Once again this year, I had the great honour of being invited to be the Host and Master of Ceremonies for XRTGO 19, Newcastle’s long running specialist VR and AR conference that gathers great minds and decision makers from across the spectrum of immersive industries. Formerly known as VRTGO, the name changed this year to reflect the ever-widening focus of the event. It also changed date from November to April, because let’s be honest Newcastle in November feels very much like Winter is Coming. This year the move proved a good choice; it was a glorious day to be lost inside other realities.
The conference was established in 2014 and I’m now a veteran, having attended every year, both as a speaker while I was with Sony PlayStation speaking about game design methodologies the importance of the User Experience in VR, and then later representing Realised Realities as the host and MC. I’m pretty sure I got the gig because of how much I’ve enthused about the conference to people over those years! I mean, it’s hard not to enjoy the day – It’s a one-day boutique conference that takes place in a most fantastic venue, the Baltic Centre overlooking the stunning Gateshead Millennium Bridge spanning the River Tyne. There are a well-picked handful of exhibitors – this is no CES of course; just enough to fill your breaks and let you try out some cool kit and clever applications of immersive technology that you won’t have seen before.
The real draw, though, is the Speaker schedule. Event organiser Carri Cunliffe has a great knack for curating a first-class range of speakers who are always interesting and surprising, from industries that other conferences haven’t yet tapped. Past years have seen surprising and illuminating talks from companies like NASA, IBM Research, Microsoft, Samsung, BBC and NVIDIA, plenty of developer secrets from big-name devs in the XR space like EPIC Games, Rewind, Hammerhead, Coatsink and many more. Mixed in with these are the other special ingredient in XRTGO’s secret sauce – a range of really interesting fascinating and thought proving talks from left-field XR sectors. These sorts of surprises are the talks you always hope for at conferences, the ones that broaden your horizons to the new possibilities that people are finding in immersive technologies.
Amongst a fantastic selection of speakers this year, we had fascinating talks from Jurassic World VR developers Reflex Arc, Industrial VR training experts Annimersion, Automotive Design with Lightwork Design at Siemens, how XR applications are redefining urban planning from CallisonRTKL and many more. Always a varied and surprising slate.
This year saw what I think is my favourite talk I’ve ever seen, delivered by Felix Holst from Hackrod, a California-based digital industrial start up with the mission of democratizing vehicle design and bringing vehicle customization to the masses. A genuinely fascinating speaker, Felix was VP of Creative for the Mattel Toys ‘Wheels’ division (Hot Wheels, Matchbox) before forming Hackrod, with a self-set mission to bring the toy cars to life for their customers, through many initiatives and approaches such as amazing world record stunt attempts using custom-built authentic Hot Wheels vehicles and track. Taking this to the next level, Felix founded Hackrod with Hollywood Director, Stuntman and Baja Racer Mike ‘Mouse’ McCoy, where he has since been researching and developing a vision of how VR design tools, AI, ‘Making’ culture and advanced manufacturing can empower future designers and engineers with a new vision – to enable “three kids in a garage to start a car company’. Amongst a day of brilliant speakers, this was the jewel for me, even as MC I didn’t know what Felix would bring to the conference, but Carri’s knack for finding the most exciting and mind-expanding speakers for the event proved as sound as ever.
I’ve been invited back to Host XRTGO 20 next year – and frankly I can’t wait. I attend enough conferences around the immersive sectors to know the ones that provide the best insights and most unusual and surprising speakers, and XRTGO this year proved again that it’s one of the most vital and fascinating conferences on my calendar. I’m more than happy to host again – it gets me a front row seat for whatever curated collection of speakers Carri has gathered to share their expertise and insights with us, and that’s something I wouldn’t want to miss.