Virtual Reality (VR) VR Headset Sony

SXSW17 Trends: Are VR and AR more a hope than a reality?

By Andrew Roberts

Gravity Thinking


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March 30, 2017 | 6 min read

There is a great Texan phrase “all hat, no cattle”. It describes people who tend to talk boastfully without acting on one’s words and whilst we all heard a few of these around Austin last week it was mostly aimed at the subject of many bar chats - the new POTUS. Thankfully SXSW itself was quite the opposite – it delivered in spades.

sxsw 17

"All hat, no cattle." Andrew Roberts explores the deeper trends that SXSW17 had to offer

SXSW is far more than a tech conference, as I wrote last year, it is a chance to renew interest in this fascinating world we call work, it inspires bigger and wider thinking and get out of our day to day ‘echo chamber’. There is a healthy mixture of ‘wow’ moments (Sony WOW Factory), plenty of silliness (man eat chicken for 24 hours), lots of fun (Mummy VR experience), many connections made and time shared together. Of course there were loads learnt too.

I came away with five very clear areas that I saw discussed and debated in depth across the many different talks and events that are most applicable to the future of your business right now and over the coming months. These included:

  • Augmented, virtual and mixed reality
  • Robot overlords
  • The smart future
  • Look after yourself (and others)
  • Brands at SXSW

I thought I would share each of these in more detail over the coming weeks with the first focus this week being AR/VR/MR.

So, are virtual and augmented more hope than reality?

This year there were over 1.5 million tweets featuring virtual and augmented reality. At nearly every single stand, event and talk, VR was featured in some way or another, however the main topic of conversation was centred around how we can take this technology from a solitary to a more social, interactive experience.

Among the plethora of headsets and experiences there were some standout uses of this technology that brands and organisations could get inspiration from when considering investing and developing ideas in this space.

No headset required

No headset required

One ride in the main hall addressed this challenge straight on offering a VR ride without the need for a headset. The ‘ride’ featured a chair that moves you and covers your entire field of view using a hemispherical screen and gave you a virtual flyby of major Tokyo landmarks in what’s being billed as the world’s first virtual-reality motion ride in ultra-high-resolution 8K video.

Landing on Mars

Life on Mars

If we are going to talk about the colonization of Mars, who better than the legend Buzz Aldrin to talk about it. Buzz shared his vision n a 10 minute film, called Cycling Pathways To Mars. It uses a virtual Buzz Aldrin walking us through the steps toward Mars colonization that includes his original moon landing, the moon of the future, the proposed journey to Mars on massive ships called “Cyclers” and, finally, the Mars colony. The experience allows you to walk around the platform and get a look at things from different perspectives.

Wow Factory

Wow Factory

Sony went big at SXSW2017 with a huge “WOW Factory displaying their ideas for the future (more later). This included what they saw to be the next steps in VR which was essentially a full body immersive experience that took the form of a VR haptic suit for gaming that synched with the game and actions.

Future of film

Future of film

IMAX took over a room for to showcase their upcoming new Mummy movie. The VR experience used a ‘Positron voyager’ egg shaped chair, with off the shelf additions of Oculus Rift and noise cancelling headphones.

Getting Meta

Getting meta

I loved the Meta 2 last year for the ability to not only see items augmented but also actually touch them. This year Meta 2 was in residence and actually available to buy for about $1k). It has surpassed Hololens ($2k cheaper) with a higher resolution display and a higher field of view with focus beyond the display and basic interactivity. The technology is still in the experimentation phase but it won’t be long before we are using it.

Virtual, augmented or mixed reality is definitely here to stay but appears to be very much still in an experimental phase as everyone works on what it is most useful for play, learning or experiencing.

However, the general consensus is that the technology is farther off general adoption that most people think. That said there is clearly an appetite for it and as such it something that brands need to consider in their plans going forward.

See my daily round up of the festival here.

Andrew Roberts is managing partner at Gravity Thinking.

Virtual Reality (VR) VR Headset Sony

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