“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.
— VR/AR Association (@thevrara) 11. März 2017
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.
— Kinvara Balfour (@Kinvara_Balfour) 11. März 2017
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.
— NASA (@NASA) 11. März 2017
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.
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.