Augmented World Expo is now in its 14th year and was once again held in Santa Clara, Calif. This year was very much an in-person event. It brought to the exposition floor 250 companies, all from the spatial and metaverse industry of augmented reality (AR), virtual reality, extended reality (XR) and mixed reality (MR).
The event encompassed three days of presentations across multiple tracks by 400 presenters, from enterprise and retail to gaming and entertainment. Healthcare, artificial reality and startup funding were also represented. It attracted over 6,000 attendees in person and covered a vast range of use cases. See S&P Global Market Intelligence's ongoing metaverse theme coverage.
Augmented World Expo (AWE) — with its assembly of industry proponents and evangelists — took place just days before Apple Inc.'s anticipated headset announcement, which generated extra buzz. This was not seen as competition, but more as a validation of the industry, especially given the event's 14-year lineage. The general shift in attention from the metaverse to AI was likewise treated as more of the same, given the expo has been a constant for many years. AWE was a vibrant event with many parts of the very large ecosystem gathered and often working together. It brings a combination of hardware and software, as most tech conferences do, but with a large dose of psychology and creative expression rolled into the mix.
An increasing number of companies and form factors are coming to market with the hardware for accessing AR and VR applications. The software is also evolving, with a significant part being metaverse-style approaches to multi-user 3D interaction with others, machines and data — enhancing the physical world as much as replacing it. People with decades of experience work in the industry, as do those just discovering its potential. Events like AWE create what is still a very collaborative and pioneering atmosphere.
With the number of exhibitors exceeding 250, the event represented the breadth and evolution of the industry. QUALCOMM Inc. showed updates to its Snapdragon hardware for XR and its Spaces SDK. It also announced Dual Render Fusion as a part of Spaces, which integrates existing 2D experiences on a smartphone or tablet with a spatial 3D component using smart glasses (e.g., a 2D map but a separate 3D model of the place). The company is partnering with Microsoft Corp. on open platforms such as the latter's Mixed Reality Toolkit, a product whose future seemed in doubt during recent organizational changes but now is back.
XREAL (formerly NREAL), the maker of the NREAL Air range of smart glasses that are tethered to smartphones, announced its XREAL Beam. This is a small hub device that allows many other devices to deliver their screens as content, such as Nintendo Switch and Xbox. The screens can be locked to follow the user's gaze, given a picture-in-picture style delivery, or show a very large screen that a user can look across and around. It also demonstrated Spacetop, its AR laptop using smart glasses in place of a screen.
Lenovo Group Ltd. touted its ability to deliver enterprise-grade XR and a suite of services essential to dealing with the needs of this client set, with Device as a Service for its ThinkReality VRX headset.
Meta Platforms Inc. mainly demonstrated its Quest Pro device and pass-through capability. During the show (although not actually at it), the company announced its Quest 3 headset, just a few days before the Apple headset unveiling the following week. Arvizio was on the Magic Leap stand demonstrating a new suite of AR/MR authoring and remote support tools for industrial and operational technology accessing digital twins. It has a multiplatform approach and will work on most AR headsets and glasses, and existing smartphones and tablets.
Industrial-focused startups such as Aatral, an Indian company providing VR-based training applications for utilities companies, demonstrated learning to isolate a large ground-based transformer, earthing cables with larger hooks, and providing a safe way to rehearse in such environments. Avatour Inc.'s VR approach to remote telepresence viewing of locations included live 360 video and avatars merged into the experience.
UK-based Reality in Virtual Reality Ltd (RiVR) was attending the event for the first time to show its approach to creating photorealistic VR experiences in a box with its Investigate product. This is specifically designed for multiuser, VR-based fire safety training in a potential crime scene environment. It has been used in several fire services organizations in the UK.
Enterprise- and education-focused virtual world provider Virbela presented along with PwC, describing many of the projects the two were working on together, both inside PwC and for its clients. Much of the discussion was on organizational challenges and solutions, and positive outcomes when deploying a metaverse-style approach in a large organization.
Tap showed off its latest chord-style typing device. In 2019, its key-tapping device was a set of ringlets placed on the fingers and thumb. Tapping combinations of fingers for letters, creating the ability to type regular text, was once learned with games to practice and increase speed. This year, the device is a small write mounted device with a camera that flips to watch the fingers from under the wrist to create the same effect.
Looking Glass showed the continuing expansion of the size of light field displays, as well as a light field ChatGPT conversational character example (like Wol). Leia Inc. showed its glasses-free 3D tablet (previously seen at MWC) that provided many new types of interaction, such as a game player being able to look over an otherwise obscuring wall in an isometric, top-down dungeon-crawling experience.
The Metaverse Standards Forum was at the event running a series of developer workshops and metaverse interoperability discussions. Originally formed by Khronos Group, it recently became an official, independent nonprofit industry consortium. The forum aims to accelerate the conversations between vendors and other standards bodies regarding the interoperability essential to eventually realizing the full metaverse.
Ultraleap Ltd. announced its Leap Motion Controller 2, which is a camera that adds advanced hand-tracking capabilities to AR/VR hardware. Apple's decision to eschew controllers for its Vision Pro headset is bringing hand-tracking and gesture control to an industry that has mostly depended on video game-like control interfaces. The camera is supported by the Pico 4 Enterprise, Varjo Aero and Lenovo ThinkReality VRX out of the box.