Apr 2019
by Andreas Köster

Virtual Reality at fairs – possibilities, costs and experiences

Virtual Reality at trade fairs - possibilities, costs and experiences

Virtual Reality technology is an unstoppable megatrend – also at trade fairs and events to offer visitors an impressive and immersive experience. With VR, the user is completely immersed in your brand and product world and experiences a unique experience.

What possibilities does virtual reality offer at trade fairs, what costs can be expected and what are the experiences in practical use? Andreas Köster of Garamantis was interviewed for the live communication magazine Expodata.

Expodata: VR is a trend. Nevertheless, only few companies have experience with this new form of communication. For what kind of products or services is the use of VR during a trade fair basically suitable?

Andreas Köster: Virtual Reality is particularly suitable for products and services that cannot be shown at the exhibition stand itself. These include industrial plants or real estate, for example. Simply put, anything that is too large or complex to be exhibited in the real world. On the other hand, VR can also make it possible to take a look into tiny products or otherwise inaccessible areas, for example when you think of a clockwork or drilling machines working deep underground. A virtual environment is also useful when there are many different product configurations that visitors can put together themselves and then view in context.

What is the basic procedure when I, as “your” customer, decide to use this type of technology? What does the planning process look like?

As you say, only a few companies have gained their own experience with virtual reality at trade fairs and events. For many inquiring agencies and companies the previous knowledge is low and their own ideas sometimes do not fit the technical possibilities. This is quite normal with a new technology. The most important thing from my point of view is that there is a planning process at all, in which all persons responsible for the company’s appearance have their say with their wishes and questions and a meaningful concept is created with which the trade fair goals can be achieved. Unfortunately, there are many examples in which a cool VR game is shown, but which has nothing to do with the company. There are also VR environments that deal with the product but are rather boring and do not offer any surprise effects that remain in the mind.

What can you offer your customers? What is the range of services you offer?

With Garamantis we try to reduce the barrier between humans and technology as much as possible and to create an intuitive and playful approach. We see ourselves as a full-service provider. This means that we start with a speedy concept development and also ask questions about the target groups, the communicative message and the profitability. Once we have found the brilliant idea, we implement the project largely independently, including in particular technical planning, design, software development and content integration. We set up the technology on site at the agreed time and instruct the stand personnel.

What concrete advantages does VR offer me?

At present, our customers still have the advantage of standing out from the mass of exhibition stands – thanks to the novelty of the technology. Despite PlayStation VR and other entry-level systems for private use, there are still many target groups who have never experienced a professional VR environment. However, this advantage will soon disappear with increasing use at trade fairs.

The long-term possibilities of Virtual Reality lie in the fact that the technology offers maximum intensity for the human senses. This is called immersion, i.e. the immersion into the virtual environment. Every small movement of the head and change of the viewing angle is sent back to the eyes without delay as realistic feedback. I can move freely in space, use my hands as well as virtual objects and I am also in VR auditively. In some projects even smell, temperature and haptic experiences are included in VR. In short, as a company I am able for the first time to design the environment of my potential customers exactly the way I want it to be.

Are there any disadvantages that I have to take into account in my considerations?

Yes. In addition to all the advantages mentioned, there are also some disadvantages that you should be aware of in advance. Creating a virtual reality is complex in terms of costs and personnel intensity. Moreover, with a single pair of VR glasses only relatively few visitors will be able to enjoy the experience themselves. The other visitors can only participate indirectly by following the user’s perspective on an additional screen. It takes some time until a new user has put on the glasses and has been instructed. Thus, a VR station can be an interactive highlight on the booth and attract attention, but cannot serve masses of users. However, the technology is ideal for B2B events with selected business customers.

Is the entire technology already at a mature stage today or are we only at the beginning of the conceivable possibilities?

Both. The technological state of the art is already impressive today and will develop even more rapidly in the coming years. The HTC Vive Pro, for example, offers great wireless freedom of movement in the room, high resolution and precise sensor technology. After a very short time, you can feel that you have already completely arrived in virtual reality.

An anecdote about how close to reality the experience already is today: When we receive guests in our Berlin showroom to present interactive trade fair technologies to them, we invite them to try out our VR station as well. In the demo software, you take an elevator up to a skyscraper. The elevator door opens and the user looks into the depths of a building canyon. In front of him there is only a narrow wooden plank. Many of our guests do not dare to step outside – although they know that they have solid ground under their feet in our showroom!

Most new technologies are associated with high costs. Does it cost a small fortune to use VR at the exhibition stand?

The costs should be seen in relation to the benefits. Of course a VR station, consisting of glasses with hand controllers, a powerful PC and a large screen, costs several thousand Euros. Especially the unique development of an individual VR environment, which realizes the concept just mentioned, is connected with considerable costs. However, the company has a real highlight at the fair and the selected users will vividly remember the experience. The success stands and falls with the planning process, which determines the appropriate software and also the hardware selection. Once this setup is in place, it can be used over many trade fair assignments and be highly efficient.

What have been the most extraordinary implementations you have been able to accompany so far?

Last year we had an exciting project for the Technical University of Braunschweig, where we coupled a VR environment developed by us to a multitouch installation via a real-time interface. Specifically, several users stand around a large multitouch table and jointly place machines and vehicles in a factory hall. In this way they plan and simulate an entire production plant. One of the users stands with his VR glasses virtually in the middle of the factory floor and sees all work steps from a first perspective. Using the hand controllers, they can also place and move machines, which in turn is reflected in real time on the multitouch table. Since the coupling was realized via network, the multitouch table and the VR environment do not have to be in the same place, but could also be on different continents. The TU Braunschweig presents itself with this setup to experts for factory planning and has had very good experiences with it.

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