can also be interactive as, at the Mobile World Mobile Congress, some delegates wore the head sets and were immersed into a phone shop where they had to collect items and throw them into a basket. As there was quite a lot of activity happening at once, it was amusing to watch even if you weren’t wearing the headset.

AR can be more sociable and delegates can explore together. We’ve had some great success at conferences with just a single tablet per table, where the markers were printed onto the table cloth – delegates must collaborate to complete the task at hand. Exhibition is perfect for AR. It creates excitement and is a great driver for stand attendance.

What’s the expense of it – can you do VR on a small budget?

Tim Manning: it’s only 5 past 12 and we are at the start of the roadmap or journey of where VR is going to go. We need to take a simplistic view and understand that we are at the start of it. There are lots of people interacting in the same space, but we are early on in how this tech is developing. It’s important to try the basics to explore it, test it and try it. “There’s a lot of really easy, accessible, cheap, free stuff out there, so just dive into it and use it!”

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Can AR be cheap to get started with?

.Adam Jones: we are free and we have so many tools at our disposal – Google Scratch Up, Modello, and Blender. Blender is very, very powerful 3D software where you can create essentially real environments to put yourself into and that exports straight out. The difficulty is learning how to use those tools and understanding how to create great content. It’s like a piece of art, anyone can get a paint brush and paint, but it is the content and delivery of it that matters.

If you had a £5 budget, you wouldn’t be able to get bespoke VR and AR?

You can absolutely use free tools to bring the cost down, but you wouldn’t be able to get anything bespoke. However, we pride ourselves at drp on affordability, and how much you can get out of the VR or AR.

  • Can you extend the VR and AR beyond the event?
  • Can you team up with other teams within your company so it can have dual purpose?
  • Can a single AR or VR application be used across multiple events over the next year or so?

One thing’s crucially important though – it shouldn’t be about having VR and AR for the sake of it – it’s about the end goal, what do you want to achieve? What problem are you trying to solve? AR and VR may be the right answer, but it shouldn’t be part of your initial brief.

Above all…

AR and VR come into their own because there is a wow factor. They’re both interactive and people want to use them. Whilst fully immersed in these environments, users are more susceptible to messages and this impact is more memorable. You can translate content that perhaps other typical event mechanisms would fail to do, but, the content and use of it has to be right.

See the panel in full here:

Matt Hayward – Business Development Manager at drpdigital

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