Will trade fairs take place in virtual reality in the future?

Due to the ban on major events in times of the Corona pandemic, many trade fairs will be cancelled this year. Companies will therefore have to consider other ways of presenting their latest developments.

How can the production of cars be improved? How can robots interact with people or create better ergonomic applications for workers to prevent back injuries, for example? Ideas and products are being developed for this purpose and will be presented at industrial trade fairs. But many such events will be cancelled in 2020. The risk of the corona virus spreading is too great. So the Hannover Messe is currently taking place digitally – with many conferences.

But for companies to be able to present their innovations directly, they have to come up with something else – preferably without direct contact. Virtual reality (VR) would be one option. Visitors could take a direct look at newly developed cars, new technology for trucks or innovative ideas for everyday work.

Expansion of VR still in research

  • Look – that is the key word. Virtual Reality cannot offer much more than that so far.
  • You can sit in an electric racing car optically with VR glasses, but you cannot press the accelerator pedal, feel the comfort of the seats or feel the wind during acceleration.
  • How virtual reality can be expanded “is still in the research phase,” says Franziska Klimant from the Technical University (TU) Chemnitz. She heads the Department of Process Informatics and Virtual Product Development.

This is one of the reasons why VR has so far only been used by companies at trade fairs as a “supporting element”, says Franziska Klimant. In a few cases, this is also done using VR glasses. The problem: the potential customer is alone in the virtual space. “This is unfavorable for a sales talk,” says the expert. For this reason, projective systems rather than head-mounted displays (VR glasses) are used at trade fairs. For example, the interior of a car can be projected onto the walls – the expert can then explain the technology to the trade fair visitor.

Virtual reality – chic, but who benefits from it?

At trade fairs, visitors want above all to “touch the exhibits and experience their functionality”, says industrial engineer Franziska Klimant. This is why more and more companies are using Augmented Reality (AR) in their showrooms at trade fairs – in other words, a reality enhanced with virtual information. “This is a trend,” she says. For example, when looking at a new electric car, trade fair visitors can view data on horsepower, power consumption or charging time, as well as 3D models of different versions of the car or interior components. This is a popular addition to the presentation of companies at trade fairs.

Because as a component of the presentation VR technology is helpful. This is the result of a survey by “AUMA MesseTrend 2020”, the results of which were published in January 2020. In this survey, 17 percent of the 500 participating exhibiting companies stated that they use virtual reality “to present special applications of their products and special models”. Of the larger companies with sales of over 125 million euros, around a third even stated that they use VR at trade fairs. Many companies, as the survey conducted before the Corona pandemic described, would increasingly rely on emotional product presentations. This goal could “obviously be achieved particularly efficiently by combining real and virtual instruments at trade fairs”.

Too expensive, too impractical, too immature

There is also already an example of a company presenting an entire industrial plant using only a VR screen. The company Niles-Simmons from Chemnitz was thus able to present interested parties from the USA with different versions of a machine and every work step in detail. A possibility that would be unimaginable in reality. The material for this was created in 2013 in cooperation with Chemnitz Technical University.

But to convert the entire sales department to VR, “the investment costs are too high”, says Franziska Klimant from the TU Chemnitz. Moreover, not every program runs with every pair of VR glasses. However, an augmented reality (AR) or parts of the presentation in VR “help to get to know a product better,” she says. This could give her an advantage over a competitor.

In short: At present, VR glasses and VR technology are not yet suitable for helping companies at trade fairs in the corona crisis. It is too expensive, too immature and too impractical to sell.