Augmented RealityEventsExtended RealityMetaverseVirtual Reality

AWE 2021 Day Two: More on the Metaverse

Building the metaverse for identity, safety, and more.


The first day of AWE was all about announcements. There was less of that on day two, but AWE isn’t all about announcements, it’s about celebrating XR experiences and learning from XR expertise. Day two delivered these in droves.

In addition to even more great expert talks and panel discussions, it was the first day that the Expo floor and Playground were open.

AWE USA 2021 Expo

Another Marathon Session on the Main Stage

Day two started out, like day one, with back-to-back-to-back powerhouse sessions on the main stage: panel discussions on “reinventing the camera” and “XR for brands,” followed by Charlie Fink on “The Race to Build the Metaverse.”

Reinventing the Camera

Lauren Goode of WIRED hosted a fireside chat with Snap CTO Bobby Murphy and lens creator Brielle Garcia. Goode opened the conversation with a word that we heard a lot on day one but we’ve never heard from Snap.

“The ‘metaverse’ is a term that we’ve never used, internally or externally to describe what we’re trying to build,” said Murphy. “What we are trying to build is this augmented reality future.”

Garcia put forth a more abstract, and potentially more mature, take on the metaverse that we’ve heard from the likes of Alan Smithson.

“The metaverse is the internet. It’s the essence that emerges spatial, social, and internet experiences,” said Garcia. “The internet is still the internet we had in the ’90s, it’s emerged over time… I don’t think there will be a moment where we say ‘this is the metaverse.'”

Lauren Goode, Brielle Garcia and Bobby Murphy - AWE USA 2021
Lauren Goode, Brielle Garcia, and Bobby Murphy

Murphy similarly commented that a lot of the metaverse discussions are theoretical conversations that don’t impact Snap’s work.

“We’re able to innovate based on what we see in our community,” said Murphy. “It’s less about defining some 10-20 year thing – we’re seeing value today.”

That doesn’t mean that Snap or its community have their heads in the ground when it comes to these larger issues. Garcia specifically mentioned the opportunities and obstacles that blockchain presents.

“There are a lot of good questions being asked about a lot of things that we need to address, like the environmental implications of blockchain,” said Garcia. “I’m looking forward to whatever we are working on next, how we are using these technologies, and how we can address some of these real-world problems.”

XR for Brands

After Murphy and Garcia presented their focused attitude on the metaverse, Unity Technologies head of AR/VR Ad Innovation Tony Parisi expressed a similar sentiment:

“We come here to AWE to see all these cool things… but remember: it’s not about the thing, it’s the thing that gets you to the thing.”

From there, the panel turned to some similar themes and sentiments that we heard on day one – particularly that yes, XR is finally here.

“We’re coming out of the proof-of-concept phase. We’ve proved it out, especially in terms of AR,” said Publicis Media Head of Innovation Keith Soljacich. “Now we’re going into the next phase and we can go so much deeper in terms of immersive experiences.”

Tony Parisi, Catherine Henry and Keith Soljacich
Tony Parisi, Catherine Henry, and Keith Soljacich

And what is that next phase? According to Media.Monks SVP of Growth Catherine D. Henry, it’s “virtualization.”

“Virtualization is the next stage of the internet, taking everything that we do and putting it into a virtual landscape, but not literally,” she said.

If you read that and thought about NFTs, you aren’t alone. And you may be right. Just, not necessarily about NFTs as we know them today.

“NFTs are trendy. They’re educating folks in certain aspects of digital economies that weren’t happening before,” said Parisi. “Don’t mistake the NFT craze happening now with where it’s going to go.”

The Race to Build the Metaverse

Parisi’s sentiment regarding “the thing that gets you to the thing” was echoed early in Fink’s featured session that followed:

“You cannot tie the metaverse to a headset. It has to be on every device, even if the experience on a headset is much better.”

Charlie Fink AWE USA 2021 Day two
Charlie Fink

Fink also talked about ownership and identity, but not through NFTs. Instead, Fink foretold organizations that manage virtual identity which he does see as one-to-one with our physical persons.

“If we have fifty identities [in the metaverse] like we do on the internet where you can’t tell a bot from a person, we will recreate every mistake in the metaverse that we made on the internet,” said Fink. “The players who have a stake in the metaverse… should endow an independent nonprofit organization to manage identity in the metaverse.”

Safety, Trust, and Ethical Design

A series of afternoon sessions explored identity in a different way, through the lens of ethics and safety. These included a panel discussion on safely navigating the metaverse led by the XR Safety Initiative founder Kavya Pearlman, and a session on trust led by Noble Ackerson.

See Also:  Understanding the Atmosphere Around Policy in Emerging Technologies

The sessions discussed the importance of establishing safety in the context of this period of explosion that the industry is currently experiencing.

Safety in the Metaverse

“There will always be unintended consequences but I think we’ve had a bit of a preview of the sorts of things that we’ve got to keep an eye on,” said XRA Vice President Joan O’Hara. “Because we’re talking about this now at the very beginning, I think we’re at a good place to address these concerns.”

Ellysse Dick, Joan O'Hara, and Kavya Pearlman
Ellysse Dick, Joan O’Hara, and Kavya Pearlman

Having time to do the work doesn’t mean that that work will be easy, according to Information Technology and Innovation Foundation Policy Analyst Ellysse Dick:

“Baking safety into the metaverse is going to be hard. There are going to be growing pains, but we are at a place where we have the most opportunity to do the most good.”

Pearlman encouraged everyone to get involved, including by marking the upcoming XR Safety Week on their calendars.

Trust in the Metaverse

According to Cyber XR Coalition President Noble Ackerson, safety in the metaverse can also be improved by the increased adoption that we’re seeing as more and more people become more and more aware of the benefits and risks of XR.

Noble Ackerson AWE 2021
Noble Ackerson

“I’m all in on the rapid pace of innovation, but I’m acutely aware of the social and technical difficulties that come in when there isn’t enough data governance,” said Ackerson. “People are getting so woke. They understand that as we exchange our data for the services that we need that there have been problems with data management, that there have been breaches.”

To Ackerson, the problem isn’t just that this exchange of data for services sometimes goes wrong. The problem is that most people understand the exchange and accept it because in current software models there is often no alternative.

“We need to shed the zero-sum model where users exchange their data for some kind of value,” said Ackerson. “It is so important that we design and build for trust, especially in a domain as nascent as this.”

Okay, So There Was Some News

News was the highlight of day one. While that wasn’t the case on day two, there were some announcements made by Vuzix, Blippar, and CareAR.

Lots Happening for CareAR

The last time that we touched base with CareAR, the remote assistance platform had been freshly acquired by Xerox. However, the company has recently made an acquisition of its own, namely, image recognition solution CraftAR. We met with CareAR president Sam Waicberg on AWE’s Expo floor to learn more about this and other announcements.

CareAR at AWE 2021

“Image and object detection serve up a 3D AR experience, all embedded in the application, through an SDK,” explained Waicberg.

These abilities factor into CareAR’s new app, CareAR Instruct. The new app identifies objects in a user’s environment and helps them to more easily locate technical information on the item.

“It serves up content with context,” said Waicberg. “I could select what task I want to perform and the instructional content will get served up to me in the context relevant to that equipment.”

Finally, CareAR is now compatible with select drones. The Lenovo-integrated service enables drone viewing “from chair to air” across desktop, mobile devices, and select AR glasses. In some situations, using a drone might be faster or more convenient, but in other situations, it can keep experts from potentially dangerous situations.

Vuzix Is Teasing New Glasses

Also on the Expo floor, we had a chat with Brian Calus, Director of Sales, North America at Vuzix. While talking about the Vuzix Blade, a sleek AR headset originally targeted at content creators but finding its home in industry, Calus advised us to watch for a hardware reveal at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show.

See Also:  Vuzix CEO Paul Travers on Remote Assistance, COVID-19, and the Future of Computing

Obviously, he couldn’t share much, but he did describe the next-generation glasses as being more fashionable than existing models, buck packing the same connectivity and safety rating, and even better processors. The glasses will “straddle the line between consumer and enterprise.”

SLAM Is Coming to BlippBuilder

Finally, Blippar CEO Faisal Galaria announced that Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) is coming to BlippBuilder, the company’s no-code platform for creating AR experiences.

“Even an eight-year-old kid at school can drag-and-drop assets to create a realistic experience and in the background, we take care of the physics,” said Galaria. “It’s going to be easy for everyone to build content for the internet without having javascript or HTML abilities.”

More to Look Forward To

AWE USA Expo Hall and Playground

There’s still one more day of AWE to look forward to – not to mention the Auggies XR Awards. Tomorrow’s schedule is full of more panel discussions, more expert talks, and finally, the event wrap up where we’ll learn about the Best in Show AR, the Best in Show VR, and the Awesome Awards. And, very probably, a lot more metaverse.

Jon Jaehnig
the authorJon Jaehnig
Jon Jaehnig is a freelance journalist with special interest in emerging technologies. Jon has a degree in Scientific and Technical Communication from Michigan Technological University and lives in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. If you have a story suggestion for Jon, you may contact him here.