Augmented and Virtual: 2 Realities To Build Engagement

What’s new? Have you considered how technology is creating new opportunities, conundrums and possibilities we could not imagine just a few years ago. A conundrum example: I had to wait several minutes recently to back out of my parking space in the lot at my local Trader Joe’s. Why did I need to wait? A teenager was standing directly behind my car throwing pokeballs at a rhynhorn or pidgey. When he caught the critter, he looked up from his phone, acknowledged my patience with a wave, and trotted off to hunt down the next character. Bonus tip: Do not back up until you first look directly behind you!

Pokemon Go, last summer’s popular addition to augmented reality games, enjoyed innovative uses that elevated it beyond the status of gaming. This article on explains how the game encourages people to get out on foot, and how businesses should take advantage of that. Crystal Bridges, an art museum in Arizona, , noted an increase in patronage due to being virtually overrun with Pokemon characters. Pokemon Go was used to facilitate guest interactions at A-level events this past summer including ComicCon in San Diego. Read here about how planners can incorporate the game to increase participation.

Young and old alike play the game. It brings people together in the real world. Event planners and event suppliers might consider ways to use the game to augment their marketing and guest experiences.

In talking with a client about Pokemon Go, I noticed that he was referring to it as virtual reality, which is not accurate He is not the only one who confuses virtual reality and augmented reality, I’m sure. So I thought it would be useful to compare and contrast the two technologies. I’ll depart from a discussion about Pokemon Go to explain the tech behind the realities in a way that I hope is not too…technical.

Virtual reality

In virtual reality (VR), entire make-believe worlds are created, and the user separates from actuality to interact with them. VR employs the use of goggles, hand-held controllers or helmets that translate the participant into imagined environments. Sights, sounds, and sensations help make VR worlds a realistic experience. The worlds of VR may simulate real life even as they separate participants from it. Video games, combat training and flight simulators are 3 forms of VR we’re already very familiar with.

By othree - Google Cardboard, CC BY 2.0,
By othree – Google Cardboard, CC BY 2.0,

Google Cardboard is a fold-up box that turns into VR goggles. Insert your smartphone into the box, look through the lenses and find yourself in another world. The applications for the meetings and hospitality industries should be obvious. The box is cheap (around $30, or build your own), and is used with specific Android and Apple apps. Gamers are familiar with Occulus Rift and Sony Playstation VR. Apple is also getting into the VR game, and will be announcing its own technology in the near future.

And, over on Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg has plans to incorporate Occulus Rift VR into social experiences on that platform.

Augmented Reality

Augmented reality (AR) blends virtual and real worlds. It enhances the real world and real time with digital overlays placed on top or in front of what we are actually seeing and hearing. In the case of Pokemon Go, locations of pokemon, pokestops and gyms coincide with real businesses, parks and landmarks. The app relies on GPS and includes photos of real places. When a pokemon appears, it appears on your desk, in your front yard, or between your cat’s ears. AR users never leave reality when they are interacting with the simulation.

London Motorexpo 2013 – McLaren P1 Augmented Reality from Motorexpo on Vimeo.

AR operates in real time to enhance rather than replace the user’s environment. Although Google Glass was an “early” AR technology that never quite caught on, the idea remains very much alive. AR technology is responsible for the diagrams superimposed on the playing field during sports telecasts. Graphic designers and web designers are increasingly encouraged to embrace AR to enhance both print and web experiences.

AR has been used with printed communications for awhile now, and provides visual enhancements to brochures, business cards, point-of-sale displays and posters via a custom smartphone app. For example, Disney’s 3D coloring books create a volumetric illusion of a drawing colored in on paper— while you color it in. Just hold the device with the app open over the drawing and watch it come to life on your screen as you fill in the paper drawing. You can bring games to life right on your dining table with Nintendo’s 3DS family system.  And Layar lets you create your own interactive augmented experiences via printed and digital media, which certainly has applications for events, conferences and tourism.

 AR and VR are not mutually exclusive. The goal of both technologies is to immerse the participant in a memorable experience. I predict that we will be seeing more blending of the technologies in the very near future.

AR is currently more advanced in development than VR and has immediate potential for use in marketing, networking, education and meetings. As a meeting planner or a supplier to the events and hospitality industry, you should recognize not only  the potential of AR and VR to increase attendee participation, create better educational experiences, and enhance connections, but start now to include these technologies in your future planning and marketing.


Alvalyn Lundgren | Alvalyn Creative