Wearable tech and hybrid events: Are we nearing an events revolution?

March, 20 2018

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At a time when mobile phones were the size of radios and video calls were the stuff of science fiction, the wearable tech revolution was already taking shape. Casio were one of the earliest pioneers. Back in the 80s, their ‘smartwatch’ (a glorified calculator that you could play a few games on) was considered to be the height of cutting edge technology.

Over the last four or five years, however, the phrase ‘cutting edge’ has being redefined dramatically. Virtual reality (VR) has becoming more creative and mind blowing than ever, augmented reality is being used in every industry from the military to healthcare and technology is being woven into the very fabric of the shirts on our back. Despite these evolutionary leaps, however, wearable tech is still in its infancy.

With every tech giant from Apple to Microsoft investing billions in the sector there are undoubtedly new developments on the horizon. We’re particularly excited about what the wearables revolution means for the events sector – both in terms of the experience for attendees, and the detailed data organisers will be able to collect.

Attendee experience

VR and AR have become synonymous with big events and exhibitions, but the tech has mostly been confined to exhibition stands as a draw for attendees. You’ll see visitors flailing about with a bulky headset on looking (to be frank) daft. It’s fun, but also a little gimmicky – and more importantly, it’s limited.

The market leading and now-ubiquitous VR headsets like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive both need to be connected to powerful computers to work. AR is less commonplace and has more impact on stands, but headsets like the Microsoft Hololens are still bulky and limited in movement.

Essentially, all these headsets are a good draw for exhibitors, but don’t have an impact on the overall attendee experience. Once smart glasses become more portable, however, the opportunities for event organisers become much more exciting. Intel’s smart glasses prototype (below) signifies a giant leap towards this wireless, fully portable and unobtrusive wearable future.

Once you take away the limiting size and connected wiring of AR/MR smart glasses, you have the opportunity to totally transform the attendee experience. AR can layer the digital over the physical, opening up a kind of hybrid space rife with playful and creative potential.

We speak a lot at Rapiergroup about ‘happenings’ at events; impact moments with a wow factor that will stick with attendees. In the physical world, there are obvious limitations – the space, the crowd, and the logistics. The digital layer removes a lot of limitations.

This video might look like a terrifying and unnerving hybrid future, but it shows the potential for this type of technology in the events space.

The combination of more powerful technology and full portability will see events becoming much more immersive, exciting and unpredictable for attendees.

In the not-too-distant future, NFC technology could trigger exclusive content to wearers – think treasure hunts, exclusive codes and brand stories. The potential becomes even more exciting when smartphones and smart glasses work in tandem to create a hybrid event experience combining the digital and physical worlds seamlessly.

Facial recognition on smart glasses will shake things up still further. While the tech is in its infancy, the possibilities for event networking could be revolutionary. Imagine smart glasses that can identify the attendees and pass the data through to LinkedIn on your smart watch. Your glasses will be able to relay their business information back to you via a heads-up display – meaning no more trying to awkwardly stare at their lanyard while chatting to them at the after event drinks reception.

But it’s not just attendee experience where wearables can have an impact: event organisers can also benefit.

It’s all about the data

New wearables like Hubvents’ SmartTrac and Intel’s future smart glasses give us an insight into how the future of wearables could change events.

Specifically designed for events, Hubvents’ wearable two-way ‘Traco’ beacon pairs with sensors to give an accurate overview of attendee behaviour. This includes using attendees’ profiles to notify exhibitors when valuable prospects enter their stand; providing attendees with a detailed event journey including which stands they visited and who they connected with; and providing organisers with analytical data for each attendee.

In the future, high-tech smart glasses and watches could provide feedback as nuanced as what exactly someone’s eyes were focussed on and for how long, how their heart rate fluctuated when they looked at something, or how their body temperature altered.

They’re also likely to be synced together, meaning information from a wearer’s smart glasses can be shared to their watch, and vice-versa. Not only will this type of detailed information give exhibitors the ability to adapt future events: crucially, it means real-time changes can be made.

If you can capture attendee data in real-time, you could potentially deliver them personalised content through their smart glasses based on how they’re feeling at any given moment. If your smart watch detects your hunger levels increasing or that you’ve made a certain number of steps, glasses could push notifications through about the nearest food stall or seating area. They would also be able to tell you who’s in each zone, so you can look for networking opportunities while you do so.

We already have the power to heat map the footfall of events. We can see the chatter on social media. We can monitor food and drink levels at any given time throughout the day. Data from wearables could add more granular insights into all of these areas, and more.

One thing’s for sure, what we’ve seen so far is only the tip of a very big iceberg. As the top companies compete to produce more advanced and fully portable technology, wearable tech looks set to provide more nuanced, in-depth attendee data, as well as enhancing visitors’ engagement before, during and after the event.

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