TECHtoberfest

Plenty of people like beer and plenty of people like tech. It was only a matter of time before the two came together in the form of TECHtoberfest. Held in hipster land’s London Fields Brewery, TECHtoberfest combines the tradition of German Oktoberfest with the next generation of startups and the future of tech. Led by Robert Fenton of HipHacHus, which aims to inspire, educate and support tech startups through a number of events in London, TECHtoberfest had two rooms jammed with tech and entertainment.  The ‘fest was a social gathering with onsite brewed beer and local tech companies demoing their newest apps, games and devices. With a distinctly local vibe it was friendly and inclusive, even if being one of the few girls there meant I had to muscle in to try out the gadgets, apps and games being demoed. I did at times feel invisible and I definitely had to work harder to get to the founders than the boys did. Whatever. I loved it. The tech on show was inspiring, ingenious and fun.

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Standouts included Derrick the Death Fin – a cardboard video game; Amplified Robot’s VR film of a surgical procedure at St Bart’s Hospital, London; Moteefe’s customised clothing website and Unit9 showcasing VR video and Yifei Chai’s UK government-funded, ground-breaking VR sensory experience.

Derrick the Death Fin is the creation of graffiti artist/vandal extraordinaire Ronzo. Ronzo created a video game of cardboard fish travelling around the globe with the aim of sharing environmental messages about saving our planet. He was inspired by the stop motion Wallace and Gromit animations and created Derrick the Death Fin in the same way – making and moving the characters and sets by hand and suspending them with transparent fishing line from DIY rigs. It’s a cute and heart-warming labour of love showcasing the artist’s creative vision and love of craft, even in the final rendered CGI game is resolutely tech. The craft feeling remains in the blocky fold and cut created graphics and the digital cardboard number counter. Derrick the Death Fin website has a host of goodies including downloadable fold and cut characters so you can re-create the cast.

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Amplified Robot are an agency based in Berwick Street, London. I watched a laparoscopy procedure at St Barts Hospital created from a 6 camera Gopro rig worn by one of the surgical team. Using a Samsung Wifi VR headset (with smartphone inserted to play the video) I was transported to the familiar hospital operating theatre environment, having left my career as an NHS radiographer only three weeks ago. Unfortunately the video isn’t on their website but you can see what the BL Surgical team are up to here.

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Moteefe aim to help online influencers monetise their following on social media. For those with a large or growing fanbase online, monetising their popularity and engagement with their audience can be difficult. Moteefe facilitate the creation of merchandise allowing influencers to turn their popularity into profits. By designing printed t-shirts using Moteefe, English Author and Journalist Danny Bent sold a stack of t-shirts to fans to help promote his recent Ultimate Hell Week on BBC, thereby gaining traction on social media when fans shared pictures of themselves in the t-shirts, generating more engagement and increased followers, significantly growing his online audience. Nifty in terms of capitalising on popularity, but definitely more to do with the marketing message than the clothing products themselves.

Unit9, a digital agency located in Hoxton, East London, recently created a video for Fashion Revolution Day in conjunction with BBDO Germany to raise awareness of the consequences of fast, disposable fashion and give shoppers a chance to see the effect cheap fast clothing has on humanity. An interactive digital vending machine experience, it led to 90% of users opting to donate 2euros to the Fashion Revolution Day cause and make a stand against the disaster at Rana Plaza, rather than consume and destruct.

Yifei Chai of Unit9 also presented a fascinating, philosophical and conceptual device for his Pretender Project, which is the first tech interface “empathy tool” designed to engage all five senses so that during VR experiences, for example, when we see a virtual object we can actually feel that object by way of resistance applied through a sensory suit that tracks body movement to understand where and when your body makes “contact” with the virtual object.  The sensory suit also allows one wearer to control the movement of another wearer. I experience this with Yifei, who wore a transmitting (controller) sleeve while I wore a receptor (avatar) sleeve. Yifei moved his hand, transmitting electrical impulses to my sleeve and causing my hand to mimic the movement of Yifei’s. It was pretty mind-blowing. I felt my hand wasn’t my own while reacting to the stimulus. The technology Yifei has developed has far reaching possibilities. He tells me the full sensory suit could be used to download and experience a dancer’s training, or Tiger Woods’ golf swing, for example. It could also be programmed with muscle stimulation training regimes for injury rehabilitation.

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The device I demo with Yifei is over a year old and the second prototype has already been built. I accept an invitation from Yifei to visit his office/lab/haven of amazingness in Hoxton to try it out, along with a bunch of VR experiences that he and his colleague Yannis at Unit9 have developed. Stay tuned for a follow-up blog post.

On the entertainment side of things there’s a DJ on rotation with a traditional Bavarian band drenched in techno lighting who took to the stage to cover 90’s rock hits. I capture a couple of snaps of Bavarian Stylers at the bar and grab my swag on the way out. Prost!

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Header image: Derrick the Deathfin by Ronzo

 

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