Augmented and Virtual Reality Explained: How the Two Technologies Impact Events

The role of technology at meetings, conferences, and trade shows continues to grow. Elements like mobile apps and digital signage, often taken for granted at today’s events as must-have features, are now joined by a newer wave of technology including augmented and virtual reality—immersing attendees in alternative worlds and greatly expanding how event hosts, exhibitors, and sponsors interact with their audience.

Continue reading for a crash course on augmented reality versus virtual reality and how these two technologies are impacting the future of events.

Augmented Reality at Events

Augmented reality (AR) superimposes digital images on top of the real world. The technology comes in a number of different forms; wearable AR uses a headset to provide a hands-free experience where people can walk, move their heads, and still see their environment. A superimposed image of a new automobile, for instance, is superimposed on top of empty show floor space.

Device-based AR (e.g. Pokemon Go) uses a smartphone or tablet’s camera to capture the real world behind a similar superimposed image on the user’s device. The popularity of mobile devices makes device-based AR the most approachable augmented reality option for a wider audience as individuals don’t need to wait in line for a headset of even physically attend the event.

Common uses of augmented reality include product demonstrations, gamification (e.g. scavenger hunts), or walking through an event space without physically visiting the host site. Both wearable and device-based AR—as well as new wrinkles on the technology—are being improved upon and developed to give events better tools to fully engage their audience.

Virtual Reality at Events

Virtual reality, on the other hand, creates a fully digital experience without using elements from the surrounding real world. The computer-generated simulations almost always require a headset and are supplemented by accessories like sensor-fitted gloves to fully immerse the user in a virtual reality. In this sense VR requires more equipment and can’t leverage something as simple as a smartphone to reach a wider audience, but does enable companies to fully transport attendees to another world.

From taking people on board a luxury yacht to setting them down on home plate at Yankee Stadium, virtual reality can provide the same immersive experience from a cubicle or expansive event space. Brands are using VR in many of the same cases as AR—for instance, product demonstrations—but are also considered effective for more practical things like education and training at events where a full simulation helps attendees remember new skills. 

Benefits of Virtual and Augmented Reality

The benefits of virtual and augmented reality are numerous and continue to shape everything from event logistics to how attendees interact with brands. Consider the costs and hassle associated with bringing a heavy piece of machinery to an event; many exhibitors instead use augmented reality to superimpose a car chassis, for instance, on a stage to give attendees close-up views of their technology without the transportation costs and added logistics.

Both AR and VR also enable companies to create a bigger and bolder experience for attendees with less unknown variables. Concerns over a potential lead not being able to see a one-time demonstration through the crowd are mitigated by being able to replicate an immersive experience to attendees time and time again without distractions. Companies can also get creative with showcasing their products and services when cramped exhibit spaces would otherwise limit options.

The Bottom Line

The growth of augmented and virtual reality at events in recent years means both technologies appear here to stay and might even become an expectation along the lines of mobile event apps. Companies integrating some form of alternative reality stand a better chance of dictating the attendee experience and can position themselves to take advantage of an important event technology trend.