Where Did the People Go at Industry Trade Shows?



Once it was a matter of walking down an aisle and picking out an exhibition booth to visit. Either it was a stop to learn more about a company and its products, or a chance to catch up with old friends at a familiar company. But trade shows are changing with time and technology, with less people in the aisles and at the booths. It may be only a matter of time before there are less people at the booths as well.


The effects of the COVID-19 global pandemic have certainly curtailed attendance at trade shows around the world for more than a year. Surgical masks help guard against inhaling or exhaling the virus that causes the disease, and aggressive vaccination programs provide a good degree of immunity from infection. But the exhibition floors of industry trade shows represent difficult-to-protect environments for attendees and an action as innocent as forgetting to adjust a face mask can lead quickly to dangerous health conditions during visits to an exhibitor’s booth.


Is it any wonder that interest is growing in “virtual” trade shows, where attendees can use their computers or mobile communications devices to “visit” an in-progress trade show by way of the Internet? In an age where many firms have reduced or eliminated human interaction over their telephone lines in favor of computer-controlled automated answering systems, visitors to many companies’ web sites should not be surprised by announcements that they can find out more about a company’s latest products by making an online visit to a virtual exhibition booth at an upcoming industry trade show.


And with advances in artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and robotics technologies, can it be much longer before many of the exhibition booths at a trade show are “populated” by humanoid robots? Current technologies can produce machines with facial movements that are frighteningly close to the real things. With adequate memory, these “trade show robots” could be programmed to detail key product specifications and even provide guidance on solving various applications challenges. The time may come for those attending the physical events when time spent with a robotic exhibitor is considered no more routine than speaking into a telephone’s mouthpiece to an automated answering computer to reach a certain division (or even an individual) at a company.


So, savor that next visit to an actual industry trade show and its exhibition hall. Enjoy meeting new contacts at companies and greeting old acquaintances. Trade shows are still real and still very human, and excellent places to learn more about applications, technologies, and even about people. And a real person from Leger Communications will try to say hello. It may not be far in the future when those waves you receive from each booth come because of facial-recognition software.