One of our team is slightly obsessed by the film Ready Player One. He’s counting down the days until the technology seen throughout the film is available; preferably without the dystopian future bolted on. Whether you are terrified by the prospect of your Hinge date turning out to be a Blade Runner Replicant, or whether you would like to hire a robotic companion for an elderly relative on lockdown, just like in Robot & Frank – the hilarious 2012 American science fiction comedy-drama film – technology offers opportunities as well as the capacity for going horribly wrong. Thankfully some sci-fi references are a little way off yet.
After all, how many conferences have you attended where the Power Point presentation goes haywire, leaving the speaker blushing and blaming it all on “technology’?
We got to thinking about how technology has featured in some of our past events. Also, how we’ve relied on it since lockdown – daily Zoom meetings offering cohesion and support to the team, as we are working from home. What are the lessons to be retained when we get back into our ever changing “new normal” post Covid-19? Will technology remain at the heart of our daily working lives? Will we all be microchipped and tracked in an effort to get a handle on the spread of the virus? We already have the cutting edge technology to achieve this level of surveillance, albeit rather Orwellian.
But “cutting edge technology” can mean many things to many people and industries alike. We’ve incorporated it on a wide-ranging series of projects and events. In 2012 we produced a world first, remote-controlled sound to light LED system that was housed in a luxury ice bucket for Ciroc. We were one of the first companies to use Holo-Gauze in the UK as part of a promotional experience for the launch of a new TV show. Our very own Cheshire Cat was painstakingly built, frame by frame recently for The Mad Hatters Gin & Tea Party as a virtual character.
The technology implemented in events isn’t always obvious. Behind the scenes lies an abundance of technology from design and structural software, to the programming of lights, sound systems, giant LED screens and firework displays, the list goes on.
The team recall, with some laughter, the memory of the Robotic Canapés Waiter constructed for a 3 Mobile launch out of a wheelchair base clad within a mirrored cube. Having the remote control, one of the team was able to scoot the waiter in the opposite direction whenever approached by a guest looking hungrily at the hors d’oeuvres.
What was a whimsical and fun part of the 3 Mobile event, could become a very useful addition to the bar and restaurant industries once they start opening again. We have close ties in this industry and have been thinking about apps, QR codes and other tech to roll out to maintain social distancing and to keep the staff and customers safe. Did Yo Sushi! inadvertently future proof themselves when they introduced their conveyor belts? Will we see more venues using similar serving tools?
With half of all science and technology budgets in the UK and the USA devoted to the technologies of military industrial development, according to the OECD, is the future bright for technology in our own industry?
Over the centuries, technology has been harnessed by fun-merchants, entertainers and the hospitality industry to delight, entrance and engage audiences in novel ways.
Take Leonardo da Vinci, for example. Five hundred years ago, he invented the helicopter, the tank, the parachute, the driverless cart, the catapult … all with military potential.
But what delights us most? His clockwork lion! Designed in 1517 to amuse the King of France, this engineering genius had already created a couple of working models based on an engineering miracle
One could rear on its hind legs but couldn’t walk. The second lion could walk under its own power and move its head. When the king stepped forward and tapped the lion with his sword, its body opened and presented him with lilies, the French symbol of royalty. “He was,” said the president of his museum at Clos Lucé, soon to be turned into a Da Vinci theme park, “a kind of George Lucas of the early 16th century - his special effects were legendary."
The technology that Leonardo used involved a complex meshing of gears, pulleys, chains, wheels, pendulums and axles. The pendulum technology predated the early 17th century and the axle – which makes the lion's legs move – hints at methods not fully developed until the late 18th and 19th centuries.
So today, can technology offer a solution to the problem of social distancing? We believe that the social distancing restrictions will open up new opportunities for efficiency with solutions being found through integration of technology.
Talking to Dan Bainbridge at Neutral Digital, specialists in Augmented and Virtual Reality software development, we can see how companies who have been ahead of the curve, like Waitrose, tooled up with handheld machines to scan and tot up your weekly shopping in the store. These now present a hygiene issue and so ironically Sainsbury’s, coming into the technology at a later stage, have developed an app to be downloaded onto a personal mobile, eliminating the problem of sanitisation. Touch-screen technology, installed in shopping malls, airports and trade shows around the world, have a similar issue in terms of Health and Safety as a result of Covid-19 and fears about contagion.
But where there are unforeseen setbacks, there’s also opportunity. We’re currently working with AR technology on a project, using AR, to re-purpose vacant buildings in creative ways .
The Van Gogh experience on the South Bank, an interactive once-in-a-lifetime experience, created by the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam which used cutting edge audio-visual techniques to take visitors on an unforgettable journey in Van Gogh’s footsteps, was along with everything else cancelled shortly after opening due to lockdown. This experience along with other notable innovative curated museum experiences are leading the way in the future of engagement. There’s everything to be gained by harnessing alternative realities to bridge the gap and progress with, or even beyond, face-to-face events, into a new paradigm of engagement.
There will no doubt be a flurry of new technology introduced to ensure safety, to track & trace, to maintain social distancing and of course, to provide culture and escapism in a modified way from the live experiences we are used to. With the amalgamation of existing and upcoming technology, coupled with the want and need for real world social interaction. We predict the future of events will be exciting, positive, mindful and as an industry, will overcome all the current obstacles and flourish. Perhaps Ready Player One, The Oasis and the technology seen within isn’t that far away after all.