Diving into Digital Realities @ Digility AR/VR Conference 2016 in Cologne

Recap Day 1, Part 1

Wow! Two exciting days are over at Digility conference in Cologne. Two days fully crammed with a lot of interesting talks, demos, panel discussions, technology, visions for the future, awesome ideas and fantasies and fantastic people! Now I´ll start my poor attempt of transcribing and recording a glimpse of it and to transport a bit of the people´s ideas to you!

The conference was split into six pieces basically: workshops on both days, the main track “brand experience & best practices” on day 1, “developing for VR & AR” on day 1, the future vision for mixed reality on day 2, the 2nd track about start-ups and investments on day 2 plus demos from the partners. Today, let me start to talk about the main track from day 1 and let´s dive into the introduction and the best practice reports from the industry. I won´t cover all talks, but rather give a good idea of the thoughts on a red line.

A new hope, a new conference

Katharina Hamma from Koelnmesse introduced the show in the beginning. For those who hear about Digility for the first time: this is a new conference, hold the first time. It was co-located to photokina this year in Cologne´s huge fair center and (nobody paid me to say so) professionally organized and executed with about 1000 guests. They (obviously) focus on AR and VR and the upcoming industry around it – to learn about the technology, the stories and to connect with other spirits in this field to push development in it and discuss social impact of (my) favourite technologies. That´s why I became official media partner to get you guys a report, too. (See my live tweets for more.)

The braveheart speech to kick things off


Alysha Naples stood up (though still too early in the morning) and set the scene for the two days. Let´s go wild and talk about the future – no wait! Let´s first make a reality check! Human beings stay the same, we have the same needs. Although the mode or physical form may vary between decades: people pack the same stuff they used to pack ages ago (only changing the mode from physical paper book to ebook for instance). People are just physical. When we move half our stuff into the digital space (onto our phones in 2016) they leave the physical space – but still exist. Now the problem comes along: when we do work on our phone or computer we leave the physical space (well, ok, our brain does) and focus on the screen space (and its virtual reality inside). This mode switch between the two spaces is key and a major problem! This concept or trying to avoid this switch holds huge challenges – but also chances – for mankind … and cannot be overestimated. How can this switch happen with glasses? What if I keep seeing the real world along? What if it´s all VR´ed? How do we need to design interaction? We must not carry over old metaphors to a new media (Did you ever catch yourself trying to pinch-zoom or tap-select a line in a physical book thinking about your ereader? Bingo!)! We instead need to create something completely new for the new devices! We must remove the frame that separates us from the data on the screen! We don´t need the screens anymore! Let´s go inbetween! It´s time for something completely new! Break the screen that seperates both worlds. (Time to look at A-ha below and start singing…)


Grounded Technology

Gotcha. That´s the plan, Alysha! Sounds awesome! So, what do we have today out on the streets? Audi`s Marcus Kühne kicked off the best practice examples giving insights on the past to future of the sales process at Audi. Again, people stay the same! The sales process did not change over the last 60 years basically (going to a dealership with your wife, take a look around, see a few real cars, get talked into a car, make a test drive, …). But the new situation in the 21st century is: the car (or any product) has become far too complex to grasp everything. Too many configurations are impossible to be presented on a limited space, too much technology screams to get explained. This is the moment where VR (and AR, too) can stand up and shine! Help us, awesome mixed reality continuum!
Easier said than done… and here we dive into the technical issues. One example: the construction data (CAD-data) of the cars have more than 50 mio. polygons, but they must get shrunk down to max. 5-7 mio. polys, so Marcus said (typically game engines stay even below that of 1-2 mio.). Their attempts started with 50 fps and 45 ms latency (well, quite nice, but just not enough for VR). In 2016 they reached 90+ fps and a 20 ms latency (quite allright for VR) with their partner Zerolight (I mentioned it before).


But besides the tech there is more to it! You will run into conceptual challenges. If you want to sell your car with VR you can and must engage the user more. So, Marcus:

People get excited when you let them do impossible things!

You can trigger more emotional engagement when doing the impossible (like flying you to the moon) and the unexpected. Hence you should do it! Also, people love to interact themselves. Let them run free and create your demo or experience this way! Make it easy and don´t limit the user to a path on a string. Don´t go the standard sales tour! Once again, exploring and engagement is key to success. (By the way: check out our (German) podcast VRODO TALK we had with Marcus a few weeks ago if you are really into it!)

More lessons learned

Dirk Christoph from innoactive continued and hopped onto the stage to show us their take-on with VR for the Media Saturn kitchen configurator that can be found in German stores. They stumbled upon many challenges as well and talked about their issues when building up a VR Point of Sales system (PoS) as a software company (coding nerds don´t like hardware problems, I`d say). Good convincing content – you want to sell the kitchen in the end – with a flawless user interface for first-time users needed to be found. So, Dirk shared their lessons learned with us.


A user survey revealed nicely that 88% of the people were (in general) comfortable wearing a head-mounted display and that 73,5% percent could imagine buying products directly in VR, while less than every tenth user got some motion sickness. 88% would even love to design their own virtual environments (though we don´t know if the survey was representative or if mainly nerds or artists were asked). Overall the presented realism, latency and interface worked well for most, but at the same time people complained about the bad resolution (27%), the weight and (un)fit of the goggles, the cable and the sweat-factor.

Again, engaging the people is key, Dirk confirms following up on Marcus´s talk. You need to make the experience fun and easy (don´t overdo it with complexity). Possibly even integrate small mini games to call to the inner child of the users. E.g. let them chop the cucumber on that kitchen table – after all it´s a kitchen you are trying to sell. Even though this does not have a direct sales piece, one could say. I believe it actually does: is the table high enough, do I feel comfortable cutting the cucumber here next to the air vent of the oven, etc. People just like to be people and act normal – also in a virtual world.

Speaking of acting normal…

How do you act normal in a windowless capsule while being shot with 700 miles per hour through a message-in-a-bottle tube? You get nervous? I bet I would. You are claustrophobic? You go crazy? Probably. Let´s avoid it, please! Guys, come up here!


So, Dirk Schart and Wolfgang Stelzle from Re´flekt explain how they augment the windows from the hyperloop transportation system from Elon Musk with their approach. Windows? Didn´t I just say there are none? Right. The windows inside the capsules are just window frames with a 4k OLED screen behind it, mimicking windows. People just like to be people and to live in a real world where they know what´s going on. Again, Alysha´s proclaimed switching of spaces is a problem. Is the real world right and in focus or is it the screen window? Does it fit together in our brain? The user needs to have at least the feeling of knowing what´s going on. The same applies for the hyperloop: a feeling of movement, speed and the environment will help us to stay sane (No windows and no beer make Homer go crazy – I`d say).


The technology needed for this to happen is (in this case) a regular screen plus a RealSense depth camera to track your head´s position and viewing direction. With the calculated position you can set the virtual camera for the rendered environment presented on the screen = window in real-time. Currently the user closest to the window will get the right perspective – but future updates might result in multi-viewer experiences for a single window screen.

Problem solved of going crazy! But travelling would still suck the same way it does today. We can do more to make it more interesting and entertaining, Dirk continues. Exchange the environment from a real world e.g. California landscape to something fantastic (I´d say use the Snowpiercer landscape! (Worst-movie-ever! – though I love Tilda)). Obviously you could also show additional travel information, a movie, a game or personalized (I heard it coming) ads (d´oh).

But honestly, this is not really AR to me. (Though Re´flekt sure knows what true AR is!) Here it´s just a good real-time head-tracking problem to present an interactive shop window screen. But, hey, it´s a first great step and I´m sure there will come more…

…maybe we will be able to see this technology on transparent windows in the German trains soon! (Re´flekt is evaluating ideas with the Deutsche Bahn and their Innovation Train.) So, we can see: more players are jumping on-board of the VR bandwagon. A good time to jump right into the panel discussion in the afternoon where the discussion on the lessons learned continued.

Don´t wait too long. Start today!

In the panel we had Audi, Ola Björling from the MediaMonks and Sven von Aschwege (Deutsche Telekom) with Alissia Iljaitsch moderating. The tenor was the same with all of them: today VR might be an early adopter advantage, but soon enough it will be an established (and expected) technology. You will fall behind if not taking part now. Better start today with your first prototypes and learn over the next one or two years. But if you don`t: bye-bye! In 5 years you must have VR, Marcus said. Ola added:

VR is the biggest blank canvas ever! Go creative!

Creativity gets even bigger in VR. You can do more with it. But you also must do more than using the technology. Reach the people emotionally (once the hype is gone the tech and funky effects will rather be in the way than help) with great content. Once again the buzz-word bingo wins while being true: content is king! (Keep this in mind for my upcoming recaps about Digility.)

Well, ok, let´s stop here for today with this classic (but true) phrase! As you might have noticed the industry talked mostly about VR on the first day here. You could also see that represented on the demo floor. Countless Vives, Gears and Rifts were shown, but only a single Hololens found it´s way to the conference (afaik). But the queue confirmed huge interest and there will be more coming up on AR. AR will get even bigger than VR. It will more dramatically impact business and our society… We´ll get there soon enough (I mean in one of my next posts, but hopefully / I`m afraid possibly in real life, too)!

To be continued (very soon) …