Guest Post by Greg Urquhart

  • From the Community
Almost 70,000 tech enthusiasts descended on Paris this June for VivaTech, an annual rendezvous of innovation start-ups and leaders. Greg Urquhart of Christchurch-based start-up Virtual Medical Coaching was one of them. Here he shares his highlights of the three-day event.

I can’t say it was hard, choosing between a week in Paris (in summer) over another in Christchurch (in winter). When the French Embassy in New Zealand kindly invited me to attend and present at the 2017 VivaTech expo in Paris, my ‘oui’ was almost involuntary. In its second year, the three-day festival has cemented itself as a must-attend for technology start-ups and entrepreneurs worldwide. In a city renowned for history and romance, it’s proof that Paris is future-focused. 

The scale of that ambition was realised most spectacularly in the convention’s Hall of Tech. A living display of interactive demonstrations and global launches gave way to an arena featuring drone battles and robots, AR/VR and AI experiences, and a main stage with speakers, awards and pitches. The company I was representing, Virtual Medical Coaching, fell into the VR category. We’re a recent Christchurch-based start-up that has developed medical simulation software for universities and teritary institutions. Radiography students in Canterbury are some of the first to be trained using the platform, and we have a number of international universities looking at adopting it for the 2018 academic year.

VivaTech felt like being inside a tech version of the Wonka factory. Each booth represented a new idea, product or service, captured at the heady, early stages of commercialisation. Here were some of my highlights.

Je suis un robot

As someone bought up with the TV series Lost in Space, it was surreal being in a convention centre with robots and autonomous delivery machines seemingly at every turn. There were robots for just about every occasion, from cocktail-makers and support robots for children with Autism, to concrete construction-builders. 

All the world’s a stage, and if British robotics company Engineered Arts has anything to do with it, soon all the players robots. Their humanoid robots can tell jokes, sing, dance and interact in such a convincing way as to alter the meaning of the word robotic. They’re ideal for entertainment, information delivery or just making your company or products stand out at events. Although not cheap at close to $120,000, they will no doubt capture minds and hearts.

Ever see that Simpsons episode where Homer craftily automates his workflow by carefully positioning a toy bird to type for him? Key Infuser’s innovative miniature robot, KiOne, is the sophisticated equivalent: a nifty robotic arm and stylus designed to operate smart phones so they can be demonstrated in retail environments. Tech-teaching tech; it’s pretty neat.

Holographique, c’est chic

More than a throwback, today's hologram technology is making it easier than ever for advertisers to draw attention to their products. One business aiming to make that an affordable endeavor is Orbis, a French company that has commercialised a variety of holographic products, ranging from counter top displays through to two-meter displays. The three-dimensional images they’re able to generate are mind-blowing.

Up the ladder price wise, and equally impressive, is the innovative TogetherPlus, another French company that can display high quality 3D images seemingly in thin air, by broadcasting a video stream through a beam of LEDs.

Objects of desire 

From a consumer perspective, VivaTech left me with a long Christmas wishlist. French brand Racer Glove's latest Snow Ski glove makes connectivity on the slopes that bit easier. The glove connects with your phone so you can take calls, receive messaging alerts, and view your speed on the outside of the glove.

If you’re thinking about alarming your prized car or campervan, then start-up Stealing Stop is one to look up. Their unique alarm system uses smoke as an additional deterrant to noise. The smoke is totally harmless but obscures visibility in the cockpit.

After robots, it would appear drones are a firm 2017 favourite. From small, nimble racing drones to commercial devices with multiple applications, it was easy to leave the Hall of Tech with a sore neck from staring up. Singapore-based H3 DynamicsDronebox stood out: the autonomous drone features a self-docking, recharging base station that enables data downloads, allowing the drone to complete large data imaging missions for a variety of vertical markets.

Virtual reality hacks

For the virtual reality geeks among us at VivaTech, there were a plethora of gadgets aimed at improving the VR experience.

Imagine being able to touch a virtual world. Go Touch VR is making that a possibility with their patent-pending wearable technology, compatible with all leading VR headsets. The ring-sized devices employ high quality haptic rendering to simulate tactile sensations.

Apizee are using commercially available augmented reality technology in all sorts of interesting ways, such as building AR assistance and diagnositics into the standard construction hard hat.

In vogue

VivaTech provided yet another opportunity for wearable tech to shine. Highlights included Ellice Healthy Glasses – a company producing non-invasive eye wear incorporating a variety of sensors including atmospheric pressure, temperature, gyroscope, eye sensor and heart rate monitor. It could be a revolution in supporting health and assisting in workplace and driving safety.

Get all the benefits of a smart watch without the cumbersome digital watch face with CT-Band, the world’s first smart-strap designed to be used in conjunction with conventional mechanical watch dials. It features a really small screen below your actual watch so you can track a range of personal health and environmental data, subtly.

I could go on and on, but will finish off by complimenting the New Zealand businesses that were in attendance, showcasing their products on the world stage. It’s always a pleasure spending time with great people doing great things. VivaTech is a proven model for any conference wishing to connect start-ups and investors.  

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