The 13th annual Augmented World Expo (AWE) in Santa Clara wrapped Friday, June 3. The conference and expo attracted 4,000 live attendees who were joined by 3,000 live remote viewers on AWE.live to hear 420 speakers (½ women) in 6 tracks over three days. There were over 250 vendors on the show floor. COVID was going around the bay area for the past few weeks, which probably depressed local attendance. Several attendees got iPhone notifications saying they had been proximate to an infected person in Santa Clara. Though I continue to test negative, this is serious stuff.
The most important thing about AWE is the people and, despite the tentative (many people were masked) environment, the social atmosphere of the show was as boisterous as ever. The parties had long lines, loud music and attendees conversing uncomfortably close together. Angelo del Priore of HP described it as being like your cousin’s wedding. You know half the people there and talk to all of them for ten minutes.
Representatives from most of the major companies in the field, including Meta, Google, Microsoft, Qualcomm, Unity, HTC, Niantic, Verizon, Roblox, Snap, Magic Leap, and even NASA attended. While there are many consumer facing businesses attending, and there is a “Playground” of XR experiences in the expo hall, most of the conference is for enterprises and XR software developers. Tom Ffiske of Immersive Wire compiled this list of press announcements made at the show.
Google, Meta, and Microsoft have their own developer conferences so they have a very light footprint at the show. Meta was more present than they have been in the past with more than a dozen Meta employees speaking on panels, and they are among the sponsors. The relative restraint of the majors at this conference, while not ideal for the organizers, creates a big space for newer and smaller companies to tell their stories. The gathering continues to feature enterprise XR hardware. AR glasses were everywhere inside the expo, with Varjo, Lenovo, Vuzix, Rokid, Realwear, Campfire, and Oppo among the most visible.
There were long lines to demo the new Magic Leap 2. It got rave reviews. Most talked about was its new dimming feature, which emphasizes the quality of the graphics. The larger field of view was a crowd pleaser as well.
I got another look at Mojo Vision’s AR contact lenses. We looked through the contact with the help of a special kind of instrument that enabled us to bring Mojo’s lens very close to the eye. You to clearly see images and text,. You can manipulate them with your gaze.
Shawn Frayne, founder and CEO of Looking Glass, gave me a look at their new 65” display, which they just announced last week. It’s mad expensive, but in five or ten years, this will be in our living rooms.
Tik Tok’s brand new AR content and tools group, Effect House, joined AWE for the first time. Effects house is Tik Tok’s answer to Facebook and Instagram’s Spark AR, and Snapchat’s Lens Studio, which are free apps that enable users to create custom visual effects that can be brought into your physical environment with a smartphone camera. Tik Tok had a video wall of their mobile AR effects that attendees could interact with. I had a chance to meet with Kathy Wang, the head of Effects House. She was a Magic Leap executive for four years. Effects House Creators have already generated over a billion views on the rapidly growing platform.
AWE co-founder and CEO, Ori Inbar, always kicks things off with some big thinking and special effects, and this year was no exception. At last year’s AWE, in November, 2021, he played Max Headroom. This year began with some air guitar, and a slide show counting down the superpowers (a recurring AWE theme) that emerging XR technologies are delivering. “XR,” says Inbar, “is making dreams a reality.” He also announced that AWE is launching a $100,000 XPrize-like challenge to try and solve the effects of the greatest threat facing mankind in the 21st century – climate change.
Unity CEO John Riccitiello followed Inbar with a keynote breaking down The Metaverse, and Unity’s role in its creation. Riccitiello laid out this simple description: “The next generation of the Internet is (1) Always real-time and (2) mostly 3D (3) mostly interactive (4) mostly social and (5) mostly persistent.”
Riccitiello was followed by Qualcomm’s head of XR, Hugo Swart. Qualcomm makes the Snapdragon chip sets that power every untethered XR device except Magic Leap, and recently announced a program called Snapdragon Spaces, which allows developers to emulate the multiple features built into the Snapdragon platform for headworn augmented reality apps. Qualcomm Ventures also said it has made investments in Echo3D and meditation app maker Tripp as part of its $100 million Snapdragon Metaverse Fund.
The “This Week in XR Podcast” of which I am co-host, recorded eighteen ten minute interviews with some of the extraordinary entrepreneurs, executives, and developers, attending AWE 2022. The recordings are broken up into six thirty minute segments, which can be found here.
Chance meetings in hallways often lead to the most extraordinary discoveries. Here I am with Zapbox co-founder and CEO Caspar Thykier, who showed off the new Zapbox in the lobby of the Hyatt Santa Clara. I missed his dinner, he missed our podcast recording, yet we had this moment. Caspar showed me one of the most extraordinary side gigs an AR marketing and tools company can have: they make a mobile XR head mounted display – and controllers – out of cardboard. The new version appears to have a lot more plastic. They started this project five years ago. This time, users won’t have to put the controllers together like a couch from Ikea. The original tag line for this product was “Magic Leap for super cheap.”
The most profound moment of the show for me came at the end, during lunch with a friend who works in the VR group at Microsoft. “When I come home from work,” she confided, “VR is not at the top of my list of things to do. What about you?”
“Well…” I say this when I need time to think. “VR is always on my list of things to do. I have a lot of things I do like in VR.”
“But do you do them?” She asked, putting me on the spot. Many of my students say they don’t use VR for entertainment or games on their own time. There are other things that entertain them more. And now here was my source. My insider. At one of the leading companies in the field. She was probing the forbidden. We just don’t there. Not here.
“Do you think,” she asked, “VR could fail? Maybe we’re just talking to ourselves.”
“Maybe VR isn’t good enough yet.” I weakly suggested.
“Maybe you’re right,” she said. “I worry about it.” This conversation is one of the things I love about AWE. It gets real here.