June 24, 2017

It’s been less than a week since Viva Tech 2017 wrapped up, and I’m still considering all the ways that I can make it out there again next year for one of Europe’s largest technology and innovation conferences. Now that I’ve been solidly re-adjusted to being back in daily swing of things, I wanted to take a few moments to reflect on some of my favorite elements of the second iteration of the Viva Technology conference.

Viva Tech is a three-day event, with two of the days following the traditional conference model and the third being a family-friendly “community” version of itself, with talks primarily in French, kids roaming the floors, and child-friendly stations at many of the technology behemoth booths where the younger crowd could learn to code. Startups exist alongside major corporations, showcasing innovative new solutions and approaches to how technology can solve challenges in the 21st century.

One of the first things that I noticed after arriving to the event was how prolific virtual reality hardware was. Huge transparent pods housed Oculus Rifts with Touch controllers in one spot on the floor, a DIOR-branded mobile demo showcased various 360 degree videos from France’s countryside, and one demo booth housed a plank with a teddy bear ensconced in a Vive tracker, to be seen and rescued by the player. 360 cameras were at home in the mix, live streaming parts of the conference to the web in real-time. Jason over at TechAU reported 4 booths showcasing HoloLens as part of their demos.

It was safe to say that réalité virtuelle has hit in a big way, with countless booths using head mounted displays to highlight other technological innovations that were being working on. Also on the show floor: robots, drones, peripherals, IOT devices, and augmented display technologies. The conference highlighted innovation in machine learning and artificial intelligence in particular, promoting a strong sense of cohesion between various emerging and immersive technologies across the board. Panels and speakers explored the innumerable ways that today’s technology will continue to drive change at the global level in every sector, with talks from Eric Schmidt, Daniel Zhang, and French President Emmanuel Macron peppering the mix of local and international presenters sharing their expertise.

While quite honestly, all of the content that I saw was quite impressive, I’ve shared a few of my favorite parts below in a bit more depth. These were things that I saw that really stuck with me, and defined my experience at Viva Tech:

  • Icaros – I’ve already gone into this in some detail in a previous post, but getting to experience Icaros, a device for working out (and flying!) in virtual reality that worked by pairing to an HMD was a ton of fun to play with. I don’t spend much time working in the space around fitness technologies, so I was excited to learn of their thoughts on releasing consumer workout companion hardware for VR users in the future.
  • Voice is the new UI – While I’ve been enthusiastic about using some degree of verbal input for interactivity in immersive technology for some time, it was great to hear about the practical considerations for safety and training of voice interfaces by a panel of individuals working on machine learning for voice control of microphone-based IOT devices. I did a write-up about how voice relates to immersive technology after the panel here.
  • AI and Contextual Computing – Another great panel on Day 1 of Viva Tech, the AI and Contextual Computing panel addressed the technologies needed to create solutions that are aware of their context and are better able to provide results based on that information. This type of computation, which takes into consideration the textual, visual, and environmental input provided by various sensors, is able to more accurately understand and provide recommendations for a given task. The panelists, including employees from both IBM and Facebook, spoke to the problems that face applications built in isolation, and how responses and answers change based on different scenarios. I loved how in-depth this talk went into the challenges and use cases of today’s AI solutions, and it’s given me several ideas for projects to try tackling in the future around similar scenarios as applied to virtual environments.
  • SNCF – One of the largest booths at the conference, SNCF highlighted innovation going on in startups that were part of their incubator labs. Of these companies, several were focusing on VR: Timescope is a company looking to install VR headsets in tourist and transit locations, while Vectuel showed off a solution on the HTC VIve for architecture visualization in communities. Other showcase tech at SNCF? Big data and robotics, including a trash can bot that drove itself around the booth to take garbage off attendee’s hands.
  • L’Oreal – This cosmetics giant was not out of place in the innovation-focused Viva Tech, and had a sizeable booth in the center of the expo floor. The company, like many at the conference, chose to show off the startups and products that were being incubated, including a “smart hairbrush” that learned your brushing style and hair type, a custom-shade foundation mixing machine, an augmented reality mirror, and UV sensing patches that paired with a mobile app for sun protection tips and analysis. As a makeup geek myself, this was a particularly delightful way to experience trends in fashion and beauty tech.

Overall, the conference trended towards several big themes: artificial intelligence, optimism, and robotics were center stage, but there was no absence of emerging technologies across the board. The cross-pollination of technologies and ideas was prevalent, and I look forward to seeing how ideas from machine learning, cloud computing, and immersive technologies continue to grow together to drive forward continued innovation in the startup space.

Culture and community played a large role that I would love to see more of in other conferences, particularly those in the US / Silicon Valley. A focus on growth and collaboration, as well as a feeling of inclusion and being welcomed, made the event a pleasant one that far surpassed expectations of an event of this scale. If you have the opportunity to travel to Viva Tech in a future year, I highly recommend it – a truly one of a kind event, Viva Tech will stay in my memories and motivate me for years to come.

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