The Augmented World Expo (AWE) is celebrating its seventh year this week in Santa Clara June 1-2. The conference, which features 200 speakers from companies such as Intel, Google, NVIDIA, Boeing, The Void, UploadVR, Huawei, Nokia Technologies, and WEVR, has attracted over 200 exhibitors and 4,000 attendees from around the globe.
The show has already seen news in the virtual reality and augmented reality space, including Re’Flekt’s unveiling of its 360-degree video platform REFLEKT360; ScopeAR’s launch of WorkLink, the first smart instruction creation tool that enables non-technical staff to produce highly interactive augmented reality instruction and training materials; and a $20 million Series A funding round led by Fosun Kinzon Capital for VR and AR tracking technology company uSens.
Ori Inbar, executive director of AWE, was co-founder and CEO of AR company Ogmento, which later became Flyby and was acquired by Apple. That technology is part of Apple’s internal push to develop a consumer AR product.
Inbar is also founder and general manager of Super Ventures, which is investing $10 million in AR startups such as Waygo and Fringefly. He talks about the evolving AR and VR industries in this exclusive interview.
Can you talk about Ogmento and what you learned about the AR business from that company?
On the one hand, you can’t underestimate timing. We started in 2009, way before the hardware was good enough and had to do massive education of the market about this new technology. But on the other hand, AR is hard and it takes time to master, so if you are looking for the promising startups check out those who started really early and didn’t give up—as they will be the industry leaders of tomorrow.
How have you seen AWE evolve over the last seven years?
It started seven years ago as an insider conference with 300 attendees discussing ideas and a vision for the industry. It grew into a massive industry event with 4,000 attendee and 200 exhibitors, where major deals are made with Fortune 1,000 companies.
What role does AWE play in the ecosystem today?
We like to think we help accelerate the industry. Many of the leading AR startups in the market today such as Blippar, Daqri, and Vuforia were born and raised with AWE.
How big is the augmented reality business today and how do you see it growing over the next five years?
The AR industry today is nearing a billion dollar business, and according to Digi Capital, it’s predicted to grow to over $100 billion in the next five years. The level of investments in AR and VR has ballooned this last quarter to $1.5 billion.
A lot of press coverage these days focuses on virtual reality, thanks to Facebook. How do you see companies like Microsoft and Magic Leap impacting awareness of augmented reality moving forward?
There are more than two dozen AR glasses companies shipping products today, including Microsoft, Intel, Epson, Lenovo, and Sony. And soon all giant electronics players will have no choice but to join the game. Apple is working on its own version, which will probably ship when the market is ready for mass adoption in one to three years.
How big of a role does AR play in business and enterprise today?
2015 saw many AR pilot projects with dozens of AR glasses successfully deployed in Fortune 1,000 companies across manufacturing, aerospace, oil and gas, pharma, education and training, and healthcare—demonstrating significant business value in improving productivity, safety and accuracy, and reducing cost and risk. In 2016 we are seeing these pilots transitioning to departmental deployments with hundreds of employees using AR glasses to work better. This has attracted hundreds of AR startups to shift their focus towards the enterprise where they see immediate revenue and investment opportunities.
What are some examples of business AR that will be on display at AWE?
The most prevailing use cases are remote technician assistant and warehouse picking. Check out the agenda for a full list of Enterprise Use Cases.
Also, there’s a great list of Enterprise Use Cases that will be demonstrated at AWE.
What opportunities does AR open up for businesses?
AR opens up three very broad areas for businesses to work in new ways:
- Hands-free real-time contextual information: this covers everything from factory workers getting information on where things are, through to surgeons documenting a procedure.
- Interactive 3D: many industries rely on working with digital 3D objects such as Industrial designers, architects, engineers etc. AR will provide a way to work directly with and visualize those objects without the need for $100,000 rooms.
- Remote collaboration and support: the ability for AR to allow remote experts to assist and visually guide a remote field worker gives the ability for large field service organizations to reduce their truck roles and employ lower skilled workers, thus lowering their costs. The same technology will also allow us to help our grandparents get their printers working by digitally showing them what to do rather than explaining over the phone.
What opportunities do you see with AR in gaming?
HoloLens has demonstrated games that can be played while interaction with your room. However, it’s not the primary focus for AR glasses.
When do you see AR impacting consumers with affordable devices they can use?
AR is already impacting users today on smartphones—apps that can translate street signs or menus from Chinese to English in real-time (Waygo), or mobile apps that can visualize furniture in your home before you buy it (Cimagine), or gives you information about a building in front of you by just pointing to it (Fringefy). AR smart glasses are starting to show traction among consumers in niches such as sports (skiing, biking, motorcycle helmets). We believe it will hit the mainstream consumer market in three to five years.
How do you see VR and AR living together as technologies in the future?
AR and VR are Siamese twins; they are attached at the hip, but currently have lives of their own (they apply to different use cases today). However, they share the fundamental technology, hardware, and skills, which is the reason we bring them together at AWE. We believe together, we can accelerate both industries.
Do you see these technologies just blending down the road into a mixed-reality?
Yes, eventually these technologies will converge into a single platform. As a friend of mine (Avi Barzeev) explains, VR is for your dreams (eyes closed) as AR is for your reality (eyes open). Although they are currently being used very differently, AR and VR already have significant overlap in displays, input devices, 3D tech, tools, skills, etc. It is essential for these communities to work together which is what we are doing with AWE.