AWE USA Conference: What to expect?

Tomorrow, on May, 30th, the new edition of the Augmented World Expo will take place in Santa Clara, California. Over the next three days you get the chance to see, hear and try out a lot of the latest news on AR and VR. Let’s take a brief look at the conference schedule and what might be worth checking out! Time is short, so time to dive into it and prepare your personal agenda:

Talks – where do we go with MR?

The list is long. Hard to pick your sessions. There sure is a mix from all fields, including more hands-on talks by AR companies to present their SDKs or best practice, round tables on B2B and market situation and investment. Microsoft, Meta, … (almost) all big ones present. But also small and new ones are featured. You might want to take a look at the start-up pitches to find a hidden gem?

I’ll try to bundle some groups of AR-related topics (leaving out VR) that I found most interesting. Some outliers exist, e.g. a talk by Ted Schilowitz from Paramount on why movie studios care about MR: maybe not only for production support but also aiming at novel ways of MR’ed entertainment and storytelling? Or take Mark Billinghurst, AR pioneer from the first hour (ARtoolkit, Magic Book, HITLab NZ). He will talk about augmented teleportation. Def. worth a stop to hear his take-on on 2018-AR. Steven Feiner is another long-term pro that has more than 25 years of AR & research records (at Columbia U), who will take a look into the future. Coming back to the present and the agenda, let’s cut more talks into groups:

Display Technology

Everyone is hoping for slimmer AR (and VR) glasses to be more comfortable, last longer, have a better field of view and solve focus issues. Vik Parthiban from MIT will make the start and talk about lightfields, holograms and all we dream of. Among others on display tech, Urho Konttori’s talk sounds very promising on Varjo tech with human-eye-resolution displays. Shawn Frayne, CEO from the Looking Glass Factory, takes it a step further and promises interactive lightfield interfaces that don’t require headgear. Hmm…, sci-fi!

AR User Interfaces and good Design

I’m happy to see many talks on UX and HMI for AR/VR. It is really crucial not to copy 2D screen mouse click designs to an AR spatial computing world! Many sessions deal with this or promise it to give lessons learned and best practices. E.g. Alesha Unpingco from Google will talk about volumetric interfaces and scene understanding. Jeff Jacobsen from Kopin will talk about their experiences, CEO of Leap Motion, Michael Buckwald, to talk about their tech and UX. Maybe he carries along a Project North Star device and demo? *Fingers crossed* Others to continue, like Silka Niesnieks from Adobe on design principles, a talk on human factors for AR design, spatiality of AR interfaces. Neil Mathew from Vertical to continue on these thoughts: why we need to plan for a better UI today for location-based services and AR in general. We should rethink all we’ve learned and dive into gestures and more human approaches.

Maybe the ultimate form of interaction could be a natural interaction with an AI’ed avatar? It would be the most natural input/output communication channel for humans as discussed by Morgan Young. Paul Baker (Kopin) fits into this list, sharing their insights on how to solve voice input problems for wearables. I’ve discussed the idea of non-wearable-based AR in the past focussing on audio only without visuals and other ways using projectors to augment. The talk by David Cannington fits in here: let’s use voice assistants and AI to augment our lives. Let us add virtual sounds, modulate or remove real sounds to form our personal soundscape. Sounds very interesting! It could be a powerful helper in our ear that does not block or clutters our vision…

Storytelling in AR

Well, if all UX / HMI is solved, we need great content. Pixar will talk about key storytelling techniques. Other sessions dive in it, too. E.g. Lucas Rizzotto to give a talk on his trials over the last years of successfully making 20% of people crying trying their MR experiences. When talking about immersive storytelling, gaming is not far off. HappyGiant will talk about mobile AR gaming, Josh Carpenter from Google on ARCore and WebXR, Tony Parisi from Unity Technologies on what will follow with ARKit/ARCore enabled devices in the near future… Kim Pallister from Intel will give a vision on gaming in 2025. But to reach all this of immersively integrated digital content in a mixed reality, we definitely need something else to make it persistent and share all among users. Yep, the AR cloud, as people refer to it these days.

AR Cloud to make it work

There will be more sessions on the AR Cloud base, e.g. a round table on day 1 with (among others) Orin Inbar, Christine Perey and Matt Miesnieks. The second day continues with a DEV track session on how to build the cloud. Wikitude joins the discussion in their talk and Ryan Measel from Fantasmo aims for an open standard on how to share camera based positioning for AR. I really hope, an open-source and shared infrastructure will find its way into the industry for AR! Imagine the open internet without HTTP or HTML. Exactly! Please join the discussion on an AR-cloud and let’s plan for the future wisely!

Impact of AR

After all, we don’t want a Keiichi Matsuda dystopian AR world, we want the “Don’t be evil”-approach (the slogan is available again!) and make something altrustic or at least shareable to join! More sessions will dive into these implications, like the one on non-technical but social and ethical impact. How will AR influence open space and physical places? Tom Enrich even discusses the death of reality (as we know it). At last, it’s always worth scheduling the talk by Tom Furness: the sometimes entitled “grandfather of VR” always spices up his interesting tech talks with humanitarian views and uncheesy pledges for a better world. (See one of my summaries on a talk by him during ISMAR 2014.)

Exhibition Floor – new hardware?

If there is time left, you could check out the 20.000 square foot AR/VR experience center with partner and harware presentations and a number of 20 experiences to try out on a playground. The in Situ eXPerience with AR storytelling and the analogue fun approach of an Augmented Reality Arts Garden and the Two Bit Circus sound the most fun to me!

The exhibition floor lists all big players, esp. when looking at AR glasses: Daqri, Epson, AntVR, Kopin, Lumus, Mira, Meta, Microsoft, ODG, Vuzix… most are present. (Where is Google? Weren’t there rumors on new glasses?) But also display tech and “glasses parts” are worth to search for. E.g. Digilens Inc. is to show their waveguide optics or others their tracking tech for hands (Leap Motion, Manu Motion) or objects (by VisionLib), which I already praised during last year’s AWE.

Research and winners – what puts you in awe?

So, will we make any hot discoveries during AWE? Well, if we knew before, it would be less fun. I’m really looking forward to seeing more from the field of interaction design and tracking approaches. E.g. regarding eye tracking we have eye-tracking specialist tobii there and AdHawk Microsystems. For tracking and depth sensing we have a number of companies listed, including Sony with their depth sensing cameras, the 3D capture demo from “Holocap” again, occipital with their Structure Sensor & SDK, pmd’s time of flight solution, … Hopefully this all helps to build a better understanding of the world for AR purposes and more immersive integration of virtual content. Maybe Intel let’s us touch virtual objects at the end of their haptics in VR talk? Will new AI demos surprise us for AR (and trigger ethical questions like when making phone calls)? Fun aside, we can hopefully expect some near-future hands-on DEV-relevant news, e.g. the CGI & graphics research event Siggraph wil have a preview, too (held in Vancouver in August).

Without looking into the far future, you can already see the Auggie Award finalists listed on AWE’s website. Let’s vote the best!

So, let’s enjoy three great days packed with mixed reality! Please share your discoveries with #AWE2018 or also include @augmentedorg for me to retweet your most interesting demos, talks, moments, chats or funniest situations of AWE 2018!

Cheerio and have a blast!