How is it that two days can fly by so quickly, yet also be completely packed with some of the greatest highlights of the year?
Today wrapped up Day 2 of the 2018 Viva Technology conference, and because the third day is entirely in French, it was my last day here this year – I’ll be flying home tomorrow bright and early. What a whirlwind! Like last year, Viva Tech was filled to the brim with more innovation, optimism, and collaboration on the state of the global technology industry than would have been possible to experience in a week, much less a couple of days! If you missed my first post on the conference, you can check out my Day 1 recap here.
I decided to spend the morning today wandering around the Expo floor in the morning and meeting with a number of immersive technology startups. One of my favorite parts of Viva Tech is how large European industry leaders host startups that they work with in the expo, so small companies can have greater visibility and are often thematically linked. The first tour was with the TF 1 Group. The TF 1 Group is a broadcast and communications holding company based in France, so the startups that they hosted were largely in the business of re-imagining broadcast entertainment with today’s emerging technologies.
The first app that I tried was a VR broadcasting application that has partnered with the upcoming 2018 FIFA World Cup and TF1 to create an immersive viewing experience for the soccer games that will be played this summer. Although I’m not generally a soccer fan myself, I found myself immediately more drawn into the experience when I was able to watch the demo in VR. This isn’t the only company working on sports broadcasting in virtual reality, but the viewing experience was very comfortable and I liked being able to quickly jump to various spots in the action for the demo.
Sports broadcasting was a common theme at the TF1 stand, with a second company working on a proof of concept for mixed reality viewing of soccer games using the Microsoft HoloLens. HoloFoot AR showed a soccer game streaming in front of you pinned to the wall, with feeds on either side that could be customized to show different statistics and streams from Twitter or other social programs. A statistics panel was displayed on the table set up in front of the TV, aligning with what you would expect from a standard living room.
I have to admit that I was slightly skeptical about the use of a HoloLens for this use case, but I was pleasantly surprised when I put the headset on and was able to see the demo in action. It’s still not entirely feasible for a consumer product, given the price barrier for HoloLens, but it was definitely a peek into the future of sports broadcasting and all of the new ways that we’ll be able to use immersive tech to enhance the experience.
The next app, CineVR, was similar to apps like BigScreen or Netflix and offered the ability to stream video content on demand. The app had support for watching full length movies provided by TF1, changeable environments, and social support. Altspace-like emojis provided a delightful way to show how you were feeling in the space. It was also my first time trying out the Oculus Go!
After my tour of the TF 1 Group space, I headed over to the Airbus display to check out Skyreal VR, a team that spun off from Airbus that focuses on virtual reality tools for engineering processes in the production pipeline for manufacturing. Their tools, built using the Unreal Engine, allow teams to collaborate in virtual versions of their factories during production and facilitates the design and development process at early stages that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. The app includes tools for shared building and annotation, and being able to modify and manipulate parts in real time! I added a boxy seat to an airplane being built and redecorated by pulling off an overhead bin, then making the door open to nowhere. It’s probably a good thing I don’t design airplanes!
After exploring a bit more, I spent a bit of time chatting with a reporter on the floor about Viva Tech and what Silicon Valley can take away from the conference. I talked about how, like last year, Viva Tech resonated with optimism around the potential for future growth in the industry, driven at least in part by French President Emmanuel Macron’s reforms that aim to make France a friendly destination for entrepreneurs and startups. The focus of the conference on technology for good, and being willing to take on hard conversations around ethics and responsibility for solving some of the most challenging elements of the technology industry, as well as an active inclusion of Africa as a key player in emerging technological innovations, is something that I think Silicon Valley could learn from as a whole.
In the afternoon, I set out on a tour hosted by Paris Region Enterprises, a group dedicated to helping companies establish an international presence in France. Pro Tip: If you’re a startup looking for a welcoming ecosystem, consider France.
This tour was one of the highlights of my trip. We were able to visit the offices of one of Paris’ leading artificial intelligence startups, Snips, who is working on a privacy-first, offline solution for AI and voice recognition. I wrote a blog post about voice as the new UI at last year’s Viva Tech based on a panel that featured Snips, so getting a chance to see what it was like behind-the-scenes at a small company in Paris was a great opportunity. There were a lot of similarities with what you’d see in a Silicon Valley startup office, but with small differences. One thing that stood out to me? The historic architecture of Parisian buildings led to a game-changer: the floor plans didn’t force open office layouts, which was heralded widely as being a positive thing that enabled teams to work together more closely with fewer distractions.
After leaving Snips’ offices, we headed over to Station F, a huge complex designed to give startups access to venture capital, incubators, and mentorship as they launch and grow. Companies like Amazon, Microsoft, and Google all host offices there, alongside representatives from the French government and VCs ready to support various initiatives – AI is a big field that Station F companies are working on. Station F also provides co-working spaces to companies, both local and international, at prices that tend to be more affordable than other options in the city.
After the tour wrapped up, it was time to say farewell to this year’s Viva Tech – I’m flying back home tomorrow morning bright and early, but I could not be more grateful for the opportunities I had this year. A huge thank you to all involved for this conference – it truly was a blast!
You can find my whole Twitter recap up here. I have a few more ideas for blog posts that I’d like to write up from this week, so stay tuned!