Virtual Reality Goes Live – Future Tourism Reports On Emerging Trends Just Seen At The Virtual Reality Show At London’s Business Design Centre.

In the changing world of tourism and leisure it seems certain that virtual reality technologies will play a major part in reshaping both the products on offer and how visitors experience them.
We therefore made a visit to the virtual reality show in London to pick up on the latest trends, products and projects and had our feelings confirmed that there was a lot of innovation in VR going on and it gave us confirmation that there were obvious implications for those in the tourism and leisure industries.
As one industry insider put it to us “we are in to the second year of a major rollout of VR across a range of sectors. It’s been around in various forms for 10 or 20 years but only now is the technology coming together in a user friendly and cost effective way and the big players are getting on board”

The concept of the place really is a dream come true, a very innovative concept and a huge step forward from the days of laser tag. They are finding a way to bridge the gap between gaming and adventure in a way that opens the use of VR up to a much wider audience. Or at least it will do when it is not limited by how high spec your own computer is. The experience isn’t yet perfect it does come with its fall backs such as being tethered to your computer by wires, a set up requiring a large amount of space and the cost if you don’t already own a high spec computer.

Augmented Reality
Microsoft HoloLens

Microsoft were at the event both as an exhibitor and speakers. The giant company is clearly putting considerable resources into the VR area. They were discussing one of their latest innovations the Hololens. The HoloLens has – a new kind of headset that augments reality using a hologram (double check this) been a major talking point and as such has accumulated a lot of investment (insert amount). Out of this investment they have teamed up with highly reputable people from multiple sectors including architecture, engineering and the aerospace industry.
They have collaborated with Nasa on two projects. NASA employee Jay Torres who was present at the show said “these projects are now viable and will be adopted into NASA’s mission planning and action.”

These two projects were Onsite which allows for a much more precise level of space planning by using real footage captured in space and placing it on walls of the offices of NASA employees based on Earth. This makes it easier to plan future expeditions.

The second project was Sidekick. Sidekick utilises skype for communication between earth and space. Industry experts on Earth can see exactly what problems are being tackled by astronauts and assist in resolving them by using augmented reality solutions. They can locate the problem provide a solution and then refer this information back to the astronauts via skype. This has already been tried and tested in space and the results are already proving very positive speeding up the process of fixing problems.
Microsoft have also teamed up with the software Sketchup to allow architects and designers to visualise their work within a real environment saving time and money. They are meanwhile working with engineering companies such as Trimble among others, by giving engineers access to blue prints overlaid over reality they can make maintenance a much faster and smoother process.
Interestingly Microsoft staff at the show did not seem that clued up yet about the world of tourism and leisure and seem to be entering the VR world through more professional markets where the current cost of £2k + cost of HoloLens is more readily justified.

How Many Zombies Can You Kill

There were several companies on hand to discuss the gaming industry at the event and rightly so with the Virtual/Mixed/Augmented Reality gaming industry predicted to be worth 70 billion US dollars by 2020 as was reported by UKIE (UK Interactive Entertainment is not-for-profit and is the only trade body for the UK’s games and interactive entertainment industry. They represent businesses of all sizes.) they were one of the esteemed panel members at the event represented by Dr Jo Twist. Other speakers included Jacky Huang (Zotac) David Wise (Parable) Carla Levin (Warner Bro’s) and Nick Button-Brown (Bafta).

They were discussing how fragmented the industry currently is, they want to know who is going to step forward and give the consumers a real sense of value that they feel consumers currently aren’t getting from certification marks, because there needs to be a unification among the different organisations doing this. They also want to see barriers taken down, not simply just focusing on tech talent but a wider spectrum of talent to create more unique experiences for the audience/users.

It still seems that gaming is seen as quite a solitary activity for individual users to take part in – albeit connected through cyber space. What doesn’t seem to be very prominent yet is the potential for linking gaming activities to specific interesting locations – either real or created for the purpose of connected gaming.
Companies such as Zotac and (the ones that make custom computers were there insert name) were on display with their high-powered computing capabilities. Offering an opportunity many people will have discussed on numerous occasions how would you fare in a zombie apocalypse. These questions would be answered through their very own walking dead experience as they blast their way to survival on the game of Arizona Sunshine. Equipped with Zotacs VR Go back pack mounted computer two single hand controller devices a head set and headphones. You are totally immersed in this death defying experience as you leave reality and enter the virtual reality world only to find you must now avoid and escape the zombies chomping at the bit.
Cool Power were there as well displaying their exciting immersive free diving simulation game.

Driving Towards A New Era Of Motoring

There was a high-level panel on hand to discuss the integration of cutting edge technologies from the digital and gaming industries, and how these can provide solutions to both design and manufacturing within the automotive industry. McLaren who were both speakers and exhibitors were very present at the event, they teamed up with the Digital Engineering Test Centre and put on an impressive display showcasing one of their top of the range road cars, a race car and several pieces of software including a large-scale VR configurator. They showed first hand exactly how much of a mark they believe these technologies are going to have within the automotive industries.

Visitors were given the opportunity to experience the inside of a McLaren car, from a real driving seat which was enhanced with virtual reality setting the scene by positioning the car on a California highway. They are changing the car industry by using virtual reality, people are now able to experience the inside of a car in a much more realistic nature, giving a much stronger sense of verisimilitude. Virtual reality is also changing the way in which car customisation can be performed. They believe this technology will allow them to design more efficient ‘future factories’ and vehicles themselves. Businesses can now use the technologies to view the prototypes in a much more realistic sense before production allowing them to save money in the workflow.

One of the consequences of this new smart wired approach to the automotive sector could be whole new in car experiences while people are travelling in automated vehicles relieving them from the responsibility to control the vehicle itself. There could be significant implications for tourism and leisure, including how to put travel time to new uses in information and entertainment.

VR Can Be Good For Your Health

Efficiency and improved healthcare is a constant challenge to the medical industry and leading innovators obviously see that health care practices, including surgery and treatment can be enhanced through virtual and augmented reality as was clearly demonstrated at the event as there was an array of innovating companies on display.

Sliced Bread Animation offered users the opportunity to explore the inner workings of the human anatomy and witness changes of the organs in real time. Through their “Virtual Valve” experience they demonstrated to people it’s potential in the medical industry by showing people exactly what it is they should be looking out for when performing the real operation or performing diagnosis.

While other production companies such as Embodied Labs led by co-founder Carrie Shaw were presenting their cutting edge work they have been doing in the world of VR Ryan Lebar was at the event discussing his creative direction. Embodied Labs created ‘We Are Alfred’, which allows users to feel the effects of aging and several degenerative conditions that are linked to it.

Alzheimer’s Research UK were present to discuss “A walk through dementia” which uses a combination of 360-degree video and other digital effects to show how menial tasks can become uphill struggles for people with dementia. The app is enhanced by two experienced professionals Dame Harriet Walter and Broadcaster Jon Snow who have both personal felt the effects of seeing a loved one deal with this cruel illness. What might be the links between healthcare and tourism and leisure? One can speculate on the opportunities to enjoy new experiences for those suffering from both physical and mental handicaps and the therapeutic benefits of new cars leisure experience, particularly as professionals obtain enhanced abilities to monitor the impact on wellbeing.

Creating New Kinds Of Content

Kevin Mack (on the left) alongside Future Tourism Director Peter Stonham

The technological opportunities to present information and entertainment in VR format has clearly massive implications in the creative and media industries. To be frank there was not that much ground breaking content at the show but award winning and forward thinking Dock 10 TV studio, the highly talented Academy Award-winning visual FX pioneer Kevin Mack was there representing his studio Shape Space VR.
Blortasia one of the pieces on display is a beautiful display of psychedelic art, experienced in a surreal, virtual reality environment.

His production company stems off his success’s in the media industry for CGI work on film’s such as What Dreams May Come, (Best VFX award), Fight Club, and he played a key role in the innovation of virtual stem cell research around the world.

There were some interesting topics which we need to mention. Such as for the first time you could experience the Warner Bros Kong Skull Island like never before in a fully immersive battle scene which truly makes you feel like you are there, Render were there using virtual reality as a product marketing tool showing the potential of things through virtual reality.

Studio Zero Co Founder Shaun Dunne

Studio Zero a studio focused on cross platform usability virtual reality experiences, Dan Riley from Award winning agency and digital production studio Spearhead shared case studies on how to use VR within the Architecture industry. They were joined by Rob Kendal (Yulio). Leila Martine (Microsoft Hololens), Christopher Cronin (Trimble Inc.) and Martin McDonnell (Soluis & Sublime). Other companies present included Apache who have worked with a whole host of interesting projects were there, giving a glimpse at what they do and an opportunity to paint a virtual chicken or be iron man for the day. Intaglow a full-service creative agency who are actively disrupting commercial interaction. Including their futuristic holographic technology.

A panel led by Chris Denson of Crush Industries was present at the event to discuss VR from an editorial perspective. This panel featured many highly respected people from within the publishing industry Including Henry Stewart, Will Mcaster (Visualise), Hugo Ward (Channel 4), Mark Hogwarth (Financial Times), Chance Coughenour (Google arts and culture), Tom Standage (The Economist) Dawn Kelly (Huffpost), Charlotte Mikkelborg (Picture This Productions).

Most of these people featured have collaborated with the VR production company Visualise in one way or another. So, it was fitting that two representatives of Visualise were on hand to contribute to the discussion. The stance that these people were taking understandably was to address the issue of how time consuming and unproductive VR currently stands as a medium. As present there are no definitive options to use as the best piece of kit. Nor are there any obvious platforms for displaying the art.

Visualise provided the opportunity to experience their outputs in a number of forms (Dublin in the Dark Hidden Cities, Walk with Penguins, Mosul A Collective Reconstruction, VR Travel Passport Osaka, The Final Bell)
Just as with other new technologies, the favoured standards of production will likely whittle down to one or two options in the future just as Microsoft and Apple dominate the computing industry and Apple and Samsung dominate the phone market. It seems that in the future it will all be about delivery via the mobile phone, as the technology will migrate from Virtual reality headsets to phones. Ultimately the content creators are keen to focus on the narrative and they would prefer the market to be narrowed allowing for a wider accessibility to the content in new multimedia environment.

The VR Authors Get Ready To Write.

How to create compelling stories in the world of VR and other such questions these were the topics being addressed by a whole host of talented writers Including Alison Norrington (StoryCentral) Robert Morgan (independent game writer) Phil Harris (Big point) Imre Jele (Bossa studios) Muki Kulhan Rhianna Pratchett Will McMaster and moderated by Dave Marks (immersive audio solutions) and Tanya Laird (Digital Jam). Other topics discussed included long (Game Of Thrones) vs short (Orange Is The New Black) and the viewing styles that accompany these shows. Always leave the viewer waning more. Long shows equal long wait times crucial for allowing fans speculation and development of their own content such as fan fiction, wiki’s, forums etc. giving time for the discourse.

Too much content is a dis-organised mess leading to a dis-orientated viewing experience space is part of the story so don’t make it overwhelming. When creating these narratives, how will the user respond to what you are showing them? you need to access what do you want the user to do? why are they doing it? And then what happens when they do it? The payoff must be worth it should always over deliver.
How do you recap an audience in VR when traditional methods won’t work because you’re dealing with 360 degrees? The positives of having a post story conversation that arises from people picking up different pieces of the experience.

Our conclusions we came away from the show a lot more aware of how much is going on in what is still a fragmented world of VR technologies and new kinds of uses of this immersive and enhancing capability. The tourism dimension is not yet seen as one of the core application areas but all the underlying evidence is that it will be. Experimentation will be the name of the game for a year or two yet but those who have taken the lead will be well placed to reap the rewards.

Other topics discussed were putting the user in a spin, the illusion of interactivity, the different genre styles pacing’s and how they lend themselves to VR.