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Opinion: innovative spaces

Rob Lane looks at why tech suites are currently de rigueur.

Hi-fi retailers and custom installers have long since understood the importance of a demo room as a tool to increase sales – as well as demonstrating the latest products and innovative technologies. Indeed, as I discussed here last month, consumer electronics demo suites often emulate pro audio when it comes to sound quality and acoustics.

But what of commercial AV? Are integrators introducing new technologies and applications to their clients in the same way, and are tech hubs part of a growing trend? One would imagine that, given the rapid rise of interactive technologies such as AR and VR, there would be an increasing requirement for demonstration suites.

Nothing new

They’re certainly nothing new. Inition, for instance, has been running its Demo Suite out of Curtain Road in London’s trendy Shoreditch for over 16 years. What’s surprising, particularly considering the glut of innovative tech and the fact that commercial AV has seeped into so many sectors, is that there aren’t really very many – certainly in the UK.

Inition’s Demo Suite is actually something of a curio, in that it has always been as much a laboratory as a demo suite. But as well as acting as the company’s own personal tech lab, the space is open to those who wish to discuss a ‘creative brief’.

“We frequently open the Demo Suite to companies that wish to collaborate to use it as a shared space for meeting and consultation on future immersive technologies,” Maira Hayat marketing co-ordinator at Inition, told me.

The space currently houses a variety of virtual reality projects, with Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, PlayStation VR, Google Daydream, HTC Vive and WorldVis Cave VR all on display. Inition also features various motion-platforms for VR, including a new diving platform, the renowned wingsuit experience and a driving simulator experience.

Tech showcase

Just up the road from Shoreditch, near London’s blink-and-you-miss-the-new development Aldgate East, Engage Works has been cramming hot tech into its Flux Innovation Lounge since 2014. While it shares some of its MO with Inition, Flux is less of a lab and more of a tool for showcasing what Engage Works can do.

Flux allows ‘professionals’ the opportunity to get hands-on with the latest cutting-edge technologies. The space showcases a range of innovation technology partners as well as examples of solutions produced by Engage Works.

Latest additions to the lounge include a large, interactive holographic unit (Intaglow), Microsoft’s Surface Hub (in partnership with AVMI), and the mixed reality headset, Hololens, featuring Deeptale’s cutting-edge property application, ‘Slushpolis Story’.

“Flux has become a vital asset to many world-leading companies and brands,” said Amelia Kallman, Engage Works’ global head of innovation. “Change can be scary, but Flux gives people the opportunity to get ahead of the curve, as well as the resources to turn ideas and dreams into actions, strategies, experiences and environments.”

The new kid on the block is the recently launched Engine, from Leeds-based UXG (User Experience Global) – formally Unicam Digital Group. Unicam’s previous demo suite was called Innovation Hub, but with the rebrand and move to new premises Engine was born.

The key aim of Engine is to ‘inspire and open minds’ by allowing visitors to get hands on with technology. Key technologies include a 3×3 interactive videowall, indoor/outdoor LED, VR (Oculus), immersive LED experience (Xbox), projection mapping, holograms, virtual dressing room, mirror screen tech and interactive tables.

“The UXG team guides visitors through the Engine, touching on key technologies, but remembering Engine isn’t just about tech – it’s about how we use tech and how we talk about it as a solution and a critical need within the digital age we live in,” Drew Dooler, UXG MD and founder, told me. “Technology can be a maze to the untrained; Engine puts your mind and budget at ease.”

As demand for technology solutions in AV, across all sectors, continues to grow, I expect an increase in ‘me too’ demo suites from other integrators and tech innovators – assuming the AV bubble doesn’t burst and the global economy can ride the various existing and forthcoming bumps in the road. To paraphrase Dooler, tech is a maze if you’re untrained, and innovation suites are the perfect tools for demystifying and explaining the ‘art of the possible’ – as well as expanding business opportunities, of course!