Yesterday, June 2, was the second day of AWE. The second day of AWE is always dominated by the opening of the expo floor. But, that wasn’t all that happened. The day also included keynotes, engaging panel discussions, and a play that could only debut at AWE.
AWE day two started off with back-to-back keynotes from mixed reality display maker Magic Leap and AR commerce solution Avataar.
A Look at the Magic Leap 2
Magic Leap’s Head of Product Management, Jade Meskill, presented “Magic Leap 2 and the Augmented Enterprise.” In the talk, he introduced tech specs on the upcoming second generation of the company’s namesake headset.
According to Meskill, the headset is 50% smaller and 20% lighter than the original but packs in “two to three times more powerful computing.” Even more was revealed by Jared Ficklin, Chief Creative Technologist at argodesign, who helped develop the Magic Leap 2 hardware.
“Magic Leap has done the same trick twice now – they’ve built a ground-up computer. What Magic Leap 2 does is demonstrate Moore’s Law,” Ficklin told ARPost. “With your mind’s eye, you can extend that five years into the future.”
Naturally, Ficklin was passionate about the more streamlined form factor – as was Meskill. However, Meskill also had a lot to say about the software, including one potentially unforeseen change.
“One of the most significant changes is that we’re kind of rebuilding our operating system from the ground up to use Android Open Source Project,” said Meskill. “We want to make it extremely easy for you to build and port experiences to Magic Leap 2.”
Meskill also discussed Magic Leap’s plan for their AR cloud generated by both the sensors on the headset itself as well as using data collected from other connected devices. This idea was similarly touched on in the later discussion with Ficklin.
“What we’re waiting for is a new metaphor change (from files, folders, and docs),” said Ficklin. “What we’re proposing is landscapes, layers, and objects.”
Avataar founder and CEO, Sravanth Aluru, followed Meskill with “Introducing Contextual Reality – Eliminating Friction from Consumers’ Shopping Experiences.” During the talk, Aluru presented his solution for creating 3D models from real objects with a standard camera for virtual try-out.
These objects can then be moved, recolored, and arranged around other virtual objects. Further, the solution uses virtual objects in user’s view to propose other items that a user may be interested in buying. This allows not just trial of individual items, but entire AR floorplans.
“The camera and AI is probably surpassing the eye and brain in coordination in certain use cases,” said Aluru. “What we’re honestly doing is reimagining the camera as the new homepage.”
ARPost met with Aluru on the AWE expo floor to discuss the company on a more philosophical level. He spoke to the need for easy asset creation as a way to scale use, but he also talked about a lot of the same future ideals as Meskill and Ficklin in terms of the eventuality of widespread consumer headsets.
“[XR glasses] are a moment we’re waiting for … the moment of disruption is the moment we have always-on displays,” Aluru told ARPost. “It’s not a trend, it’s a tectonic shift.”
Taking to the Expo Floor
After the keynotes, the AWE expo floor opened with a record number of exhibitors. There were a couple of companies that were must-stops, as well as some companies that might not have been on everyone’s radar before. As Ted Schilowitz would say in a panel discussion later in the day, “One of the reasons people come to a conference like AWE is to see beyond the top five, to see what is on the fringes.”
Resonai is a company that uses LiDAR scans to create 3D spaces that are home to interactive assets. Those assets can be created for the experience, but can also be visual representations of connected devices that interact with the virtual space as well as with a companion mobile app.
Use cases demonstrated at their AWE booth included games, AR ads with interactive navigation to the displayed items, and IoT devices that triggered visual alarms in massive virtual mockups of real locations when those devices measured certain parameters, like high temperatures. Potential uses include virtual concierge, environmental management, and advertising.
“I buy into and would like to be a part of the near-term mixed reality future,” VP and Global Head of Experience, Jeremy Bergstein, told ARPost. “When is this mixed reality future going to happen? It’s happening now in places like [AWE].”
StretchSense looks like a cool-weather athletic glove. But, it has powers. The glove is capable of intricate motion capture, including for use in XR applications. If you’re not amazed because many XR applications have built-in hand tracking, remember that your hands need to be in view of the headset’s cameras for hand tracking to work. Not so with StretchSense.
“You can do this in a pocket. You can do it with your hands behind your back. You don’t need to go into T-Rex mode,” StretchSense’s Cole Jenkins told ARPost. “The idea is that it’s a garment, not a piece of hardware. It needs to be forgettable.”
Leia Inc makes a “lightfield experience platform” – a 2D device that displays 3D content through head tracking. Demos on the AWE floor included more intimate recordings and video calls with loved ones, as well as a game built for 2D but ported in through a Unity SDK.
“We’re trying to bring that 3D immersive content to familiar devices,” founder and CEO, David Fattal, told ARPost. “When you don’t want 3D, you can switch back to your normal mode of operation. … We see that as a necessary stepping stone to the metaverse.”
Last year at AWE, our inside guy for Vuzix news was North America Director of Sales, Brian Calus. Then, he was telling us about Blade, but this year it’s all about Shield. The first units should be shipping in August. Early models have a monochrome display and will be shipping to developers first. A full-color display is expected early in 2023.
The company has also made some partnerships and acquisitions to speed up their production, which is currently between 50 and 100 Shield models per month. Just a few weeks before AWE, the company “signed a series of agreements” with Atomistic SAS for fully integrated color micro-LED displays.
“The big news that we have here at AWE is that the Snapdragon developer program has opened,” Lenovo AR/VR lead Nathan Pettyjohn told ARPost at the company’s demo booth. “The other kind of theme for us is that we’re really exploring our [independent software vendor] program in collaboration with Qualcomm.”
In a demo of the A3 glasses, I also got to see another recent piece of news first-hand: a partnership with TechViz allows viewing and manipulation of 3D assets from over 200 CAD programs. This is one of the glasses’ first use cases outside of virtual screens.
Snap Inc Product Communications Manager Cassie Kling, and Lens creator Alex Bradt met to give me a hands-on demo of Snap’s newest iteration of Spectacles, and talked about how they factor into the experience design process. The glasses were announced over a year ago, but remain a highly coveted developer tool.
“At first, we were just building for the phone and porting to the glasses,” said Bradt. “Now, we’re like ‘what can we actually do with these that will solve problems for people that they didn’t know they had?’”
In talking about Snap’s game plan, Kling also echoed a sentiment that came up throughout the conference: it’s often not enough to be good at just one thing anymore.
“You can’t just have hardware, you can’t just have software, it’s the whole ecosystem that’s necessary,” said Kling.
Something New From Sophia Moshasha
The article outline was supposed to go straight from demos to panels. But, “[email protected]: A Day in the Life” was a little of both. The “play about humanity in the metaverse” by technologist Sophia Moshasha was part software demo, part panel discussion and all quality – even the parts that didn’t go so smoothly. It truly was a play that could only debut on the AWE stage.
It was impossible not to be curious about the play. It had over a dozen cast members and all of them were in XR’s A-list. There are too many to name them all and to leave any out would be unacceptable. The scenes of the play were built in different virtual worlds, and cast members often ad-libbed their way through little glitches that made it all the more enjoyable.
The play followed Sofia who had just developed an “open navigation API” that allows easy movement between virtual worlds. The hard part was getting companies to implement it. The emotional and literary peak of the play was Sophia’s pitching the API to the companies that would have to choose to adopt it – a playful take on a theme at this year’s AWE.
“Open ecosystems always win in the long run,” Sophia’s character explained. “An interoperable metaverse is inevitable, it’s just a matter of how long it takes for stakeholders to cooperate.”
The XR Roundtable
Mike Boland of ARtillery Intelligence moderated “The XR Roundtable: Big Thinkers Tackle Burning Questions.” Big thinkers indeed. The panelists were technologist and author Charlie Fink, futurist at Paramount Ted Schilowitz, HTC China President Alvin Graylin, and Media.Monks SVP of Growth and Metaverse Innovation Strategy Catherine D. Henry.
The panel started off with the burning question of when Apple will launch an XR device, with Schilowitz providing the answer “when it’s ready” – and not before. The panel also discussed interoperability, which ended up forming most of the session.
“Interoperability is kind of the magic word, and I think we all agree that it’s what the metaverse is going to need,” said Boland.
Graylin said that an interoperable metaverse will likely be created first in China. His reasons were an extant identity system, the government’s ability to regulate, the existence of a universal digital currency, and people being more willing to be surveilled than is common in the United States.
That doesn’t mean that he thinks that an interoperable metaverse won’t form here. Interestingly, his take was very similar to the morale of the play that had taken place on the AWE stage shortly before.
“The platform companies are going to be encouraged to open their platforms,” said Graylin. “Market forces will convince them to network.”
One of the potential sources for interoperability is the recent adoption of blockchain, which Fink called “a technology that has huge disruptive potential.” According to Henry, one of the things that has made it so disruptive is the short time frame in which it has exploded.
“I don’t think the world was prepared for this great leap forward that we’ve experienced these last two years,” said Henry.
One More Day of AWE
Today is the third and last day of AWE 2022. There will be more keynotes, more panel discussions, one more shot at the AWE expo floor, and the announcement of the last Auggie Awards. That’s right, we didn’t forget the Auggie Awards – we’re just saving coverage until all of the winners have been announced. So keep coming back.