Feature

13 event tech to watch in 2015

From facial-tracking technology and avatars to Google Cardboard and drones, Event outlines 13 pieces of event tech to watch out for in 2015.

Oculus Rift is one of 13 Event Tech to watch in 2015
Oculus Rift is one of 13 Event Tech to watch in 2015

1. FACIAL-TRACKING TECHNOLOGY AND AVATARS

Visitors to the Odeon cinema in Bayswater had a shock recently when their reflections in the bathroom mirror were transformed into Halloween characters such as crazed, grinning clowns, vicious werewolves and flesh-eating zombies. The Pepsi Max Monster Mirror stunt used facial-tracking technology and augmented reality. Behind the stunt was Swedish company Faceshift, which provides 3D cameras to track facial expressions and head movement in real time, and combines this with animated avatars.

Brand mascots can now come to life using avatars, reacting to guests in-store or at an event. The market is still in the early stages, but as virtual reality and 3D sensors become ubiquitous, it will grow rapidly.

2. GOOGLE CARDBOARD

Google Cardboard is a cardboard smartphone mount that, when combined with lenses, a magnet, rubber band and Velcro - and held against the face - creates a virtual reality experience. It's a cheap, DIY answer to headsets.

There is no official manufacturer or vendor, but on its website Google has a free guide to assembling the device. John Lewis used it for Monty's Den, an in-store experience inspired by its penguin-themed Christmas advert. Children could wear 'Monty's goggles' to enter a virtual world and interact with the ad's characters. Volvo has released branded cardboard goggles and an Android app, Volvo Reality, to let users explore its XC90 model.

3. DIGITAL BRIDGE

Still under development is Digital Bridge, an app that converts real-world scenes to digital models, allowing users to upload photos of rooms then redesign them to see how they would look with new decorations and furnishings.

The start-up has been in development for two years, but has been kick-started with funding from JLab, a John Lewis foundation. While some brands may find a use for this tool for experiential marketing, its real appeal will lie with event planners who want to transform an event space and need to visualise how it will look. The app will be available to download from the end of January 2015.

4. ROBOTS

Robots Event organisers looking to entertain, communicate and gather research on an audience should consider robots from Engineered Arts. The new interactive robot Socibot, for example, is ideal for small settings and allows organisers to create a character that can talk and detect faces, features and emotions, speech and gestures. Prices start from £9,500. It is a more cost-effective option to the life-sized, third-generation humanoid robot Robo Thespian.

For those who want a walking robot, the company's next project - Byrun - is currently under development. Byrun will not only walk and talk, but run, jump, hop and leap. A launch date is yet to be confirmed.

5. EDIBLE INSTALLATIONS: JELLYBEAN WATERFALL AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY

The man who gave us the popcorn hairdryer, gramophone ice-cream pottery wheel, edible mist machine and instant lollipop maker, Charlie Harry, aka The Edible Inventor, is putting the finishing touches to his next contraption - the jellybean waterfall. Set to launch in 2015, the two-metre-high kinetic installation will create a cascade of falling jellybeans - an eye-catching centrepiece for events. Guests will be able to control the power of the waterfall and grab the sweets, which are automatically replenished by the cog-powered machine.

Harry is also planning to launch a 'chocolate factory' in 2015, which uses speed-cooling technology to create luxury artisan chocolates in minutes. Chocolate is tempered, moulded, filled and cooled in front of guests, who can then sample the creations.

6. SARNER'S INFRARED PENDANT

Visitors to the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff were immersed in their own episode thanks to a bespoke wearable piece of tech from creative design company Sarner. Each guest received a 'pendant' (visitor pass) on a lanyard at the beginning of the experience, allowing them access to the sacred Museum of Gallifrey.

As the story progressed, it became clear that the time crystal embedded in the pass had a special connection to the Tardis, eventually helping save the Doctor in a dramatic finale. The pendant, which used the latest in infrared, LED and vibration technology, flashed different colours and vibrated throughout the attraction, showing visitors when to use the crystal.

7. INTELLITIX RFID WRISTBANDS

Sky Sports and Standard Life Investments used event tech firm Intellitix's RFID wristbands as part of their Ryder Cup activations. Guests used the technology to gain entry and for cashless payments. Sky Sports' guests could also use RFID to share social media content at the brand's golfing activation. Standard Life Investments' guests used the wristbands to record their sporting progress on social media and collect a souvenir photo. Visitors could also tap their wristband to request a test drive on the BMW course. Intellitix is now piloting a new piece of tech, set for release in early 2015.

8. HOLOGRAMS

Holograms are nothing new, but since their use on the international stage (remember the Michael Jackson hologram at the 2014 Billboard Music Awards?), more products are expected to come to market in 2015.

Until now, hologram gauze projection screens have always been visible, but Holotronica's new Holo-Gauze creates the illusion of no screen. It is lightweight, can be folded into a bag and creates impressive results when combined with 3D polarised projection.

Other new tech includes Holo - designed by Conran Partners and Beagle - a two-metre-high, interactive 'floating' hologram with gesture control.

Hologram specialist Musion is seeing a growth in demand for holographic telepresence, which can best be described as 3D video conferencing. This tech works by beaming moving images on to sloped glass, transmitting a three-dimensional moving image of a speaker at multiple destinations.

9. INSTAGRAM PRINTERS

Live Instagram printers are a twist on the photo booth trend and were launched in the UK at the end of 2014, courtesy of Australian digital entertainment agency Social Playground.

To help organisers engage with the 'selfie' generation, the printer allows smartphone and Instagram users to take a photo, add an event hashtag and collect a branded printout photo within 60 seconds. You have to use the event's handle to receive a printout, which drives the event hashtag, provides a positive experience and promotes both the event and brand.

Social Playground can provide live feed displays, a live moderator and data capture services. It promises more inventions in 2015, so watch this space.

10. DRONES

In 2014, drones began to appear at major sports events, such as the Winter Olympics in Sochi to film skiing and snowboarding competitions. And it hasn't taken long for the event industry to catch up. In November, M&S's #FollowtheFairies Christmas activation used drones to create the illusion of fairies flying through the night over Tyne Bridge in Newcastle.

11. OCULUS RIFT: CRESCENT BAY

It isn't only the gaming industry that is eagerly awaiting the launch of virtual reality headset Oculus Rift in 2015 - the tech will enable brands to build virtual experiences for consumers.

The company held its first Oculus Connect virtual reality conference in the US in September and released its best prototype yet - Crescent Bay. Oculus says the headset is still designed to be a seated experience, but the product is becoming lighter, more comfortable, with a higher resolution and better able to eliminate motion blur and judder - two of the biggest contributors to simulator sickness.

Oculus Rift will no doubt be the most-anticipated tech launch of 2015.

Read Smyle's Matt Margetson's opinion on virtual reality headsets and what it means for events and experiential.

12. BEACONS

Proximity-marketing technology such as QR codes and NFC smart tags have been slow to achieve mass adoption, but Bluetooth low-energy (BLE) iBeacons from tech giant Apple have proved popular at events. Beacons can send and receive information between devices, creating an added-value experience for guests and supplying businesses with valuable information about the consumer's preferences. New tech includes Beacon-powered smart-posters and networking tool Poken.

13. CLOUD-BASED EVENT APPS

The iPhone-only audience is shrinking. Android, Blackberry, Windows and feature-phones are taking up the majority share of the market and, in 2014, Amazon and Firefox launched phones. As a result, forward-thinking companies are starting to invest in mobile web applications. Also known as cloud-based apps, these sit on the internet (instead of an app store), which means anyone can use them to do things like interact, post comments, upload selfies and download exclusive content, no matter which phone they use.

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