“This week, AWE is all about dreams” according to event co-founder Ori Inbar’s welcome address. It was also about presence and how both augmented reality and virtual reality companies are trying to achieve it.
Opening Day Keynotes
The first day of the Augmented World Expo (AWE) started with a marathon session on the main stage. Unity, Qualcomm, and the XR Association (XRA) followed Inbar’s welcome address with keynotes of their own.
Inbar’s Welcome Address
Inbar’s welcome address always sets the mood for AWE and often sets the theme. This year, both were as energetic as one could expect as Inbar played air guitar with “audio augmented reality” bracelets from Mictic that translated his hand movements into an audible air guitar solo.
“XR makes dreams a reality. We’re not talking about the Freud kind of dreams, we’re talking about Martin Luther King Jr. kind of dreams – goals, aspirations,” said Inbar. “If you can dream it, XR can make it happen.”
Inbar gave a number of examples, including AR and VR activations raising awareness of the LGBTQ community (as the conference started on the first day of Pride Month). He also said that AWE offered free expo space to Ukrainian companies – three made it, though many more were unable to attend because of the ongoing conflict with Russia. Then, he made an announcement:
“The biggest dream of all is saving the world … Today I’m announcing the XR Prize Challenge to fight climate change … the winning team will be announced right here next year on the same stage.”
The winning proposal for using XR to combat climate change will receive $100k toward their project.
One trend that Inbar pointed out from his own keynote that would not be maintained through other AWE sessions: the use of “the M word.” According to Inbar, the word “dream” was used 57 times in his address, while “metaverse” was never used.
Unity Technologies CEO and Chairman John Riccitiello did not preserve Inbar’s record in his keynote “Getting Beyond Fiction and Seeing the Reality in the Metaverse.” His talk started on what he called “something potentially dangerous” – defining the metaverse. However, he still believes we need a definition for the word “metaverse” and what it means in 2022. According to Riccitiello:
“The metaverse is the next generation of the internet that is always real-time, mostly 3D, mostly interactive, mostly social, and mostly persistent.”
He predicts that “most websites will fit this definition” probably by 2030. While he didn’t maintain Inbar’s no-metaverse streak, Riccitiello did touch on one point that would be a major theme throughout the day: presence.
“The metaverse will have destinations that feel real,” said Riccitiello. “Presence is that feeling of being in a digital world.”
Among other predictions: we will not navigate the metaverse with one universal avatar per user, and the “killer app” of the metaverse will be a “contextual app launcher” that presents different experiences to different users around the same physical locations.
Qualcomm’s Vice President and General Manager of XR, Hugo Swart, also showed no qualms with “the M word” in his talk “Your Ticket to the Metaverse: Spatial Computing Experiences with Snapdragon Spaces and What’s Next in XR.”
His main prediction was that the current constellation of XR wearables will eventually converge into “one glass that does it all.” He also stated that this would be possible through “split processing” – a kind of edge computing that draws on connectivity with nearby devices to power a lightweight, low-energy display. There’s one main thing standing in the way:
“For AR and the broader metaverse vision to realize, it is important to grow the developer ecosystem,” said Swart. Fortunately, Qualcomm is already on it.
The biggest news of the day, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Spaces, which the company announced in Swart’s opening day keynote at last year’s AWE, is now open to everyone. Further, the company is working with Lenovo ThinkReality and Motorola on a hardware developer’s kit.
“We partnered closely with Qualcomm and our sister company Motorola,” ThinkReality General Manager of XR and Metaverse, Vishal Shah, said in a talk, “ThinkReality and Scaling into the Metaverse” given later in AWE day one. “Along with Snapdragon Spaces, we think this is going to be a game-changer in terms of the developer community that this is going to create.”
Resolution Games President and co-founder, Paul Brady, appeared on camera to talk about porting VR experiences into AR packages using Snapdragon Spaces. He also said that the first experiences from the company’s AR-dedicated arm, also announced at last year’s AWE, would be in demos on the expo floor that opens on AWE day two.
XRA President and CEO Elizabeth Hyman’s presentation was titled “The Tech Heard ‘Round the World – Embracing the Future of XR.” This might sound like Hyman was also going to share some predictions. However, her talk focused on building the future as opposed to looking forward to it.
“Our industry thrives when we have diverse experiences and voices helping to build XR from the get-go,” said Hyman. “This fall, we’ll see more and more universities and colleges embracing not just remote learning but remote immersive learning.”
Hyman explored a number of examples, including the University of Michigan who have a digital twin of their campus in AltspaceVR. Christina Francis, executive director of JFF Labs, spoke over video about the importance of XR for job training and “upskilling.”
“The convergence of AR and VR will allow employees to move seamlessly from practice to execution,” said Francis. “Let’s continue to explore the benefits of XR to prepare our workforces for the future.”
Hyman also discussed the importance of involving and educating lawmakers – which was also a theme returning from last year’s AWE. Specifically, she mentioned the Reality Caucus – a group of lawmakers particularly involved in exploring extended reality policy and how it relates to market competition and national security.
“Members of congress need to stay informed and be able to get answers about cutting-edge new developments in the XR space. … The role of the Caucus is to help educate members about the use of this technology,” Congresswoman and Chair of Reality Caucus, Suzan DelBene, said over video. “It’s critically important for members of Congress to understand emerging technology in order to craft legislation that promotes the benefits and limits potential harm.”
Focus on Presence
A theme throughout AWE was the importance of presence. In an AR-heavy series of sessions, a number of speakers touched on the point. Both entertainment and enterprise speakers touched on it – often using nearly identical language.
Presence in Entertainment
Among them was Matt Miesnieks, whose new company LivingCities recently “came out of stealth.” We still don’t know much about the company other than that it is “reflecting the real world into the mirror world.”
“We’ve really pushed hard on what makes the real world so special and hope we can expose that,” Miesnieks said in his talk “Merging Realities: Connecting the Metaverse to the Physical World.” Mienieks identified people as the killer app of the metaverse, and the “spirit of place” being more important than its geometry.
The importance of humans over tech also factored into “AR Spaces in Familiar Places: Social Connection Through Tabletop AR.” This talk, by Tilt Five CEO, Jeri Ellsworth, focused on the company’s ability to succeed where other AR companies had failed by focusing on players.
“Our minds work better when we get together and look at things spatially,” said Ellsworth. “When you see the pieces move, you know that someone is across the table from you – even if they’re a million miles away.”
Presence in Enterprise
A lot of the same ideas came up on the enterprise side in AWE talks including the one by Elizabeth Bieniek, Internal Startup Founder at Cisco, titled “From Medical Devices to Formula 1 – How 3D Holograms Are Solving Real Problems in the Enterprise.”
“What’s been interesting about the change in how we work … is that the people have been the same. Through all of this, we still value face-to-face interaction,” said Bieniek. “You want to see the person you’re interacting with as well as the parts you’re discussing.”
These conversations got a little more introspective in Blippar CEO Faisal Galaria’s talk “Augmenting Collaboration and Community.” Galaria talked about the ability of AR to bring people together but also said that AR production should be more collaborative.
“We think that the metaverse, just like any other venue or experience, is better when it is interactive,” said Galaria. “What we’re really excited about and building for the future is making content creation more collaborative.”
It All Comes Back to Dreams With XR Coalition Announcement
In one of the final sessions of AWE day one, XR Safety Initiative CEO Kavya Pearlman brought everything back to dreams with her announcement of Beyond Inclusion, an initiative by the Cyber XR Coalition, XR Bootcamp, and first partner, Meta. The program will help 100 participants from under-represented backgrounds each year find and keep jobs in XR.
“Looking at the tech industry, executive management consists of 96% male, white leaders. … There are huge implications to those statistics,” said XR Bootcamp co-founder Rahel Demant. “We don’t only need to educate people, we need to provide them with networks.”
The opportunity that this provides isn’t just a lifeline for these individuals, it is for the good of the whole XR ecosystem. The need for developers was stressed throughout AWE, and aspiring developers often find themselves priced out of education or locked out of networks.
“When you look at the exponential growth in the industry, it definitely doesn’t match with the talent pool growth,” said XR Bootcamp co-founder Ferhan Ozkan. “Hiring experienced talent is definitely difficult, especially when looking at XR … it requires a lot more digging into what that person’s agility is.”
Pearlman spoke passionately about how she is still paying off loans she took to become a cyber security professional – an occupation that she began to pursue while styling hair.
“If someone has a dream, they shouldn’t have to incur tons of debt to become the awesome person that they are,” said Pearlman. “We will go beyond inclusion. We will create equity. We will make their dreams come true.”
Join Us at AWE Again Tomorrow
In addition to another full day of keynotes and presentations, AWE day two sees the opening of the expo floor and the Auggie Awards. AWE packs a lot into a three-day conference, so there will be more highlights tomorrow.