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Insights

The World is not Flat - SXSW Report

27 April, 2016 - Source: Knit

Jack Chalkley, Knit's Creative Technologist shares his experiences from SXSW 2016. "This year I was invited to South by Southwest Interactive in Austin Texas to speak about a Virtual Reality (VR) conservation project I was involved in last year."

As a creative technologist I’m fascinated how new and emerging technologies can be used to tell stories and create empathy with users.

Having spent five days surrounded by new technology, what struck me most was how rapidly VR is expanding and how physical products and digital technologies are converging.

Media platforms that we typically associate with being flat can now be considered as physical experiences, some moving from 2D to 3D, and in some cases even 4D. Think how we traditionally watch a video on our phone – it’s flat and rectangular. This is being challenged by VR and the rise of 360 videos that offer richer and more immersive viewing experiences. 3D headsets, or viewers, like Google Cardboard are easily available and their low cost to purchase (under £10 per headset) mean that this once elusive content is now accessible to anyone with a smartphone.

But not only that, we are seeing an increasing number of physical devices controlled by digital technology. This trend is commonly referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT) and is changing how we interact with the physical products in our day-to-day lives.

The IoT is a term that has become synonymous with emerging, and in many cases, experimental technology. Despite of its infancy, experts predict that soon what we now refer to as the IoT will become the ‘Internet of Everything’ as physical objects and devices become increasingly connected and proliferate.At SXSW, there were numerous examples of connected devices; from the refrigerator that automatically contacts your supermarket to restock itself, to the innovative ‘Knocki’; a wireless smart device that instantly transforms any surface into a remote control.

Brands like Samsung, GoPro, Google, WWF and NASA all had a strong VR presence. One of my favourite VR examples came from IBM and featured virtual reality cycling experience. You could take a quiet cycle trip or competitively race through different landscapes complete with wind effects which added another dimension to the virtual environment.

Encouraging empathy with users

Dell offered visitors a unique “4D experience” using virtual reality and motion sensor chairs to highlight an environmental campaign on anti-pollution in oceans. The three-minute VR experience immersed visitors into the depths of the oceans to show first-hand how pollution is impacting the ocean and marine life. The motion sensors in the chairs added a 4th sensory dimension to the experience by including ‘touch’.Vibrating pads were positioned all over the chairs as well as air jets in the foot-well and arm rests. This allowed you to ‘feel’ the fish swim through your legs, and seaweed brushing against your arms, and as the chairs moved, you also experienced the feeling of depth changes in the ocean. This example of VR was impressive as it used technology to encourage users to empathise with marine conservation efforts. There was an authentic feeling around this project and Dell was able to not only showcase their technology but really help to raise awareness for an important environmental cause.

McDonalds showed how effective VR can be for marketing by placing you inside a Happy Meal box. Once inside the box, you could then select tools to virtually decorate the interior of the box using a multi coloured paint wheel and paint-gun.

At Knit, we specialise in developing campaigns using new and emerging technologies that forge powerful connections with audiences.T

here were also some impressive examples of brands using IoT technology. Clixl is a smart device aimed at sports fans. It’s a desktop, LED mood light which shows Twitter reactions to sports games and represents fan sentiment using different colours. This is an interesting example of how to display real-time information without constantly checking your newsfeeds.

The work we’ve done with the Hiut Denim Co is a good example of how we’ve driven empathy and engagement. The Hiut Denim Co is a brand dedicated to denim craftsmanship. Together we’ve been exploring the intersection of fashion, creativity and craft and finding innovative ways of telling their story and history.

We developed two campaigns; one used conductive ink in a shop window to tell the story of the brand in a fun and interactive way, and secondly we created a campaign called Hiut Music. Hiut Music is an IoT jukebox which uses Raspberry Pi technology, and is powered by Twitter and Spotify. It connects the brand with their customers and advocates through shared music tastes and develops a deeper and more powerful connection.

We know first-hand that our work using 360 video and VR is a powerful way to create empathy. Take a look at our Meerkat project at London Zoo. This was one of the topics of my presentation at SXSW where I discussed how 360 content can be used to create awareness for good causes. This medium enables people to get up close and personal to wildlife in locations that may be previously inaccessible due to financial or geographical limitations.

As more and more brands start to experiment with VR and IoT technologies, we’re likely to see a range of the good, the bad and the downright ugly. What’s important here is not using technology for technology’s sake and keeping it credible. We want to improve the user experience and add real value. Jim Geduldick, Manager of GoPro sums it up perfectly: “Don’t force it because you have the option to shoot in 360. It's borderline gimmicky.”  However when we see an opportunity to use new technology to tell stories in engaging and immersive ways we’ll explore it.

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