Attending a conference is an ordeal and a privilege. It’s exciting to attend conferences since they’re usually held in big cities like Orlando, Chicago, or Amsterdam. You have a chance to eat good food and take lots of fun selfies for Instagram and the keynote presentations. But first, you have to be selected by your company to go, since they only have the budget to pay for so many tickets. You have to book your hotel months in advance or risk not finding a room. And you have to clear your schedule at home since you’ll be gone for most of the week.
Lethbridge College wanted to host a conference about virtual reality. They decided to try a different route by hosting the conference entirely in virtual reality. This opened up the doors for people around the world to attend, speak, and meet where they might not have been available otherwise.
The Day Of…
The day of the conference, I entered the lobby of rumii. My team had been working on putting together the virtual reality conference with Mike McCready from Lethbridge College for months. There were VR industry speakers lined up from Cathy Hackl, Alan Smithson from MetaVRse, and Matt Wright from Mammoth VR, and more. Today was finally the day of the event. Merging Realities was to commence.
We’d been working hard to get rumii up to par to support the 300+ people registered for the event. People all across the world from Canada, the USA, Dubai, and the UK attended to hear the how virtual reality can be applied as a valuable business tool for customers and internal business processes, as well as the different types of VR apps available across various industries.
Before entering the lobby I updated my avatar with the standard conference room attire and information. I put down that I work at Doghead Simulations but debated putting my Twitter handle in my information instead. I then clicked Enter Lobby from the rumii homepage. There were a couple other people in the lobby but their virtual avatars were on the floor meaning the attendees must have taken their headsets off.
I headed to Auditorium A, where most attendees were, and where Alan Smithson was finishing up his Keynote speech. At the end of his talk, he asked attendees to throw confetti and have a little dance party, which I thought was fun. Alan made great hand gestures and I felt the energy as if I was at a real-life conference. I was ready for more.
When his keynote was over I headed over to Bambury’s talk on how he collaborated with the ICT Evangelist to make the Periodic Table of AR and VR apps. Bambury was another excellent speaker. He was in the HTC Vive, using his hands and body language, his presentation felt natural.
I noticed the moderators made their avatars green so they were easily visible to conference attendees but most people that I saw made their avatars look like themselves. A floating camera avatar zoomed around, streaming the talks to Twitch.
How VR is a Digital Disruptor
The virtual reality event, Merging Realities, is a great example of a digital disrupter for a physical industry. Virtual reality reduces costs to participants since hosts do not have to rent out large convention centers. It also opens the doors to even more participants since people aren’t held back by physical constraints. For instance, I was able to attend and hear the speakers I was interested in while my husband watched my baby for an hour. Attending the conference wouldn’t have been an option for me if it was location based only.
More exciting things I see happening are for vendors. They can create 3D booths to upload into the lobby. Instead of handing out pens and candy, they can give away free credits to their product or services, something that would actually be more beneficial since it brings potential customers right to their website instead of a pen they’ll forget in a desk drawer.
Conferences can be upgraded to where vendors who pay a premium can have a whole virtual experience of their product or service in action for participants to take part in. At SapphireNow I ran a booth that demonstrated the Smart Factory. We had a couple of simulated stations running SAP ME and SAP MII. We had a 3D printer and a smart vending machine but they weren’t connected to SAP. Conference participants had to imagine all three working together.
In virtual reality, however, we could have a fully simulated virtual plant that showed a working manufacturing line, smart vending machine, and 3D printer connected via the Internet of Things and running on SAP. We wouldn’t have to explain the possibilities to conference attendees. They could experience it for themselves.
Another way virtual conferences are a disruptor is their accessibility. I thought that it was much easier to talk to the guest speakers. I walked my avatar right up to Steve Bambury and we were able to have a quick talk before his presentation began. I wouldn’t have been able to do this in a real-life conference because speakers are usually hidden behind a stage, come out for their talk, and then it’s hard to find them once they disappear behind the curtain.
Instead of handing out business cards and losing track of the ones we get, our avatars will be connected to our LinkedIn accounts where we’ll be able to connect with a click of a virtual button. An automated message will be sent saying what conference and where we were at during the conference, streamlining connecting with more people at these types of events.
We learned a lot hosting Merging Realities but it proved the desire for virtual reality conferences. People from around the world want to learn, connect, and see the latest and greatest in their industries. Virtual reality levels the playing field for people to attend and speak, no matter where they live.