SXSW 2017

Leaving the reduced reality: with the FlyingLab to SXSW

“Keep Austin weird” – a slogan you will hear on repeat after arri­ving at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin. It is one of the biggest festi­vals world­wide where film, music and inter­ac­tive indus­tries converge into a giant crea­tive mixing pot. Augmented, Mixed and Virtual Reality are gaining momentum and fast beco­ming an influ­en­tial part of the inter­ac­tive panel. As part of the Luft­hansa FlyingLab I was on loca­tion in Austin to collect some impres­sions for you.

SXSW is the perfect place to browse the full range of diffe­rent AR and VR appli­ca­tion fields: you will find ever­y­thing from music and film to busi­ness solu­tions. This year it was inte­res­ting to see the scen­a­rios and use cases for the new reali­ties getting clearer. There were plenty of dedi­cated talks and presen­ta­tions showing how to use AR, MR and VR – for today and the future. They were all about solving problems, finding solu­tions and making the world a better place. SXSW doesn’t focus so much on hard­ware, but more on content and use cases.

Urban places become virtual

Niantic founder John Hanke – the company behind Pokémon Go – discussed his plans to use Augmented Reality to improve quality of life in urban spaces in a panel with Sam Gill from the Knight Foun­da­tion. They discussed ways that tech­no­logy can pull people out of their homes and encou­rage them to “redis­cover” public spaces, gene­rate foot traffic, economic activity and cultural aware­ness in rede­ve­lo­ping neigh­bour­hoods. Serial entre­pre­neur Gary Vayner­chuk was also asked about this in his Q & A session, he believed that in the near future B2B markets will be more succesful while consumer appli­ca­tions will need more time.

Wherever there is a conver­sa­tion around AR and VR, there is always the scep­tical ques­tions about AR and VR’s chances of success and what’s coming next. In a chat with TechCrunch’s Jeff Taylor and Tech Cat Show founder Lori Schwartz I discussed the impact and influ­ence of Apple’s plans for the next iPhone and AR, as well as the impor­t­ance of better ways for content crea­tion. Expec­ta­tions are high for Apple to bring signi­fi­cant deve­lop­ments to Augmented and Mixed Reality. What does that mean? In the first step an iPhone with a 3d camera – like the Google Tango project – and an inte­gra­tion of AR into iOS. When it comes to the content, we are all on the same page: content crea­tion has to be simpler and ever­yone needs to have access to the new reali­ties to create useful appli­ca­tions.

The film sector is also expe­ri­men­ting a lot with VR, with a huge selec­tion of VR demos on show at SXSW. I had the chance to try the “The MummyVR” demo – an expe­ri­ence around the new movie with Tom Cruise. There was even a scene showing gravity filming in 360! Was it worth waiting in a line for 1,5 hours? Well, the haptic feed­back in the seat was quite cool and it was enter­tai­ning. But without a special seat and watching the same at home, I would say – not very special. Film can do better I think, there is more poten­tial behind VR. On the other hand, I talked to a few people who saw the 360 video and VR for the first time and they liked it.

NASA was also on loca­tion with all their bells and whistles with several demos and panel discus­sions where you could explore space. I liked that much more, maybe because it is some­thing you cann’t do ever­yday.

My favo­rite VR expe­ri­ence was shop­ping in Walmart’s future super­market. In a private session I tested the appli­ca­tion and really liked the concept and user inter­face. It’s just another example to prove that concept and  story is more important than the quality of the graphics – as long as we aren’t talking about games. Walmart lets you virtually grab products, put them back on the shelf or check out the elec­tro­nics depart­ment. Very well done, you feel natu­rally guided through the market and the inter­ac­tions.

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Lufthansa FlyingLab: Leaving the reduced reality at 30,000 feet

The flight to SXSW was a very special one – with the FlyingLab from Luft­hansa (a small confe­rence on the plane). When Luft­hansa asked me to give a speech about AR and VR on board the A380 I imme­dia­tely said “Yes”. There are some chal­lenges to consider when having a mini confe­rence with eight speakers in 30,000 feet, but it was defi­ni­tely a unique expe­ri­ence. My talk “Leaving the reduced reality…into Augmented, Mixed and Virtual Reality” was about the enab­lers, the accep­tance and conver­gence of the new reali­ties.


The onboard speakers area was a chance to show some AR and VR demos, for instance with devices such as the Micro­soft Holo­lens. I was very curious if ever­y­thing would work on the plane. Surpri­singly, the Holo­Lens worked perfectly in a small space with many passen­gers walking around in our little area. It was great fun placing a bunch of virtual objects between seats and galley. The passen­gers were amazed and enjoyed playing with the mix of reality and virtua­lity.

To summa­rize: SXSW was an excel­lent show­case of the oppor­tu­nities and the chal­lenges for Augmented, Mixed and Virtual Reality. Once we are able to converge the tech­no­lo­gies with other fields, AR and VR will be succesful. Not ever­y­thing you see in AR and VR is great, but people are learning quickly that there is a new tech­no­logy at their door­step. Just look at the internet – it also needed time to mature before beco­ming a crucial part of our daily lives.

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