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Why Augmented World Expo Is XR’s Most Essential Conference

Augmented World Expo, better known as its acronym AWE, has grown to become one of the AR and VR world’s most important gatherings, with over 6,000 attendees expected. The conference, May 30 — June 1, 2018, takes place in the Santa Clara Convention Center in Silicon Valley. This year AWE is preparing 100,000 square feet of exhibition space for 250+ exhibiting companies and featuring 350+ speakers. Attendees will engage in hundreds of tech demos, art installations, educational sessions and product launches. Bridging the gap between technology and the human experience, AWE 2018 will feature around 1000 demos of headsets, software, and tools — plus more meetings than you can possibly tuck into a manic schedule. If you’ve got FOMO, there’s still time to buy tickets at a discount.

Trying out ODG Smartglasses at AWE 2017. Popular with enterprise users, the company has designs on the consumer.

This year’s conference, the 9th annual, comes at a moment when AR is particularly hot. There’s been rapid innovation in mobile AR since ARKit was released in September. At its annual developers conference, Google I/O, the company announced Google Lens (computer vision) integration into the camera on dozens of Android phones, including Pixel phones. Google is integrating AR into maps to improve walking directions — a much-needed upgrade.

Improving the apps we use every day is how AR is going to insinuate itself into mobile computing to the point of invisibility. These advances make the conference especially relevant, and explains AWE’s growing popularity. Virtually everyone in the industry is converging on the Santa Clara Convention Center including executives from secretive startup Magic Leap, which was assiduously courting investors at last month’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, to companies from every corner of the world.

Conference organizer Tom Emrich of Super Ventures. AWE is run as a notprofit.

Conference co-producer, Tom Emrich told me in an interview yesterday he sees six main trends emerging at AWE. “The AR Cloud, Location Based VR, Enterprise uses of AR and VR, Blockchain & XR (OTOY is working on a disruptive approach to rendering), and mobile AR with a focus on creator and developer tools.

Nathan Martz of Google will deliver a keynote about AR with Google, and Google is participating in several other sessions, “Intro to Web AR” and “Designing AR Experiences”. Kyle Roche, GM of Amazon Sumerian, an in-browser toolkit that helps developers create and run virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and 3D applications quickly and easily without requiring any specialized programming or 3D graphics expertise, plans to demonstrate the Sumerian IDE (no license fees) and demonstrate a connected AR experience with the entire audience. We’ll also be hearing from Facebook, and Snapchat. Phil Keslin, CTO of Pokemon Go Creator Naiantic is doing a keynote. Hopefully, we’ll be hearing about Naiantic’s upcoming blockbuster follow up to “Pokemon Go”, based on “Harry Potter”, due to be released with the next movie in November.

“2018 is a special year for XR because the big guys are now all in. It signals the transition from the web era to the spatial computing era. We’ll hear from the world’s top tech companies about how they enable XR and from fortune 1000 companies about their adoption of the tech to improve their businesses. But I expect the most interesting surprises to come from the crazy audacious upstarts” AWE Executive Producer and Co-Founder Ori Inbar said in an email.

Meta 2 on the Main Stage at AWE 2017.

Several interactive demos will be featured on the main stage. Marco Tempest of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory will combine mixed reality, storytelling, gestural sensing and swarm robotics to deliver a glimpse into the future of AR. Emrich’s keynote will feature a special face mapping presentation created by University of Tokyo researcher Yoshihiro Watanabe and one of the founding fathers of live face mapping, Nobumichi Asai, who is most known for using projection mapping to morph Lady Gaga into David Bowie at the 2016 Grammys.

While the consumer mobile market heats up, Enterprise is still where the big money is and it has a huge presence at the show. While it will be some time before people casually wear head-mounted displays around the house, businesses around the world are rushing to get the substantial financial benefits from the decidedly unsexy monocular microdisplay made by companies like Realwear, Kopin, and Toshiba. These devices have set the worker’s hands free while eliminating time shifting between PCs and hand work.

Kopin Founder and CEO John Fan has focused the company on wearable computing.

“Kopin participates in many conferences. But AWE is where we know that we’ll be in front of the most influential and most visionary AR, VR and wearable leaders,” said Dr. John C.C. Fan, CEO of Kopin Corporation, one of AWE’s Sponsors, in an email exchange. “We make sure to bring our most disruptive and game-changing demos to AWE — whether it’s our Solos smart glasses for cyclists and runners, our latest high-performance micro-displays and headset reference designs, or this year’s big unveil, which I’m keeping to myself for now!”

Other heavy hitters on the show floor will include PTC, Vuforia, Bosch, Daqri, Microsoft, Osterhout Design Group and Qualcomm.

Organizers estimate there will be around 1,000 demos at AWE.

Plenty of startups will be unveiling game-changing new demos this year as well. Kaaya Tech will be showing its HoloSuit for the first time. Holosuit is a full body motion capture suit that uses haptic feedback to let people truly enter the VR world for gaming and sports while allowing training for situations like medical and military. 8th Wall will showcase its AR development platform for use with both iOS and Android devices.

Emrich said the conference is working especially hard this year to be as inclusive and diverse as possible. In partnership with the Virtual World Society, AWE is hosting two unique tracks, “XR for Good”, “The Cultural, Social and Ethical implications of XR”, and with the WXR Fund “XR for Inclusion”. “As we are teaching our computers how to be human, such as giving them sight, it is important that we make sure that we do not build bias into the technology and that it recognizes and considers all people which is why its important to have all voices at the table at AWE,” Emrich said.

Fun from the 2017 show. 20,000 square feet has been dedicated to the Playground at AWE.

“AWE’s Playground pushes the envelope of augmented and virtual reality and features experiences you don’t see everyday — even if you work in XR,” said Inbar. “It gives every attendee a chance to do more than merely ‘watch’ a technology demo by taking a break from the hustle and bustle of the expo floor, and dive into mind-blowing adventures in AR and VR that will inspire any professional.”

AWE expects over 6,000 attendees in 2018.

The Playground, adjacent to the trade show, features demos and implementations that showcase a diverse number of art and entertainment applications of new technologies. Illustrated and animated by Australian artist Sutu is presenting large AR enabled illustrations; there’s a free roam VR installation; Nuheara is demoing technology that helps users hear in crowded environments; “Tribe VR DJ School by Tribe XR”, is a DJ lesson in VR; straight from the Tribeca Immersive Arcade, critically acclaimed VR experience “Where Thoughts Go: Prologue” by Lucas Rizzotto reveals the thoughts of others; Two Bit Circus, a large scale multimedia entertainment destination slated to open in downtown LA later this year is showcasing some of their techy new diversions.

Matt Miesnieks of 6D.ai told me he is hoping to demo a working version of their new world mesh AR Cloud application, a crowdsourced 3D map of the world that all AR apps can share. Given the number of partnerships, 6D.ai has already completed the company could immediately become one of the most important pieces of the technology stack required by the AR Cloud. “It’s been painful to be without this demo these past few weeks,” Miesnieks confided. “We didn’t plan for AWE to be our big coming out, but that’s the way the timing seems to be working.” Miesnieks will be giving a keynote and speaking on two panels, one of which is a roundtable discussion about the important topic of an open AR cloud. In order for there to be a visual Google, and persistent location of data from different apps, there needs to be a common platform. Without HTML websites that anyone can make, Google would not be able to catalog the web. The roundtable will be chaired by Ori Inbar of Super Ventures, and will also feature Dave Lorenzini (YouAR.io), Yohan Balliot (ARCortex), Anton Yabubenko (GeoCV), Christine Perry (PEREY Research), Nabil Hajj Chehade (Apprentice.io).

On the lighter side, Living Popups will enliven the AWE badge, as they did at VRLA, with the continuing AR series “The Aug-Mentors”. The VRLA AR cartoons are a knowing lampoon in the spirit of HBO’s “Silicon Valley.” Simply point the AWE app at your badge, and see the Aug-Mentors pop up, literally, out of the badge. In front of you. Living Popups CEO Cheryl Bayer will be speaking about the future of AR and Entertainment on Friday, June 1st.

AWE is produced by AugmentedReality.org, a not-for-profit organization with a mission to advance AR to advance humanity by connecting, educating, and accelerating the industry. All profits are reinvested back in the community.

The Aug-Mentors, from Living Popups. AR on your badge. Yes, please!

[Disclaimers: (1) Ori Inbar, executive producer and co-founder of AWE, is one of the contributors to my book, Charlie Fink’s Metaverse, An AR Enabled Guide to VR & AR, (2) I am giving a mainstage presentations on the first day of the conference, “What I Learned From Making An AR Book”, and participating in a writer’s panel (3) My book also includes AR animation from Living Popups (4) My AR-Enabled book has been nominated for an Auggie Award and (5) I am doing several book signings, including one sponsored by Kopin.]

This post was originally featured on Forbes.com on May 16, 2018

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