With the addition of a compass, GPS and associated software, the PDA/smartphone has become as powerful as ever. Services are emerging that blend social networking and location awareness (e.g. Foursquare, Google Latitude) – in addition, augmented reality has received a lot of recent attention. Amsterdam-based Layar has interesting technology that they call Layar Reality Browser – Version 2.0 (a mobile, augmented reality browser).
How could location awareness and augmented reality apply to events and trade shows?
Event planners could partner with location awareness providers to determine which registrants have appeared on site. Attendees would need to register and opt-in to the location awareness service – but once they do, the technology can determine who’s on site and provide automated check-in. Imagine arriving at the event, skipping past the long check-in line and going straight to a self-service kiosk, where you can print your event badge. Once you have your badge printed, perhaps the event planner disables the location service, to give attendees the reassurance that they’re not being watched, a la Big Brother.
You’re at the main lobby of the event – imagine holding up your PDA and having a map appear of the venue. You no longer need to ask where the keynote session is being held – your PDA can map it for you – and perhaps guide you right there via its GPS function. Such a service would make support overhead more efficient (less staff required to direct attendees) and be eco-friendly, since the printed event guide (and map) may no longer be required.
Augmented Reality at Exhibitor Booths
For trade shows that include exhibitor booths, augmented reality provides for some interesting possibilities. I’m standing at the event’s most popular booth – the event staff is swarmed with visitors and I have to wait in line to speak to the exhibitor and/or get my product demo. While I’m waiting, I bring up the augmented reality app on my PDA – it shows an image of the physical booth (right in front of me) with the following information overlaid:
- Related content from the exhibitor that I can view (right now) from my PDA – documents, white papers, on-demand videos, etc.
- Bios/profiles of event staffers who are in the booth right now – so I know that the most popular demo is being given by the exhibitor company’s Senior Product Manager for Mobile – I can view his LinkedIn profile, so that when my turn comes, I already know that we have a connection in common.
- An option to view the demo – perhaps the physical booth demos are being streamed out to the web – e.g. into a hybrid virtual event. With a click, I’m able to view the live stream of the demo via my PDA. I’ll admit, it’s an odd thought to watch a live demo that’s occurring a few feet from you – but sometimes at events, it is truly hard to see the demo from the back of an assembled crowd.
- An option to join a text chat with a virtual booth staffer – again, in a concurrent virtual event, perhaps the exhibitor supplements their physical staffers with online staffers in the virtual environment.
Social gaming and following friends/colleagues
Events could incorporate a gaming aspect, with points tied to actions – and activity tracked via location awareness. Exhibitors no longer need to scan an attendee’s badge – instead, the location awareness service tracks which booths they’ve visited. Safeguards need to be established, of course, to ensure that a booth visit was real/substantial, as opposed to a “drive by”. To use a Foursquare analogy, perhaps exhibitors offer a grand prize (e.g. HDTV) and award that to the attendee who holds the title of “mayor” (of that booth) at the conclusion of the event.
In a sales meeting, on the other hand, you often have colleagues who want to attend sessions together – instead of texting or IM’ing to coordinate meet-ups, a location awareness service (think Google Latitude) can allow opted-in attendees to track one another’s location on the show floor. If your colleague is spending too long on line for coffee, go grab him so that you’re both not late to your boss’ presentation.
The important stuff – food!
Layar, Yelp and Urbanspoon have all released augmented reality apps related to restaurants. Whether it’s lunch during the event or dinner afterwards, you’ll always be a few augmented clicks away from knowing where’s the best burger, steak or burrito.
Perhaps what we need is a conference on augmented reality and location awareness – where all of this becomes reality!