“The future is digital!” Well, yes the future does indeed contain an increasingly digitised conversation, with a growing dependency on connectivity, platforms and networks. But to neglect the physical and merely focus on digital design and production misses out one vital ingredient – the human being.
I’ve thrown myself into numerous debates on the future of digital disruption, such as “VR is the future of film, TV and entertainment” – no, it’s ‘a’ future (no technological option has yet made the printed book obsolete) – they all continue to co-exist.
Speaking of books, we were convinced interactive multimedia digital experiences were the ‘future of the book’. They weren’t, as pushing certain content too far in one direction created something entirely different – a game for those not wishing to play, or an interactive movie for those simply planning to sit back and watch.
As part of my ongoing involvement in shaping the future of mobility, another heated debate rages over the subject of autonomous vehicles – “how do these things drive themselves?” “Is the technology safe?” “Will we be able to play Pokemon Go on the windscreen?” It’s my mission to inject the missing physical experience into this line of questioning.
Brands need to move consumers’ automotive expectations away from the “how’s it work?” to “how’s it feel?” Lidar will speak to AI and AI will communicate with other vehicles, road networks and entire cities, but how will it feel to sit in a vehicle where control has been replaced by a far more important thing – choice.
I’ve had top-level conversations with global auto manufacturers about the importance of sleep, relaxation and sex in a self-driving vehicle and I’ve tested VR content, enhanced by the dynamic physical actions of a moving car. The choice of surface materials and storage solutions will become increasingly important as we’re given more time to physically interact with the environment around us and we’ll become less accepting of something that merely transports us from A to B.
Every action and instruction can be transmitted through gesture or voice, but in vehicles built for dual-driving (switchable between self and human-input) we’ll still appreciate tactile input systems such a rotary dials and switches even if some simply trade on brand history, but add strength and conviction in the process.
Part of the reason I spent 48 hours in Virtual Reality last year was to counter the argument that all VR time was wasted on a sofa watching movies or playing games. We planned as much physical activity as possible (including the wing-walk, go-kart racing, boxing and my real-world tattoo) and successfully combined physical kit with digital platforms and content.
However, Teslasuit have brought this physical element even closer to the virtual world with their full-body haptic clothing, sending electrical stimuli to muscle groups and delivering physical presence direct to digital experiences. I have been fortunate to not only test the suit with an eye to potential real-world application, adding value rather than IoT clutter, but also combine this with further wearable technology.
As much as I hate acronyms (and MR in particular), my Immersion Suit is all about the XR – (e)Xtended Reality. By taking a base layer supplied by the Teslasuit and adding bionic shoes, exoskeleton gloves, AR and VR helmets and a smattering of fireballs, I’m successfully combining the real with the hyper-real and providing a platform for digital content plus the opportunity to talk about what works, what doesn’t and what the future holds for us all.
And that future doesn’t need to look ridiculous. OK, I’m not saying we’ll all be running around in Immersion Suits in ten years (or twenty), but FashTech is a real thing, as is good product design so it’s important the view we’re projecting of the future is one we don’t just think is acceptable, but actually mirrors developments in materials and manufacturing in the fashion industry.
Google failed to predict the negative brand association of Robert Scoble stood naked in a shower, wearing Glass. It wasn’t a consumer product, but it soon hit the consumer press – as did Scoble a few years later for ALL the wrong reasons.
Is Magic Leap displaying a similar naïveté (or arrogance) as images emerge of tech geeks clad in Magic Leap One headsets swamping consumer press and social channels? The technology is undoubtedly incredible (as was Glass) but no one wants to think they’ll look stupid in the future – and that’s exactly how Magic Leap pioneers are being portrayed right now.
Product design is about more than ergonomic comfort and shoehorning the right amount of tech into an acceptable space. It’s also about the look, the feel and the image. Just pick up any Apple product, hold it, balance it in your hand then ask yourself how it makes YOU feel.
Which brings us to Disney. And The Void.
“AR, not VR is the way of the future for Disney Parks.
What we create is an experience that is real.”
And then Disney partnered with The Void, Lucasfilm and ILM to produce ‘Secrets of The Empire’ – the best Immersive VR experience to date. My previous benchmark was ‘Ghostbusters: Dimension’, another Void experience with Sony Pictures at Madame Tussauds in New York.
I’m fortunate to have been on Utah-based The Void’s journey since their early days so appreciate how far they’ve come. Their bespoke helmet design, haptic vest and weaponry fit perfectly with these immersive cinema experiences when adding blasts of air, heat, vibration and physical environments. This is transformative digital technology, genuinely transforming by offering a physical experience – not a replacement for it.
Spending a lot of time in VR (I’ve probably racked up more hours than most) it’s clear the technology is incredible, with experiences beyond our wildest dreams. But those dreams are even more magical when we share them with others in the physical world around us. Disney has perfected the art so it’s easy to see why Bob Iger views Augmented Reality as a more suitable experience for his parks than VR.
But we’ll have to wait for the AR headsets to improve before that becomes the shared experience we’re used to in a theme park environment. Poor Field of Vision (FoV), battery life and hygiene are holding back wider adoption – which leaves us with the real world.
Disney stands alone like no other collection of brands, properties, platforms and products, with a heritage to die for. But turning the spotlight on the new(ish) kids on the block, the magical world of Harry Potter is winning when it comes to contemporary physical brand extension. A ride on the Hogwarts Express or browsing every store in Diagon Alley at Universal Studios, or getting up close and personal with the costumes, props and sets at the Warner Bros Studio Tour – these are delivered to an extraordinary standard. Next steps could easily combine an AR overlay or a complete VR experience – but these physical environments already feel magical and out of this world so they must add genuine value.
The more I consume digital, the more I appreciate physical and the higher expectations I have of each.
Almost every industry is guilty of developing digital content without fully considering physical interaction. But the future isn’t one or the other.
This isn’t about choosing a physical OR digital solution – it’s about effectively combining the two, with a love and appreciation of each. Let’s get Digical.