VR, AR, and wearables: Ambient interactivity transforming the marketing experience

VR, AR, and wearables: Ambient interactivity transforming the marketing experience
Michael Mascioni is a market research consultant, writer, and conference planner in digital media and clean energy. He is the author of a chapter on the future of ambient interactivity in public places for FutureScapes- the Future of Business, and is co-author of "The Out-of-Home Immersive Entertainment Frontier." He writes freelance on digital media, clean energy, and other topics for such publications as Innovation & Tech Today and Inter Park. Mr. Mascioni served as program director and project manager for the 2012 DNA/US digital out-of-home interactive entertainment conference and the 2013 DNA/UK digital out-of-home interactive entertainment conference. He also was program director of a conference on mobile and gestural digital signage, which preceded the Digital Signage Expo in 2009.


The whole scope of ambient interactivity in public places – using virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and wearable technologies – will dramatically expand over the next five years, as these technologies combine to afford more vivid, dynamic, and extensive interactivity. It also means a huge opportunity for marketers.

Ambient interactivity, which typically refers to ambient interactivity embedded or built into physical structures and environments, could also apply to interactivity embedded in virtual environments. Ambient interactivity unshackles, unleashes, and expands interactivity, enabling a free-flowing interactive force that meshes well with audience desires, preferences, and behaviour.

Some of the more common forms of ambient interactivity include interactive windows and interactive tables, which are being leveraged to deliver informational, marketing, and entertainment applications. For instance, interactive tables in restaurants are providing touch-sensitive menus incorporating ordering capabilities and even games. In many ambient interactive forms, motion sensors are utilised to track user movements, which can trigger certain content displays or experiences.

Ambient interactivity is and will continue to be particularly important in attracting younger audiences, who crave and exhibit the ‘always-on’ digital lifestyle. They have high expectations for continuous and fluid interactivity that shifts from one digital device to another effortlessly and seamlessly.

A number of projects have been launched in public places allowing visitors to control such environmental elements as lighting and sound, and co-create or co-generate content and displays. For example, Prysm offers users the opportunity to interact with ‘collaborative video walls’. Over the next five years, a wider range of ambient interactive forms will allow audiences in public places to change those elements more often and in more diverse ways.

New events will be created in these environments by visitors utilising such forms. For example, they may have an opportunity to manipulate lighting and special effects in public places using such forms as laser poles, columns, wands, gesture control armbands, and haptic feedback controllers.

How ambient interactivity is pervading everyday lives

A key development in ambient interactivity in public places is the automatic display of specific content geared to specific audiences in those locations and their preferences using artificial intelligence. One manifestation of this is the concept of ‘reflective signs’, which involves gauging audience preferences in particular content via facial recognition techniques, and then displaying that content to the particular audience.

This technique will be expanded significantly in the near future through the detection of content visitors in public places are viewing on large screens, ‘interactive furniture’, smartphones, tablets, and other surfaces and devices. Detection of audience interest in certain content will likely extend beyond a specific location to other locations via networked media.

A number of developers, such as Perch Interactive, have developed large screen interactive displays built into tables or walls that are modelled after, or activated by, smartphones and tablets. This kind of approach may very well be expanded to enable the delivery of more large-screen 3D and holographic games, elements of alternate reality games, and other game forms via ambient displays in the out of home market.

Another element of ambient interactivity is based around 3D building and water projections. For instance, some users send images of the projections to others via social media, while others overlay special effects on these projections using smartphones and tablets. But interaction with these projections will expand considerably in new directions over the next five years. Users will increasingly interact with them through wearable VR and AR systems, and even use laser devices to overlay special effects on these projections.

Kinetic interactive displays will also likely play a key role in ambient interactivity in the next five years. The power of this form has already been demonstrated by the likes of Hyposurface, a 3D display surface that triggers the display of content, including Internet feeds and apps by user movement, sound, and other means. The system’s use of movement to trigger content displays has a special appeal, and has strong potential in museums, stores, amusement parks, and other public places.

Drones and robots will become a more significant part of interactive exhibits and attractions in public places, spawning a different kind of ambient interactivity. Early versions of this have already appeared; for example Displaydrone, a system conceived by Dr. Jurgen Scheibe of Stuttgart Media University and Dr. Walter Fichter of the University of Stuttgart, which fuses a flying robot with a video projector and a mobile phone to display content on walls and other objects.

The concept of ambient interactivity will also broaden to encompass more elaborate and diverse 3D printing experiences. Visitors in public places will have an opportunity to reshape and add to their environment by developing new 3D printed objects and artefacts, sometimes in collaboration with other visitors and designers.

The greater use of VR and AR systems, including wearable VR/AR systems in locations such as museums and amusement parks, will enable the delivery of more vivid and dynamic immersive experiences. For example, the combined use of wearable AR systems and 3D building or pool projections might become an intriguing option for users. These experiences, for example, could lead to new forms of 3D adventures and games in public places.

Some indications of these possible experiences can be gleaned from such innovative AR systems as Magic Leap and HoloLens. For instance HoloLens, a wireless smart glasses system developed by Microsoft, enables the creation of, and interaction with, realistic high-definition 3D holograms, and incorporates gesture recognition, voice recognition, and spatial mapping capabilities.   The system, which is due for introduction in 2015, promises to have many diverse business applications, and will even allow for objects and other material viewed on the system to be printed on 3D printers.


Some of these ambient interactive experiences will likely be offered on a premium basis or as part of a subscription by the likes of museums, location-based entertainment centres, and other leisure facilities, as they seek new revenue sources and ways of attracting visitors.

Either way, ambient interactivity seems destined to become much more pervasive, diverse, and expansive in public places in the next five years, and create much greater and richer engagement opportunities for consumers and marketers alike.


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