Coronavirus Brings Innovation and Disease To Tech Trade Shows

Current trends suggest major changes, but which are for the better and which are not?
  • First, the bad news. The novel coronavirus or COVID-19 is now a pandemic. It continues to spread around the world with damaging effects to public health and the global economy.

    Conference and exhibition trade shows have been hit hard by COVID-19. As reported previously, fears and uncertainties about the coronavirus are impacting the $2.5 trillion trade show business that includes related hotel, airline, entertainment, marketing, restaurant and other industries. The fears are proving to be well-founded as attendees have been infected at three event gatherings to date.

    Now, the good news (sort of). Trade show organizers and planners are being cautious about the dangers posed by COVID-19.  Many technical trade shows have been and will be cancelled, postponed or transformed into virtual, online events, offering several reasonable benefits to attendees.

    The true impact of tech event closures, postponements and online transformations will not be known for many months. But it’s possible to get a sense of where things are going by looking at the following:

    Clever marketing approaches like the conference that favors speakers from tech events cancelled by the coronavirus.Events which helped the spread COVID-19.The decision to virtualize an online event and successful approaches.Status of conferences in a few major tech market areas.State and Federal government banning of gatherings in general.
  • Failure As A Service Offers Platform For Canceled Trade Shows

    At least one enterprising company has taken advantage of the many technical trade show and exhibition cancellations to offer a platform for some of the displaced speakers. Gremlin announced a single-day virtual conference happening on April 21, 2020. The event, known as the Failover Conference, will feature speakers discussing the importance of reliability in an online world. The catch is that the show organizers will favor submitted talks from cancelled or postponed conferences due to the coronavirus such as AWS Summits, KubeCon EU, Microsoft Ignite Zurich, SREcon and SXSW.

    Gremlin was started by a former Amazon and Netflix employee to make it easier to perform chaos engineering without a team of Site Reliability Engineers (SREs). The goal was to test the complex network systems of companies like Amazon and Netflix for worst-case networking problems before they occured. According to Gremlin, their failure-as-a-service platform allowed engineers to build more resilient systems through safe experimentation.

    Just for reference, failover is a computer networking term that means to switch to a redundant or standby computer application, component, system or network in case of a failure with the primary system. Failover and switchover are essentially the same operation, except that failover is automatic and usually operates without warning, while switchover requires human intervention.

  • Events That Helped Spread COVID-19

    Despite early warnings, several event organizers proceeded as scheduled with their conferences. The consequence of those decisions led to the spreading of COVID-19.

    - AIPAC, March 1-3, 2020 Washington, D.C.

    Status: Two (2) AIPAC conference attendees tested positive for coronavirus. Organizer’s stated that the attendees came in contact with someone infected with coronavirus in New York before traveling to the conference.

    Event: The annual policy conference highlights the U.S.-Israel partnership and provides an opportunity for attendees to lobby their Congressional office to advance the U.S.-Israel relationship.

    - Biogen, February, Massachusetts

    Status: According to the Boston Globe, a leadership meeting of the biotech firm Biogen late last February was the apparent source for most of the confirmed coronavirus infections in Massachusetts.

    Event: Focus on neuroscience and corporate social responsibility.

    - Conservative Political Action Conf. (CPAC), February 26-29, National Harbor, Washington, DC

    Status: Attendee at CPAC, who later tested positive to COVID-19, shook hands with Republican Senator Ted Cruz.

    Event: The CPAC is an annual political conference attended by conservative activists and elected officials from across the United States and beyond.

    - RSA 2020, February 24-28, San Francisco, CA

    Status: The event organizers decided the show should go on as planned. Ironically, the theme for this year’s event was the "human element" in cybersecurity. Two cybersecurity industry employees who attended the event have since tested positive for the coronavirus COVID-19. Reports confirm that at least one is seriously ill with respiratory issues.

    Event: The RSA is a major cybersecurity and information security conference and exposition.

  • To Virtualize or Not

    The number of events that are being canceled or postponed seems to be approaching unity. However, many organizers are choosing to change the in-person events into online or virtual gatherings. But what does it mean to virtualize an in-person event?

    That question was answered almost 20 years ago when the first online degrees programs began to appear at minor and then later major universities. The better programs followed the findings of the National Science Foundation (NSF) to center their online degree programs around something called "active learning." At its core, this approached tried to foster close interactions and meaningful engagement with the online students.

    We’ve come a long ways since that time. Technological improvements have greatly helped in terms of video streaming, higher resolutioin graphics, faster computing capabilities and real-time Internet-based connectivity and applications. Most universities now have robust online learning environments, like UC-Irvine and others.

    Not surprisingly, there's now a host of online trade-show companies pushing their platforms in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

    The next several slides will highlight some of the innovative ways that a few select event organizers are transforming their in-person conferences to online versions, and at least one trade show that is finding the task to be more daunting than expected.

  • Mobile World Congress (MWC)

    The Mobile World Congress (MWC), originally planned for February 24-27 in Barcelona, Spain, was the first major technical event to be canceled due to the coronavirus. The annual trade show was organized by GSMA and focused primarily on the mobile communications industry. In 2020, the show planned to cover topics including AI, 5G, Industry X, Customer Engagement, Security and Privacy, and other technologies.

    Cancellation of the MWC impacted a huge number of mobile phone and related manufacturing companies that were typically present at the show. Now, new products and innovations will have to be introduced by other means such as the new MWC online videos.

    MWC Shorts bring together experts from across the connected ecosystem. These short videos showcase tech and industry leader opinions, providing a window into the knowledge-sharing that would have taken place at MWC Barcelona 2020.

    “In an effort to make the best of a very difficult and unfortunate situation, we still want to provide all of our speakers and the companies in the MWC 2020 conference program with a platform to showcase what they would have talked about. We are launching what we are calling MWC Short.” -- Nick Spencer, Head of GSMA Ltd Business Partnering, Marketing and Conference, GSMA.

  • Geneva International Motor Show

    Planned to take place March 5-15, 2020, the Geneva International Motor Show (GIMS) was cancelled and re-imagined into an online event. GIMS is an annual auto event held in the Swiss city of Geneva. It is considered an important major international auto show and has hosted almost all major automotive designers and manufactures including a wide range of prototype and futuristic cars.

    In place of the in-person show, GIMS organizers decided to offer to the public, fans and the media – partially live – the streaming of press conferences and presentations of the major manufacturers in different locations.
    As of Tuesday 3 March 2020, the various events were broadcast - and subsequently made available on Video On Demand - on the GIMS platform. To see the video, follow this link.

  • Game Developer Conference (GDC)

    The event is an annual conference for video game developers. It is scheduled for March 16-20 in San Francisco, CA. Major Chinese sponsors had been pulling out of the show before it was canceled on February 28th.

    However, the GDC organizers have announced plans to stream talks during the week GDC 2020 that would have taken place during the event. Many of the original speakers who had talks accepted for the in-person show will now record streaming speaker-recorded versions of their talks. These streaming sessions will be available for the entire week of GDC.

    The Independent Games Festival and Game Developers Choice Awards ceremonies will also stream virtually starting at 5pm PT (8pm ET) on Wednesday, March 18th for free on GDC's Twitch channel.  The virtual awards ceremony will feature the same hosts and identical awards categories planned for the original physical event -- with the exception of the alt.ctrl.GDC award, which will not be awarded this year.

  • Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC)

    Apple’s WWDC is the event where developers can attend sessions and meet with fellow Apple engineers. The company has decided to cancel the annual in-person event in favor of an online event that will kick off in June. Although Apple did not mention coronavirus in their press release, the company did announce it will commit $1 million to local San Jose organizations to offset associated revenue loss as a result of WWDC 2020’s new online format.

    The decision was undoubtedly influenced by a ban on mass gatherings recently issued by the county of Santa Clara. Apple usually holds its annual WWDC in early June at the San Jose Convention Center. The ban is effective from March 11 with initial plans spanning through March 31.

  • nVidia GPU Technology Conference (GTC)

    The GTC focuses on graphic processor technologies specifically those offered by nVidia. The show was scheduled for Mar 22-26 in San Jose, CA, but was switched to an online format following concerns about the coronavirus. However, the company just announced that 'continuing public health uncertainties would challenge its ability to produce and deliver a digital keynote.’ As such, the company will stick to news releases expected to hit on Tuesday, March 24th,

    Originally, the GTC Digital event was meant to include webinars, training, and Connect with the Experts sessions starting Wednesday, March 25. The event and its content are now less certain.

  • Tech Segment - Cybersecurity

    Now let’s look at the status of conferences in several major markets, starting with the cybersecurity space. This is a good place to start as the U.S. Health and Human Services Department suffered a cyber-attack on its computer system Sunday (3/15) night. This attack appears to be tied into the nation’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

    - ICS West, March 17 to March 20, Las Vegas, NV

    Status: Postponed to July 20-22

    Event: One of the largest US security events that encompasses everything from video surveillance, access control, biometrics to smart home, public security, drones & robotics and more.

    - Cyber Security & Cloud Expo, March 17 to March 18, London

    Status: Postponed, new date to be announced.

    Event: The expo hosts two days of discussions around cyber security and cloud, and the impact they are having on industries including government, energy, financial services, healthcare and more.

    - CanSecWest Vancouver, March 18-20, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

    Status: PWN2OWN (hacking contest) at CanSecWest is switching to full remote for this year.

    Event: The conference focuses on applied digital security.

    - Kaspersky's Security Analyst Summit, April 6 to April 9, Barcelona, Spain

    Status: Postponed for September. Exact date to be announced later.

    Event: The summit is an annual event that attracts anti-malware researchers, global law enforcement agencies and CERTs and senior executives from financial services, technology, healthcare, academia and government agencies.

    - IEEE Security and Privacy, May 18 to May 20, San Francisco, CA

    Status: Virtual.

    Event: The forum covers computer security research, presenting the latest developments and bringing together researchers and practitioners.

  • Tech Segment - Defense/Military/Government

    - Army Aviation Mission Solutions Summit, Nashville, April 22 to 24.

    Status: Cancelled but looking for options to expanded networking opportunities later this year at their other events.

    Event: The Army Aviation Association of America (AAAA or Quad-A) Annual Summit is the primary opportunity for the entire US Army Aviation Community to gather in one place at one time to focus solely on Army Aviation.

    - National Defense Industrial Association’s (NDIA’s) Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict Division (SO/LIC), Washington, March 31 to April 1.

    Status: Proceeding as planned.

    Event: Helps to create space for partnerships and alliances among congressional leaders, the SOF enterprise, industry, the IC, Think Tanks, and the interagency.”

    - Eurosatory, Paris, June 8 to 12

    Status: Proceeding as planned.

    Event: Eurosatory is the European-centered, international land and air- land Defense and Security exhibition, takes place every two years

    - US Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (GEOINT), April 26-29, Tampa, FL

    Status: Proceeding as planned. To date, two exhibitors have canceled.

    Event: The symposium gathers industry, academia, and government participation to include Defense, Intelligence and Homeland Security Communities as well as commercial, Fed/Civil, State and Local geospatial intelligence stakeholders.

    - GLOBSEC, Bratislava, May 21 to 23

    Status: Proceeding as planned.

    Event: GLOBSEC is a global think-tank based in Bratislava committed to enhancing security, prosperity and sustainability in Europe and throughout the world.

    - Sea-Air-Space (Navy League), April 12-14, 2021, National Harbor, Maryland.

    Status: Canceled

    Event: The Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Exposition brings the U.S. defense industrial base, private-sector U.S. companies and key military decision-makers from the sea services together for an annual innovative, educational, professional event.

  • Tech Segment - Airshows

    - Singapore Airshow, February 15-16, Changi Exhibition Centre, Singapore

    Status: Continued as planned, although may exhibitors did pull out, including F-35 fighter-jet maker Lockheed Martin Corp. and Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China. 

    Event: The event is one of Asia's largest aerospace and defense shows.

    - XPONENTIAL (Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International), May 4-7, Boston, MA

    Status: Postpone tentatively until August 10-12

    Event: This is a global event for everything unmanned — from state-of-the-art propulsion technology, sensors, energy storage and UAS mitigation solutions to what’s coming over the horizon in AI, 5G, edge computing and more.

    - US Military Airshows

    Status: A series of air shows across the nation have been canceled due to concerns over the spread of coronavirus, including performance by the Thunderbirds.

    - Farnborough Airshow, July 20 - Aug 2, Farnborough, England

    Status: No change – continuing as planned.

    Event: The airshow is a trade exhibition for the aerospace and defense industries, where civilian and military aircraft are demonstrated to potential customers and investors.

  • Tech Segment - Space Shows

    - Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC), March 16, Woodlands, TX

    Status: Canceled

    Event: The LPSC jointly organized by the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) and NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC), brings together international specialists in petrology, geochemistry, geophysics, geology, and astronomy from around the world to present the latest results of research in planetary science.

    - European Space Agency (ESA)

    Status: Still assessing for upcoming meetings.

    Event: The European Space Agency is an intergovernmental organization of 22 member states dedicated to the exploration of space.

    - National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

    Status: Still assessing for upcoming meetings. However, the NASA Advisory Council’s science committee meetings have been changed to a “virtual only.”

    Event: The NASA agency of the United States Federal Government is responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and aerospace research. 

    - Satellite 2020 Conference, March 9, Washington, D.C.

    Status: Proceeding as planned, although SES and OneWeb, two major commercial satellite operators, said they would not send employees to the conference.

    Event: An annual spring conference is one of the largest space industry meetings worldwide.

    - Northeast Astronomy Forum (NEAF), April 4-5, Suffern, NY

    Status: Canceled. The event will be held virtually online instead of at Rockland Community College.

    Event: One of the world’s largest astronomy and space expositions.

    - Space Symposium, Colorado Springs, CO, March 30 – April 2

    Status: Canceled.

    Event: Sponsored by the Space Foundation, the Space Symposium provides the latest in space technology and networking opportunities for the global space community.

  • Tech Segment - Medical and Major Scientific Shows

    This is only a sampling of some of the more major events in the medical space:

    - NIDO 2020 or International Nidovirus Symposium, May 10-14, Netherlands

    Status: Postponed until 2021 (Event happens once every three years.)

    Event: A scientific meeting on coronaviruses.

    - The World Patient Safety, Science & Technology Summit, March 5-7, Los Angeles, CA.

    Status: Postponed.

    Event: This summit is co-convened with the International Society for Quality in Health Care (ISQua) and American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA), and the European Society of Anesthesiology (ESA) to bring together all stakeholder groups to discuss  solutions to the leading challenges facing hospitals.

    - HIMSS 2020 Global Health Conference & Exhibition, March 9-13, Orlando, FL.

    Status: Cancelled – Organizers are planning a special digital edition with the goal to make all of the sessions and panels from HIMSS20 available online.

    Event: The event provides health information and technology focused on health and wellness. President Trump had been slated to speak at the event.

    - American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, or AAAAI, March 13-16, Philadelphia

    Status: Canceled.

    Event: This year’s topic was to focus on new paradigms in the management of allergic disease, particularly in biologics.

    - Bio-Europe Spring, March 23-27, Paris

    Status: Canceled. The event is being moved online.

    Event: This event deals with life sciences.

  • State and Federal Government: Just Say “No”

    As the pandemic follows its bell-curve of infections, more and more governments are canceling all gatherings greater than 500 people. Closures are now the norm for K1-12 schools, universities, sport events, museums, zoos, music venues, concerns, movie theaters, churches, and the like. Meetings of almost any type are being restricted, from political and governmental congresses to professional technical meetings from all the major engineering societies and beyond.

    Also, more and more companies are restricting employee travel over COVID-19 concerns.

    It is quickly becoming a given that most tech trade shows – indeed, all trade and exhibition events - will be postponed until the summer or fall of 2020 or become online events. The economic impact has yet to be fully realized as will the impact to our ability to educate and innovate. As they say, we are living in interesting times.


John Blyler is a Design News senior editor, covering the electronics and advanced manufacturing spaces. With a BS in Engineering Physics and an MS in Electrical Engineering, he has years of hardware-software-network systems experience as an editor and engineer within the advanced manufacturing, IoT and semiconductor industries. John has co-authored books related to system engineering and electronics for IEEE, Wiley, and Elsevier.

Comments (0)

Please log in or to post comments.
  • Oldest First
  • Newest First
Loading Comments...