The 10th annual Augmented World Expo (AWE) wrapped on Friday, May 31st. The conference and expo saw nearly 7,000 attendees, a 30% increase over 2018. It featured over 350 speakers, and over 250 exhibitors in 100,000-square-feet expo, including a 20,000-square-feet “Playground,” which featured AR and VR experiences from developers like Chicken Waffle and novel demos from manufacturers like RealMax. RealMax's AR and VR device with hand tracking by Leap Motion and an epic 102-degree field of view, was used for a multiplayer AR game which involved grabbing fish and knocking over boxes.
Ori Inbar, co-founder of AWE and managing partner of Super Ventures, an AR-focused venture capital firm, took the stage to set the tone for his 10th conference. His presentation, titled “Are You Ready For Spatial Computing,” featured variations of his usual themes: the AR cloud, a visual wikipedia for the real world, with some new insights into spatial computing. In Inbar's view, spatial means less text and a more visual means of communication. Location and context based sites, which he called "Onsites" will replace websites. Inbar called this “the year of the creator,” as platforms, devices, and nascent markets are maturing.
AWE is a snapshot of a developing industry, though it does not have participation from major players with developer conferences of their own. Apple begins its World Wide Developer Conference on Monday, June 3rd; Microsoft, Facebook (Oculus), Google, Amazon, Snap, and Magic Leap, had theirs earlier in the year. Enterprise continues to be the main focus, with integrators with SaaS platforms out in force and seeing heavy traffic to their booths. “Enterprise will be the biggest driver of smartglasses revenues for the next five years," said Tim Merel of Digi-Capital in a main stage presentation.
AR developer Happy Giant’s CEO Mike Levine, told me he thinks this was the most important AWE to date. "The 10th AWE marked a turning point for the conference and industry. A lot of the tech we have been waiting for is in place or about to be. We are about to be out of excuses. This year was dubbed the ‘Year of the Creator’ and while we did not see many creators on the show floor or in talks, the table has been set. It's time for creators to show what this tech can be used for, and find the strongest revenue streams. It's going to be an incredibly important and exciting year for AR/XR, and AWE is at the epicenter of all this."
Almost all of the major enterprise solution companies seemed to have major announcements (see below) including PTC, Re’flekt, Scope AR, Ubimax, Upskill, and Wikitude. Meanwhile, Lenovo has entered the fray with an AR HMD, the ThinkReality A6, and apps for common use cases via its own SaaS platform. Recurring monthly licenses are their bread-and-butter. Atheer had a big presence at the show. Epson has an upcoming announcement about its updated Moverio smart glasses and new SaaS offering next week. At its developer conference, Microsoft unveiled a SaaS platform through Azure. Oculus is looking for enterprise apps they can offer for the recently-released Quest. There was a clear consensus around the opportunity in enterprise AR but, ironically, we only saw the most commonly used enterprise device, Glass 2.0, once. It was being worn by an attendee.
“Customers have lots of choices on the market today,” Scope AR founder and CEO Scott Montgomerie told me, “but there is more than enough business to support everyone. The challenge is to differentiate yourself, which we do by continuously refining our platform and adding new features. Our customers appreciate our responsiveness and support.” The general consensus around primary use cases was not news at this point: remote experts (see-what-I-see), simulation and training, knowledge capture and work instructions.
Joanna Popper, HP’s Global Head of Virtual Reality for Location Based Entertainment, told me this “was the best year yet for AWE for the level of technology exhibited, concrete VR/AR use cases with ROI and experience of attendees. Our whole team came away very enthusiastic about the state of the industry. AWE is an essential conference for glimpses of our collective future. We were thrilled to showcase our latest offerings: the HP Reverb headset and the HP VR backpack.” The Reverb is the company’s second Windows MR headset, a lower cost ($600 on HP’s site) rival to the Vive Pro ($1099 on Amazon). HP’s device has greater per-eye resolution (2160x2160 vs. 1440x1600) and a wider field of view (114 degrees vs.100 degrees) and inside-out-tracking, eliminating the need for external lighthouses for room-scale VR.
Cross platform AR creation platform creator 8th Wall won the coveted Auggie Award for “Best Developer Tool”. They created the “AWE Portal Hunt,” which consisted of 10 distinct “portal” experiences, each activated by a Web AR image target, which were positioned around AWE. You’re an astronaut explorer, retrieving alien relics from each mysterious portal. Real-time progress of players was displayed on a leaderboard at the event. Last year we wrote about how 8th Wall’s platform gives developers the ability to create cross-platform apps that even work on legacy devices, dramatically broadening the number of smartphones the are AR-capable. Peter Apel won the Portal Hunt and snagged a Looking Glass volumetric monitor and two free tickets to next year’s conference.
As part of the first day’s events, AWE hosted a press showcase. Highlights included:
CGTrader, the world’s largest source for licensable 3D content, announced a new Augmented Reality (AR) solution for e-Commerce, CGTrader ARsenal, which includes all solutions and services required to easily deploy AR for online stores, enabling shoppers to experience products in an immersive, interactive environment.
Lenovo launched its enterprise AR HMD, the A6. The company demoed its work instructions capability. No pricing information, but the company did say there will be a limited release in Q3 of this year. With a tethered mini-computer, the A6 looks a lot like the Toshiba DynaEdge. Jon Pershke, VP of Strategy and Emerging Business for Lenovo’s Intelligent Devices Group, says the A6 is “Intelligent Transformation to drive Smarter Business.
RE’FLEKT, a Munich-based technology company that enables any business or industry to create their own in-house Augmented and Mixed Reality applications, announced that the REFLEKT ONE Ecosystem now enables Siemens customers and business units to drastically increase the speed and accuracy of AR content creation. The connection to Siemens Teamcenter allows industrial customers to source live versioned data directly from the Siemens PLM system. Learn more here.
Rokid, a Mixed Reality and Artificial Intelligence company, unveiled its latest generation of MR glasses, Rokid Vision which distinguishes itself from existing MR device rings with dual-screen with different content and 6 Degrees of Freedom (6DoF) The Rokid Vision SDK is expected to be released in the third quarter of 2019
Scope AR, the pioneer of enterprise-class augmented reality (AR) solutions, launched an upgraded version of its highly-touted WorkLink platform to allow session recording, With this, workers can now easily capture, retain and share knowledge. Scope AR also announced new enterprise customer, medical device manufacturer Becton Dickinson, as well as expanded use of its integrated AR platform with Lockheed Martin. Learn more here.
Ubimax, which also provides industry standard assisted reality (AR) solutions, expanded its entire Ubimax Frontline platform to Microsoft’s mixed reality (MR) device. All existing and new AR workflows can now easily be enriched with HoloLens 2- specific functionalities such as full hand gesture control. Learn more here.
Smartglass maker Vuzix (NSDQ: VUZI) announced it is now accepting pre-orders for its M400, a monocular microdisplay for $1,799. The M-400 will be powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon XR1, which made specifically for augmented reality wearables.
Wikitude announced support for all leading wearable technologies and has expanded its offering from standalone devices like Hololens to a new spectrum of smart glasses that plug into compatible smartphones, such as the Epson Moverio BT-35E. Epson is the first AR device manufacturer to partner with Wikitude to deliver the new optimized AR experience to users with tethered devices.
Varjo Technologies introduced its XR-1 Developer Edition. Shipping XR-1 to mixed reality developers, designers and researchers is expected in the second half of 2019. XR-1, a video-pass-through-headset, delivers photo-realistic visual fidelity in full field of view, resulting in true mixed reality Indistinguishable from the real world. Varjo also announced an investment by Volvo.
On the crowded floor it seemed like nReal, PTC, Focals by North, Looking Glass, Real Wear (rugged Microdisplays for industry), Lenovo, and RealMax (new AR/VR HMD demo in the Playground) drew the biggest crowds. One of the things about a show like AWE is that no-one can see everything they want to, so everyone has a slightly different, completely subjective experience, Therefore in this part of our roundup we regret to say will be incomplete, if not random. We apologize in advance to the many brilliant AR/VR companies, executives, and entrepreneurs on the floor and on the many stages (we did mention there were 300 speakers on four different tracks). If I have a criticism of the show, other than the notable absences already mentioned, is that it’s too short. They should start Tuesday and open the floor on Wednesday. That would probably wreck the economics for the organizers, but it would be better for us.
nReal announced its new spatial computing device, the Nreal Light spatial computing smartglasses will cost $500 that will be ready for sale Q1, 2020. At 88 grams, they are light. And they’re beautiful. They come in four colors. They’re foldable, like regular sunglasses. A developer edition is available today for $1,200. nReal Light use Qualcomm’s mobile AR chip the Snapdragon 845. It’s tethered to your smartphone. We got to see the glasses spatially anchor and then play a canned spatial demo of different AR scenes.
The glasses have a wide 52-degree field of view and 1080p resolution. Beijing-based nReal was founded in 2017 by Chi Xu, who had formerly worked at Magic Leap and has raised 30 M. Their sleek and sexy brand marketing stood out at the show.
PTC (NASDQ: PTC), the largest public company at the show exclusively focused on AR, IoT and “digital transformation,” set up an eye catching little assembly line demo, showing off their work with IoT and AR in manufacturing, as the set up was run off an iPad like a Tesla. In his main stage presentation on Wednesday, PTC’s CEO Jim Hepplemann, said “AR is IoT for people.” He went on to say that PTC, which also owns AR production platform Vuforia, is using spatial anchors, a feature of the HoloLens, to enhance custom self-service knowledge transfer applications that the company provides. The core of his presentation was about a “Comprehensive Enterprise AR Planning Framework,” which the company uses to guide its implementation of unique solutions for knowledge transfer, capture, and replay, remote support, and self-serve updates of work instructions and 3D graphics with Vuforia Studio.
Last year, at AWE 2018, Hugo Swart of Qualcomm said their new made-for-immersive Snapdragon chips would be the primary provider chip for all manufacturers of AR smart glasses and mobile VR Headsets like the Oculus Quest and Vive Focus. He also gave me a run down on mobile next-generation technology 5G, which is poised to changed everything for XR. A story in the New York Times by Ryan Whitman indicated most 5G is still 4G, and consumer friendly 5G modems won’t come until Qualcomm’s new X-55 cross-band chip in late 2020. We’ve been expressing skepticism about 5G since we learned about 5G deployment issues from engineers at Verizon and AT&T who asked not to be named. 5G’s going to work great in specific line-of-sight applications, like in a stadium, or inside a warehouse, but it doesn’t pass easily through wood, glass, and steel. Swart wasn’t having it. “5G is going to roll out faster than 4G,” he said.
AWE's annual Auggie Awards are coveted among industry denizens. This year's winners were: The Navigator by Meow Wolf (Best Art or Film); Atheer AR Platform (Best Enterprise Solution); 7-11 Always-on by Zappar (Best Campaign); RealWear HMT-1 (Best Headword Device); 8th Wall Web (Best Developer Tool); Looking Glass (Best Hardware); VR Medical Experiential Training (Best Societal Impact); Lens Studio 2.0 (Best Creator & Authoring Tool); The NY Times apps (Best Consumer App); Neurable's DK1 Brain-Computer Interface (Best Interaction Software); and Create (Best Game & Toy). The Auggie Startup Pitch Competition was won by lexset.ai, a visual search and object identification company.
The best thing about AWE is serendipity. Wandering around the show floor we got reacquainted with old friends from Flow, who showed us the eye-opening VR data visualization they did for their client Blackrock. We ran into Tactic, whom we owe a story about their extraordinary AR animation of labels of 19 Crimes wine, which won them an Auggie last year, and their most recent Jack Daniels label animation. Tactic President Peter Oberdorfer told us that “In the very near future, we'll see these types of experiences triggering directly from mobile browsers, native camera apps, and various types of HMDs (head mounted displays). For the time being, the most robust experiences happen in dedicated apps, but every month that goes by, we're able to do more and more on the web."
And got to catch up with Visualix, a German company with amazing localization technology (SLAM to centimeters accuracy), whom we wrote about after CES. Their SDK is now available to third party developers. Here's what it can do:
Perhaps our favorite accident at the show was running into Babble rabbit creator Patrick O’Shaughnessey. The app utilizes technology from 6D.ai which allows developers of AR apps to use their unique technology to map the environment. In this case, the rabbit can be instructed to hide, and it will fully occluded when it runs behind a tree.
Matthew Zymet, who recently joined WWE indulged our suggestions for a Snap filter that would enable the breaking of virtual chairs over people's heads (apparently not a new suggestion). "This was my first time attending AWE," he told me. "I was really blown away by the open, communal aspect of it. I met and connected with so many amazing people. Loved the stories from the trenches in the sessions — from the peek behind the scenes of ILMxLAB’s Star Wars work to brining immersive experiences to the PGA Tour."
As we close, we’ll share some of the other moments we captured from the show.