Conference & Meetings World Issue 102 - Page 15

Tech Virtual reality – sideshow or main attraction? CMW INVESTIGATES HOW THE MARKET FOR VIRTUAL REALITY HAS EVOLVED, AND WHETHER VIRTUAL CONFERENCING HAS A FUTURE he virtual reality market has proven a volatile one over the last handful of years, having burst onto the scene as the Next Big Thing in the event tech industry. The initial wave of hype and excitement surrounding the technology has been tempered somewhat by high costs and work-in-progress headsets, which have caused consumers to be slower than predicted in their uptake of VR. Regardless, virtual reality headsets have been a mainstay at conferences and trade shows for some time now. Global tech advisory firm ABI Research recently released some new statistics, forecasting the future of the VR market. It predicted an ‘inflection point’ within the next two years – an upward turn driven by incremental advances in technology and gradually lowering prices. The VR market, says ABI, will be worth nearly US$22bn by 2024. This still represents, however, an industry “outside the collective mainstream”, and with plenty of room for growth. Michael Inouye, Principal Analyst at ABI Research, comments: “The VR market has been a veritable roller coaster ride, with early excitement building like the climb toward the ride’s apex, waiting for the exhilarating rush that would transform the world. “But the climb ended well short of this vision, and the ensuing ups and downs have caused some to view VR as more of a sideshow than the main attraction. Ultimately, VR will go through a similar maturation process as many previous technologies – we didn’t all start off carrying around iPhone and Android smartphones when mobile devices first launched.” “ Virtway provides a connected, virtual 3D space in which to stage conferences, allowing delegates to pick an avatar and wander round at their leisure.” Below: A virtual conference inside Virtway € 4m funding for Virtway Whether VR can regain its upward trajectory is a question in which many in the conference industry have a vested interest. In other parts of the events industry, it seems to be working: it was recently reported by Forbes that more people watched the UK’s Wireless Festival through live music VR app MelodyVR than in person. One company exploring the possibility of virtual conferencing is Virtway, a Spain-based platform which recently secured €4m for expansion into a UK office. Virtway provides a connected, virtual 3D space in which to stage conferences, allowing delegates to pick an avatar and wander round at their leisure. It does not make use of virtual reality, but is available across Windows, Mac, tablet and mobile, using real-time voice communication to allow speakers to present to virtual crowds. Virtway was founded in 2014 by Spanish ISSUE 102 entrepreneur Jose Antonio Tejedor. Of the new funding, Teledor says: “This investment will be a great boost to what we hope will be a successful expansion in the UK, following increased demand from English-speaking countries. It’s a really exciting time with a huge amount of interest in the product from companies and universities. “We have an exciting and unparalleled product and are constantly working to improve the UX. There is no other platform that is offering the level of connectivity and experience that Virtway is currently bringing to the marketplace.” / CONFERENCE & MEETINGS WORLD / 15