The VR/AR Association Enterprise Forum took place virtually on March 17. The one-day marathon event drew together a number of the usual suspects, including Varjo, Lenovo, and Microsoft, all of whom hosted keynotes. In addition to keynotes, the event featured a number of expert talks and panel discussions.
Enterprise XR: Before, During, and After the Pandemic
One less-than-shocking trend at the Enterprise Forum, as well as other recent digital events, involved echoing the sentiment that enterprise XR has exploded in recent months. This is an objective fact that typically comes with the prediction that the technology won’t go anywhere when coronavirus distancing and travel restrictions lift.
“Through this very difficult time that we are all going through, which seems to be gradually coming to an end, this industry has been catapulted more quickly than any of us could have imagined,” said Cathy Hackl, futurist and Global Advisor to the VR/AR Association. “I’m excited to see where we’re going. Enterprise has really taken off from an adoption standpoint.”
Virtualware CMO David Moreno, in the same welcome address, suggested that the growth of these technologies would slow somewhat. However, speakers throughout the enterprise forum agreed that the faster, more affordable, and more environmentally friendly remote collaboration would not soon disappear simply because conventional travel is allowed again.
“Enterprises are creating a new reality of work,” Microsoft Canada’s Azure Mixed Reality Lead Sean Graglia said in a later keynote. “MR is here to stay. It’s adding value today and it’s positioned to add even more value on Microsoft.”
How Enterprise Leverages XR, According to Microsoft
Graglia wasn’t just at the enterprise forum to shill Microsoft. As one of the industry’s rare multinational end-to-end powerhouses, Microsoft has potentially unparalleled access to real numbers and use cases across a huge swath of enterprise verticals and Graglia shared a few of them in his keynote.
“As the technology has matured, so too has the portfolio of use cases that the technology is being used to address,” said Graglia, pointing out huge growth particularly in education and health fields.
Specifically, Graglia identified six key use cases that were not only increasing in adoption but beginning to merge and overlap as industry adopters expand how they use XR. Those key use cases are:
- Remote Collaboration;
- Guided Training;
- Training and Simulation;
- Sales and Marketing;
- Design and Prototyping;
- Contextual Data Overlay.
This kind of convergence of use cases is partially because of the versatility of XR, but it can also arise organically in companies that aggressively pursue it. In last year’s virtual GDC series from VIVE, Amy Peck pointed out that a virtual asset created through remotely collaborative design and prototyping can then be reused for training, sales, and beyond.
Unfortunately, this year’s VRARA Enterprise Forum didn’t really include any major announcements. This is potentially due to the timing of the forum around other major virtual events, as well as there being so many industry and company-specific industry events even so far this year.
In addition to having held their Ignite conference earlier this month, Microsoft also made appearances at the virtual SXSW – which was happening at the same time as the Enterprise Forum, as was Unity’s virtual Game Developers Conference showcase.
Varjo representatives gave a keynote focusing on their new VR and MR headsets which recently started shipping, but they didn’t offer many new insights and there weren’t any new updates to share.
Pico Interactive, who recently slipped a mention of a new 6DoF headset in a recent funding announcement and has been tight-lipped ever since, was noticeably absent from the Enterprise Forum, despite their increasingly strong showing as an enterprise XR company, particularly in the Americas.
Updates From Lenovo ThinkReality
Lenovo ThinkReality representatives gave a keynote focusing on the new A3 AR glasses announced at CES. However, the company is still keeping quiet on often-asked questions like release date and price points, though Lenovo’s AR/VR Hardware Project Manager Mike Lohse hinted at some potential features including battery packs and expanding hardware compatibility.
“Some of our current customers with our A6 want to do that 8-hour shift, and we want to find solutions that allow them to do that,” Lohse said in a call with ARPost after the forum. “The glasses themselves don’t have their own power source, they rely on the host device, which is also running its own applications.”
Material from ThinkReality affirms that the enterprise version of the glasses is only compatible with select Motorola phones, which act as a controller and keyboard through a companion app. However, subsequent releases may have a wider range of product compatibility, as suggested by Lenovo’s AR/VR Software Product Manager Mayan Shay May-Raz.
“It’s been our plan all along, but we’re very dependent on the XR services that are on the flagship phones,” Lohse said on the call. “Right now, we really only know what Motorola has and does so we can really crawl into that situation… in this case, we’ve really been able to drive a lot of internal support.”
May-Raz also commented on the ability of the glasses to access virtual content, as well as 2D content in a 3D manager. One major application of the glasses, particularly the cabled PC edition, will be virtual screens. This application will feature the ability to have screens remain in a user’s field-of-view, or be pinned to locations in the physical world.
Qualcomm Exploring Perception Algorithms
During the same keynote, Patrick Costello, Senior Director of Business Development at Qualcomm, commented on the chips that the company provides to ThinkReality that split processing between host and client devices for smaller form factor, better battery life, and lower heat output.
“We’re spending a lot of time exploring algorithms, particularly perception algorithms, and harnessing those to use less power,” said Costello, who also said that Qualcomm chips reduce power consumption by as much as 36%.
The Enterprise Forum Is Over but VRARA Returns in June
The announcement shortage for this event is hardly a mark against the VRARA Enterprise Forum. It’s been a busy cycle for XR. However, the organization’s larger VR/AR Global Summit is coming in June.
Last year’s Global Summit saw huge news including HP’s launch of the Reverb G2 Omnicept, as well as ThinkReality’s first teaser for their A3. With the crazy year that XR has had since then, we can only expect that this year’s Global Summit will be huge as well but this year’s Enterprise Forum was enough to hold us over until then.