Looking to the Future – Augmented Reality at Trade Shows

So, browsing around, I came upon a fascinating article from last month about a Google Glass deployment at a foodie trade show. You might be wondering, why and how would you want to use Google Glasses at a tradeshow – but the possibilities are actually very interesting!

20 x 20 closed island booth design2

The Washington Restaurant Association became one of the first groups to directly make Google Glass a part of their trade show.  Specifically, live-streaming features were used.  Attendees with GG were roaming around the floor, giving a first-person POV view to anyone streaming  them online.

This, by itself, creates a remarkable new opportunity for online outreach.  It gives viewers at home more of a feeling of “being there” than any traditional handheld camera could which is why AR technology is a quickly growing new trade show technology.

Now, Google Glass is still in testing stages, as are some of the other AR or VR devices in development, so this is pretty speculative.  Still, it got me wondering:  What could be theoretically done with goggle-based computers in trade shows today, and what will we be seeing in years to come?

Mix And Match Realities At Future Trade Shows!

First, just a bit of clarification for people who aren’t familiar with the technologies involved:

Virtual Reality:  VR goggles are fully enclosed, with tiny screens inside that fill a person’s view when  fitted, as in the Oculus Rift.  They usually -but not always- have parallax, meaning there are left and right screens that show slightly different pictures to create the illusion of depth.  (Like an old Mattel View-Master.)  VR tries to replace the viewer’s sight with a computer-generated world.

Augmented Reality:  AR goggles are see-through, as in Google Glass, and superficially look like a pair of eyeglasses.  They use a mixture of technologies to project images onto the real-life view someone is seeing, to enhance the live images without disrupting the person’s everyday movements.

So, what can AR bring you today if, for example, you got into the Google Glass beta program or marketed to people in it?  Based on the currentApp List, here are just a few ideas!

1 – Live Product Information

Let’s start with a really cool one:    Remember the “IKEA Apartment” scene from Fight Club?  That can be done live these days, with the goggles serving up prices, copy blurbs, or even tiny videos of the product in action, triggered simply by looking at them.

trade show ipad stands

Although, keep in mind, you’d need something like RFID tags on your products telling GG what those products are.  AR technology is still years away from being able to visually identify objects without outside help.

2 – Auto-Playing Movies

Posters or other visual materials can be visually-identified, such as with QR Codes, and automatically launch movies based on them.  One popular application for this at the moment is creating movie posters that start auto-showing that movie’s trailer when a GG user looks at them.  You’re probably not in film production, but it’s easy to see how this could be applied to virtually ANY printed materials that might have videos attached to them.

3 – Music, Podcasts, or Other Audio

AR goggles have onboard memory, as well as usually sporting earphones, so they’re also fully-featured audio devices.  Again, using QR Codes, you could set up a system where merely looking at something would cause the visitor to start hearing audio of your choice.

This could be used for anything from yet another way of pushing product copy, to creating unique audio experiences in larger walk-through trade show displays.  In a semi-related example, the Louvre museum in Paris actually has an associated app for the Nintendo 3DS which provides running tour audio as well as other pop-up features based on positional tracking.

This is worth mentioning since anything a museum can do would alsowork well at a trade show.  The Louvre is using the 3DS in the exact same way we’re talking about using goggles.

(So could you, for that matter, if your market is likely to own 3DSes.)

4 – Positional Announcements

Since virtually all AR goggles, Google’s included, include geolocation services, those can be utilized to provide position-based messaging.  This could be a good way to lure visitors to your booth, if you’ve got freebies they might be interested in.

As one example, if you’re mixing up free slushies at a hot summer trade show,  you could beam that fact to anyone who walks within 20 feet of your booth.

5 – Scheduling Reminders

In my view, one of the biggest applications for AR in everyday life will be its ability to provide people with live, minute-by-minute scheduling to help them through their day.  If you had an appointment in Midtown Manhattan, GG could warn you of it in time to still catch the subway (since it knows the A-train schedule), or provide mapping, with live traffic updates, if you’re driving yourself.

ipad stands in office lobby

Imagine the same sort of arrow-based map you might see in a video game, or on a GPS navigator, but floating in your field of view instead.

In trade shows, this can be put to use in exactly the same way.  If people sign up at your booth for notifications, you could remind them half an hour before a scheduled conference, and provide a live map showing them how to get there.  Or, your staunch fans could download your schedule ahead of time, to ensure they don’t miss any of your presentations.

What About Virtual Reality?

Will there be a place for VR in trade shows of the future?  Almost certainly.  However, since VR totally encloses a person’s view, its applications are necessarily more limited.  You can’t walk around in public wearing VR goggles.  However, here are a couple ideas:

1 – Fully-Rendered Virtual Locations

Let’s say you’re an architectural and landscaping design firm.  Sure, you can show pictures of your designs, or homes you’ve created.  But with VR, you could build 3D recreations of your projects – since you probably designed them all with CAD anyway – and allow visitors to “walk around” inside your designs.  They could potentially explore an entire mansion, office complex, or casino-resort without leaving the exposition hall.

2 – Simulator Games

If you have a product that people can ride, you’ve got a product ripe for a VR demo.  Over the years, companies like Ford and Volkswagen have made a lot of sales by giving away free computer simulations showing off their latest lines.  Doing it in VR would only further enhance the effect, being the true next-best-thing to a live test drive.

3 – Telepresence Conferences

Looking a little further ahead here, there’s no reason VR and videoconferencing couldn’t be combined.  Perhaps you’re holding a shareholder’s meeting back at corporate HQ, while trade show visitors can put on VR Goggles to “attend” the conference as though they’rereally in the room.

Our New Tech Brings The Leads To The Yard

While we’re not saying you need to go invest in AR equipment today, it’s probably something that should be on your radar.  The trade show displays with the latest and coolest technologies are always going to be a hit with visitors, and novel ways of communicating with customers always seem to work best before the novelty wears off.

So keep an eye out.  Just like the Washington Restaurant Association discovered:  If you think of a really good AR/VR gimmick that works with your trade show display, you’ll attract a lot of interest!

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