AWE 2019: AR Is Alive and Well, but Not for Everyone Yet

AWE 2019: AR Is Alive and Well, but Not for Everyone Yet

Augmented World Expo (AWE) is probably the largest and most important trade show and conference dedicated to all things “XR”, but with a heavy emphasis on Augmented Reality solutions (AR). (If you’re not up on the latest terminology check out our VR, AR, and MR explainer article.) AWE 2019 in Santa Clara (10th annual) was bigger than ever, with over 7,000 attendees and 250 exhibitors. But what struck me most was the number of real-world deployment stories spread among the exhibits and conference tracks, contrasted with the fact that most of us never see any evidence of AR technology in our everyday lives.

Industrial and Commercial Usage Is Expanding Dramatically

In previous years, many vendors were showing concept videos coupled with prototype hardware. This year, there was a lot more talk about actual deployments in a variety of industries. As one example, Ubimax has over 250 enterprise customers for its manual-workflow AR solutions. At the show, the company announced it’s adding support for MR using the HoloLens 2, so that workers can read needed documentation (typically PDFs) while they also get the benefits of AR for assisting in their tasks.

Interior decorating and design is one of the most promising consumer applications of AR so far. Here ZapWorks Studio is being used to design models of furniture.
Interior decorating and design is one of the most promising consumer applications of AR so far. Here ZapWorks Studio is being used to design models of furniture.

AR and VR in the Arcade, If Not in the Home

Just like with popular arcade sports, context is key. When going about our normal business, most of us don’t suddenly think about using AR. For example, every attendee at the conference received an “AR-enabled” messenger bag that paired with the conference app. Once you had it set up, others with the app could point their phone at your bag and see your name and avatar. However, I never saw anyone actually doing it. Personally, I do use the Horizon Explorer AR app on my phone fairly frequently, but that’s about it.

This AR web browser demo from mobile AR glasses maker Rokid is typical of the vision provided by AR and VR vendors, but the reality still doesn’t come anywhere close. It’s promising, though, that the Rokid mobile headset can do full 6DOF tracking on-board, so you can power its experiences with only a smartphone.

All Headsets Are Still Annoying, but Less Than They Used to Be

AWE 2019: AR Is Alive and Well, but Not for Everyone Yet

Eye tracking is also becoming more common. Viewpointsystem demoed a slim, 5 ounce, MR headset with integrated eye tracking at the show — although at $4,600, near-term it will only be good for high ROI industrial applications.

Optics Makers Want to Sell Picks and Shovels to the Miners

AWE 2019: AR Is Alive and Well, but Not for Everyone Yet

Similarly, AR infrastructure management companies like LanceAR can succeed no matter which hardware and software stack win out. Also on the software side, e-Commerce firm CGTrader introduced ARsenal — a solution for online retailers to create and deploy AR-based shopping systems. ARsenal includes tools for 3D modeling and viewing products in AR, as well as managing and storing 3D models.

What’s Next for AR and MR?

In many ways, the effort to find a “killer app” that will make AR commonplace parallels the race to create a self-driving car. Both achievements seemed just around the corner a couple years ago, and both are turning into a long slog. In both cases, it’s turned out that there is a great deal of value in milestone results along the way. For cars, it’s improved ADAS and navigation systems, and for AR, VR, and MR (I’m dragging my feet on giving up and just saying “XR”), many hundreds of niche applications. The move to wireless offerings, along with better battery life and improved performance, will certainly help those who have a specific need. But I don’t expect broad consumer adoption until there are some breakthrough use cases.

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