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The State Of The ARt At AWE 18

The 9th annual Augmented World Expo at the Santa Clara Convention Center, May 29th to June 1st, 2018, was a celebration of AR’s progress. Watershed events, like the introduction of ARKit from Apple in September 2017, have spurred innovation. Mobile AR is very hot. Lots of enterprise AR vendors. Most of the glasses look dorky, though some are slimming down. The dorky ones were by far the most popular. The bigger story, however, is how fast the enterprise segment is growing as applications as straightforward as schematics on a head-mounted monocular microdisplay are transforming manufacturing, assembly, and warehousing. Use cases abounded.

Tom Emrich, Co-Producer of AWE and a partner in Super Ventures, delivered his dramatic keynote AWE using motion capture technology.

For AWE’s co-founder and Executive Producer, Ori Inbar, the Conference was nothing less than a victory lap. With Microsoft and Qualcomm among the Gold Sponsors, there was a palpable smell of vindication in the air. Inbar opened the conference with showbiz panache. It started with a holographic 3D point cloud live capture of Inbar from backstage. When he finally strode out onto the stage, the hologram was switched to a pre-recording of Inbar timed so he could act as his own sidekick and heckler. “You don’t want to be late to the next era of computing,” he declared, describing AR as “a new revolutionary technology that changes everything.” Inbar’s slides featured the conference’s informal motto: “Go XR or go extinct!”

Virtual Ori Inbar literally phones it in by teleporting into his own keynote from backstage.

Ori Inbar and his pre-recorded sidekick and personal heckler.

Marco Tempest, Creative Technologist at JPL followed Inbar with one of the most mesmerizing performances I have ever seen at a conference. He combined mixed reality, storytelling, gestural sensing, and swarm robotics to give us a glimpse of a delightful augmented future right now. And I had a front-row seat. Tempest seemingly levitated a score of drones he programmed in advance using VR. The drones followed a choreographed array of floor markers while Tempest’s gestures seemed to control their moves until they dramatically put themselves away in a waiting trunk. Tempest’s website describes him as “virtual magician” though what he accomplished was no trick. It was a stunning illustration of the creative potential of new technology.

Marco Tempest, master of drones, prophet of the future.

Tempest then explained how he did it. Note the markers at his feet.

The conference featured over 400 speakers on five tracks talking about topics popular, obscure, conceptual, and technical. ARKit for iOS was released in September and with support from Unity and other tool makers, and we are now seeing the results. AR is seeping into apps we use every day, like Snapchat and Google Maps. There was more content on the show floor, real-world demos, more business cases. More military and industrial presence. Fragmentation continues, leading players are still pivoting and testing the market. We heard some major announcements from Qualcomm, RealWear, Kopin, Vuzix, ScopeAR, Wikitude, and various start-ups. Some great people won coveted “Auggie” Awards, including achievement awards for VR pioneers Nonny de la Pena and Mark Bolas.

At the AWE Auggie Awards. Nonny DeLaPena received a lifetime achievement award for her pioneering VR work.

It’s hard to compare AWE to anything else. It’s like CES with all the noise and irrelevance stripped out, but only for AR (Ori Inbar says AWE was 40% VR though that was far from my impression). Inbar called the attendees in his opening keynote “The finest AR geeks in the world.” The conference is so huge, so rich with talks an exhibitors I only saw half of what I wanted and rushed through the other half. “After traveling the country and most recently to Europe, I’ve now experienced almost every major VR/AR/MR/XR related conference out there. AWE’s exhibit area was by far the largest display of VR and AR companies to date (with the exception of CES). It was certainly very enterprise focused, whereas VRLA was very entertainment/games focused. Many people told me that the exhibit area was 2 1/2 times as large as last year. Others also told me that attendees had a much better idea of what they wanted and were looking for versus years past. All positives for the industry as a whole,” said Robert Fine, Editor of VR Voice and one of AWE’s media partners.

Reading deconstructed “Hamlet” created by Jason Marsh and Flow in the hallway at AWE.

At VR Toronto in 2017, I was introduced to Marc-Olivier LePage, co-founder of Vrvana, who took me aside and gave me an impromptu demo of their proprietary HMD, Totem, which has a 120 degree (not a typo) field of view. Ninety days later they were acquired by Apple for thirty million dollars. This year it was Mike Pell, my friend and fellow author from the Microsoft Garage, who introduced me to Jason Marsh, who had a Gear VR in his hands to show a demo of text-heavy 3-D data visualization experience using the SaaS (software as a service) model called Flow. Instead of data, however, Marsh used the script of “Hamlet” to show how deconstructing text completely changes its meaning. Lines float independently in space, out of order, although the whole text is always available for reference. You can walk or teleport into an endless 3D sculpture garden of words. Making VR experiences using Flow, Marsh says, is easier than using PowerPoint. Using WebVR, the Flow Editor can create for any VR platform. “Flow changes your relationship to data,” he told me. “It’s a superior form of communication because it touches that part of the brain that perceives it not as words but as dimensional, graphic objects.” One of the best things about conferences is serendipity.

Screenshot of “Hamlet” inside Flow.

Mike Pell, Envisioneer for the Microsoft Garage, and author of Envisioning Holograms shared his inspiring vision of how information and its presentation changes when it is dimensional. “In the future, information will know when we want it, be highly contextual, and most of all our relationship with it will be very different. It will be dimensional. It will be interactive. And it will reveal deeper meaning,” Pell said. “The world is an active system, dynamic, flexible. That’s how information needs to be — not static and dead. What if anything could tell its own story? It can and will. The beauty we seek is not in first impressions, but rather in how truth reveals itself.” Pell told the rapt audience this was the subject of his next book.

A slide from design guru Mike Pell’s presentation at AWE 18.

Mike Pell on stage at AWE in his signature gambler’s hat.

Tony Parisi, Unity’s Global Head of Strategy for AR & VR, gave a terrific keynote about the state of AR, and followed it with a brilliant post on Medium. “Revolutions are a lot of little things,” Parisi said on the AWE Main Stage. “AR has already gone mainstream and is poised for massive growth.” Parisi also said Augmented World Expo 2018 was a watershed conference for an industry poised for mainstream adoption.

Tony Parisi of Unity gave one of the best attended keynotes of the conference.Add paragraph text here.

Paramount Pictures Futurist Ted Shilowitz had a great plan for his AWE keynote presentation: demo all the commercially available AR HMDs, including HoloLens, Meta2, ODG R8, and the Mira Prism. Try as they might, the crackerjack AWE AV team could not make the feed from inside the devices quite right. By the way, backstage it looked like NASA mission control. It is rare to see AV up to the level of the topic discussed. Ted’s exuberant onstage banter was actually enhanced by the miscues, which he set up during the introductions of his presentation as “a cavalcade of fun.” He gave notable shout-outs to ODG’s R8, which he described as “starting to look like eyewear, they’re light,” adding, “ODG knows how to build stuff.” Showing off the low-cost Mira Prism, a pepper’s ghost reflective system now focused on enterprise customers, Shilowitz noted that “I look like an extraordinary idiot” while wearing it, “We’re getting there,” he concluded. “Still a little off, but getting there.”

Ted Schilowitz, Paramount’s Futurist, demonstrates the Microsoft HoloLens.

The AR Cloud, a term coined by Inbar, refers to invisible geolocated data accessible to multiple users. This was a big topic of conversation at the show. In his presentation from the main stage, Matt Miesnieks of talked about how his company is trying to solve one of the biggest challenges in AR, creating a shared digital map of the world from multiple points of view over time, like a Waze for the real world. Such data could be used by developers to enable precise geolocation. “Digital content needs to behave like physical content. It has to be connected to the world. Occlusion and physics are the key, so virtual balls can bounce off real walls,” Miesnieks told a packed room.

The table was not round. The panel was too large. Everyone agreed there should be a standard. No one said the standard will be set by Google and/or Apple, but they are ultimately the likely consolidator of the AR Cloud.

At the “Open AR Cloud Roundtable,” there were so many people around the table that by the time they introduced themselves the panel was almost over. Moderator Dave Lorenzini of YouAR explained that if we’re to create a clickable map of the real world we need to develop standards. Also present were startups like Sturfee, scape,, Xperiel and Selerio who all came together to discuss their progress and the daunting challenges of creating a 1:1 digital copy of the world, needed to power not only XR, but also autonomous vehicles, robotics and AI. More information and get involved in the Open AR Cloud can be found here and here.

Joe Mikhail, Meta’s Chief Revenue Officer, demos the Meta 2.

I got the inside dope on Meta from Chief Revenue Officer Joe Mikhail, who told me in a private meeting how the company is focusing on the most successful use cases, which have been derived from testing and talking to real customers. The company originally thought Meta’s use case was monitor replacement. Workers in call centers and financial professionals who have a lot of screens open appreciated it, but the real compelling and in-demand use case that emerged were sales, design review, and training. I got to demo the most current Meta 2 and liked it a lot all over again. Comfortable. Wide field of view. Intuitive voice and gesture control. I will be writing more about Meta shortly.

Qualcomm introduced its new XR-1 chip at AWE. Designed specifically for standalone VR and mobile.

The biggest announcement of the week came the evening before at a private event nearby, where Qualcomm officially announced the successor of its mobile VR/AR enabling 8 series, the new X-1 Snapdragon chip, which is made specifically for AR and VR. Hugo Swart, Qualcomm Technologies’ Senior Director, Product Management, walked us through use cases for the tiny new super lightweight X-1 chip which will power the next generation of devices like smartglasses, enabling video, games, capture, remote experts, and VR. Some of Qualcomm’s biggest customers, HTC, Pico, ODG, and Vuzix were on hand to endorse it.

Startups were well represented at AWE’s annual group press conference when companies line up and make speed announcements. A full list can be found here.

MotoHUD’s popular demo on the AWE show floor.

My half-day of booth visits and time on the playground united me with some old friends and some new ones. Serendipity is in full swing here.

PTC demos the new augmented reality instructions for the Mercedes C-Class.

Mike Campbell, Executive Vice President of Augmented Reality Products for PTC, a company that helps industrial enterprises leverage the value of a converged physical and digital world, told me PTC is doubling down on its popular Vuforia computer vision application SDK, which is used by nearly 500,000 developers. Chalk, a live feed annotation app which had been focused on consumer use, is now being optimized for the needs of PTC’s enterprise customers. Notably, PTC had a demo on the show floor that illustrated how AR can be used to enhance operating instructions for the dashboard features of a new Mercedes S-Class. Vuforia activates AR instructions anchored in specific places on the dashboard which pop up when scanned with the camera.

The Vuzix Blade will do anything your smartphone can do for under $1,000, and you can use your prescription. Coming later this year.

I also talked to PTC’s smaller competitors, ScopeAR and Upskill (which won “Startup To Watch”). Scott Montgomerie, CEO of ScopeAR, a 7-year-old enterprise AR app development company based in San Francisco and Edmonton, Canada. Their biggest implementations are remote assistants and work instructions. ScopeAR boasts Fortune 100 clients like Lockheed and Unilever, which Montgomerie reports experiences 50% less downtime in its plants using AR HMDs. Upskill, based in Herndon, VA., was founded by Brian Ballard. In a well-publicized use case, Upskill helped Boeing save tens of millions of dollars by using AR to assist the process of wiring jets.

Checking out the Golden-i in the Kopin booth. Super light. Clips on the wings of glasses. I’m told people like watching Netflix with this microdisplay.

Kopin was showing off its new Golden-i Infinity monocular microdisplay for enterprise. Fully voice controlled, its modular design lets it clip onto anything from safety glasses to hardhats, and a bendable display arm ensures perfect placement of the screen. Unlike traditional head-mounted displays with embedded CPUs, Golden-i connects to either Android OS or Windows 10 devices — as a result, it weighs only 1.5 oz — about as much as a golf ball. CEO Dr. John Fan gave a trademark presentation on the Inspiration Stage in which he enunciated his by-now famous “Five Rules for Getting AR Right.”

I chatted with the genius behind ODG, Ralph Osterhout, and tried their new R-7 smartglasses, self-contained and running the Android OS. The video seen through the display on the lenses is like looking at a 90” video monitor from five feet away. I forgot how good these are. Unfortunately, video was the only app I could access in the demo. I still have no idea what it would be like to wear these for everyday tasks I now do on my smartphone, like email, messaging and writing.

Wearing ODG’s R-8.

The Epson Moverio BT-300 can be purchased in most electronics stores and online for under $600, which make it the most popular consumer smart glasses. For this reason, it is the AR HMD of choice for drone racers. Although the Moverio has a minuscule 20-degree field of view, the glasses deliver crisp hi-definition images from its onboard Android-powered computer. There are enough Epson drone pilots to attract and app ecosystem to support them.

The Epson Moverio M300. Drone pilot’s choice.

RealWear, which also makes monocular microdisplays for the enterprise, made a stir when they introduced themselves on the main stage with someone wearing the rugged Real Wear [wait for it] in a hazmat suit. CEO Andy Lowery told me its “optimized for dangerous places.” Honeywell co-branded RealWear headsets will be in the market later this year.

CEO AndyLowery of RealWear did a dramatic reveal of co-founder Sanjay Jhawar, RealWear’s Chief Product Officer and President/Cofounder), wearing the new ruggedized Real Wear HMT-1Z1 in a hazmat suit from the Main Stage.

ARISMD, a startup from Edmonton, Canada, was showing off its method for projecting an MRI onto real-life patients so a surgeon can see the exact location of the patient anatomy, solving a problem that has plagued medicine, for all its breakthroughs, since the beginning. The company says it’s ability to quickly extract and segment slices of anatomy in VR or AR highly valued by radiologists, and that 27 clinical trials underway. has a technology that uses 2D webcams as a motion capture system. When captured in this seemingly crude way the image is optimized by AI to create an avatar that is a digital doppelganger, It’s so amazing Nvidia licensed it for internal development. Avatar creation, clothes, and other accessories is going to be a business in the future. Mark Cuban sits on their board. generated a lot of interested on the floor for its new point mapping for the AR Cloud. Adoption by developers and their rapid introduction of apps are what 6D needs to start gathering user data. Kickstarting this with a lot of international users quickly is critical to achieving a network effect of sorts. This could lead to some kind of standard across apps. I recently wrote about 6D when they announced their multi-million dollar seed round in March.

YouAR demos its full stack ARCloud persistent multi-user, multi-application platform. Its hardware agnostic capabilities were on display as it runs ARCore, ARKit and Meta in a common shared environment.Add paragraph text here.

YouAR, from Portland Oregon, was doing live demonstrations of their multi-platform AR Cloud system. They showed with multiple users creating & sharing content between iOS, Android, and Meta devices, saying their system will support “thousands” of concurrent users, as opposed to the four-person limit Apple recently announced in ARkit2. Read my recent column about them: YouAR Out Of Stealth With AR Cloud Breakthrough.

Xperiel’s co-founder and CEO Alex Hertel describes their new Real World Web AR operating system to interested conference goers at AWE 2018. The company that can convince the biggest developers wins. Go!Add paragraph text here.

Xperiel, also the subject of a recent story is introducing its Real World Web, an AR-enabled OS for the physical world. Their system is drag and drop, so even people with basic computer skills can place interactive 3D objects into the virtual world to be discovered later. The private AR Cloud the company created enables users to leave content for other users of their app, which can then be associated with different kinds of triggers, like a sports scoreboard.

Like Xperiel, Eyecandy Lab’s augmentations are triggered by a computer vision system which syncs up with the video image.

If you’re an app developer, we’re going to blow your mind. In the humble 8th Wall booth.

8th Wall, also a subject of a recent-ish story, is taking on the thorny problem of cross-platform development for AR apps (actually this is a problem with any apps) and legacy devices that can utilize ARkit/core. For more about this new startup with an incredible pedigree click here.

Mo cap on a budget, avateering and more with the new Holosuit from Kaayatech.

HoloSuit by Kaaya Tech is a low-cost full body motion capture suit ideal for all your avateering. You can get jacket, pants, or gloves individually or bundled. Naturally, the system is far more accurate than trackers and could enable a whole new generation of apps. Plus, haptic feedback brings immersion to a new level. See their Kickstarter campaign here.

I had a chance meeting in the aisle with Tanguy Dewavrin, CEO of social VR site, and Alex Grona their CTO. The company has developed a new app to be released this summer, AURA. It allows a casual user to take a 3D scan of themselves with a normal cell phone to instantly create a nearly flawless avatar. It can also scan spaces and, I suppose, allow one to navigate as themselves.

I’m sorry to say I did not spend much time in the Playground, the entertainment expo next door to the expo, where there were [number] of experiences represented. I did get to do Dulce Baerga’s Mixed Reality using live actors and VR and built on WebXR. This is the second time in the past two months I’ve experienced VR mixed with live actors, which adds an exciting dimension and turns VR into a theatrical experience. It won’t work commercially, of course, even in multiplayer mode, because of costs. Someday, though, perhaps hundreds of people will go to the theater while in VR to see a show that defies gravity.

Jasper de Tarr performs in Dulce Baerga’s spirited mixed reality experience, “HypercubeXR”, which combines live actors with VR.Add paragraph text here.

There was a free roam HoloLens experience that delivers a unique view of visual art, the “AR Sculpture Garden”, an augmented reality art experience, featuring five, dimensional artworks by prominent California AR artists with dreamy original music by Empress.

I did not get a chance to experience Lucas Rizzotto’s critically acclaimed VR experience “Where Thoughts Go”, which is set in a world where all human thoughts exist as sleeping creatures. There was always a line to get in. It won the “Best in Show, VR”. All award winners can be seen here.

Mark Bolas co-founder of Fakespace, won an achievement award for his pioneering work in VR. He is now working at Microsoft on the HoloLens.

The talks and exhibits can only tell a fraction of the story of where we are right now so it’s hard to have one take away other than the robust optimism underlying the entire event. There is a broad consensus that as Augmented Reality seeps into every app and device we use, and the world is painted with data, some kind of wearable audiovisual system will become inevitable. Frankly, I don’t believe we’re going to be saying the words “augmented reality” in ten years. It will sound like saying “the world wide web”.

Said Keynote speaker Tony Parisi of Unity, “If I had one critique of AWE, it’s that there was too much conference to see! I regularly felt the FOMO because I had to miss talks due to conflicts with other great sessions.”

AWE will post all the sessions on YouTube starting June 15. I’ll insert links on here at that time and will post to social media as well. There’s a lot of great inspiration and information in these panels and keynotes.

AWE Europe is scheduled for October 18–19 in Munich.

[Disclosure] I’d like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to AWE for for giving me such an amazing platform to talk about XR and the ideas in my new book, to Prezi for augmenting my slides, to John Fan and Kopin for sponsoring my book signing and finally to everyone in this amazing community for making this one of the best weeks of my life.

Signing books at AWE with Dr. John Fan, CEO of Kopin, one of AWE 18’s Gold Sponsors.

This post was originally featured on on June 11, 2018

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