On the (Show) Road Again
Much has happened the past two years—politically, technically, and socially—that has greatly changed the path forward from what we had envisioned before the pandemic. Finally, here we are again, on the road between two full, in-person exhibition and technology events, AWE and CES.
How We Got Here
Advances in augmented/virtual reality (XR) hardware are significant but the need for XR is different than what we had envisioned just a few years ago. We still see gaming and entertainment as a driving force, but its future in military, medicine, and service has increased as expected. We did not expect, however, the somewhat sudden and accelerating interest in the “meta universe” or “metaverse.” What is the metaverse? Meta means transcendence and verse means universe, so we are approaching the capability of entering a virtual universe that is not reality but does exist outside of reality. What does that mean? It’s not just the future of Facebook, although Facebook and other social media sites will play a major role. In my opinion, the metaverse is a combination of the real world that you and those you communicate with occupy, while the XR world is generated by your devices.
Figure 1: A scene from the Augmented World Expo (AWE) in early November. John Hanke from Niantic gave an inspirational keynote about building the metaverse using technology to improve our experiences in the real world by enriching it with fun and magic, and helping people lead more fulfilling lives. Source: AWE Twitter
How will we build this artificial “reality?” It will be accomplished through XR technology, applying 5G, and 6G cloud transmission technology (which is coming sooner than you think), as well as wearable and viewable supporting hardware—such as advanced vision devices, haptics, and all the new hardware that we saw at AWE and expect to see at CES. In fact, such advances have precipitated the need for a second AWE in June 2022.
Expect to hear a lot of talk about the metaverse as this trend grows in sophistication. For now, let’s look at some of the XR devices recently announced.
It seems that we have moved rapidly from the heavy, wired uncomfortable headsets to lighter headsets that are almost like eyeglasses. At AWE, a company from Finland called Dispelix showed VR glasses that use a thin, transparent waveguide to take in a projected image and relay it to the eye. They are similar in size and comfort of a normal pair of glasses yet have tiny XR projectors at very high image quality.
Niantic, best known for developing Pokémon GO, showcased a software platform called Lightship for building real world metaverse apps that will power future XR glasses. The company announced it will be using the technology at next year’s Coachella music festival. As I understand it, they will use a “visual positioning system” for AR glasses. These AR glasses will be embedded with a display that understands its exact real-world position. It then lets virtual objects (such as Pikachu in Pokémon GO) stay anchored to a specific real-world location for you to find when you get there. This is a critical component needed to make AR glasses, such as the kind that Niantic is building with Qualcomm.
Perhaps the most interesting device I saw at AWE was a pair of smart glasses by Viewpointsystem GmbH, a company based in Vienna. This device is small and comfortable, but it has amazing capability and great potential. I was given the opportunity to interview them and see it work for myself. It first records what you see, then analyzes and determines your expressions, and provides an idea of what you’re thinking or doing. This patented process called Eye Gestures mimics a human being’s ability to form an opinion about what they observe.
Figure 3: Eye Gestures allows digital interaction in a way that is more intuitive and convenient.
According to company information, “The VPS Fact Finder prepares all data from the VPS 19 Smart Glasses for further use. The software visualizes recorded vision and perception.” This hardware used with the IMOTIONS software has amazing XR as well as metaverse potential. “You gain a holistic view of human behavior and have precise, objective representations of eye sequences as well as the visual behavior of the wearer.” There is so much more that this system is capable of. Over the next few years, with the expansion of the metaverse, this type of device may be a key to breaking down the barrier between human and machine. Viewpointsystem will be at CES so we will be looking for more detailed information there.
Other areas of interest included HaptX gloves, which enable very realistic touch and feel; Care AR, a Xerox company enabling service teams to instantly provide remote visual XR support for their customers and field service technicians, including drone collaboration; and other devices including some very high-end VR glasses by Lenovo.
Looking Ahead to CES
CES dwarfs AWE, APEX and so many other shows, but expect it to be about half its normal size and somewhat different for 2022. There will still be more than 1,600 exhibitors, with more than a third of them Fortune 500 companies. The best part is it’s in person and I plan to be there. Here is some of what I expect to see.
Figure 4: The last time CES met in person was 2020.
New Smart Phones
Samsung has released its new line of phones, including something I have missed—a modern version of last decade’s foldable phone. I miss the easily carried flip phone, but I do not want to give up all the features of a modern smartphone. It looks like Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold3 and Galaxy Z Flip3 may be a step in that direction, and I expect new designs at CES, both with smartphones and smart watches.
We should see everything from portable device fast chargers to advanced heads up displays, transparent technology (allowing the driver to have an unobstructed view of the surroundings of the vehicle from whatever angle is required), advanced dash cams, navigation, entertainment, and, of course, all the technology for the upcoming new electric vehicles including new advanced cars themselves.
Figure 6: Features in electric cars will be a highlight of CES.
Microsoft’s latest operating system is out and many of us on the MS inside track are using it, although it will be available to everyone in early 2022. I expect all new computers and devices shown at CES this year will be Windows 11 compatible. Do we need Windows 11? My initial response is, not really. It has some new features but most of them could easily have been part of a Windows 10 update. It is, however, a good excuse to do a clean OS install. Some of the neat features include a new OS repair tool that finds and fixes OS errors on your computer quickly and automatically; a new widgets feature; new wallpapers and themes; the enhanced and simplified start menu; an enhanced search feature that will help you find recently used apps, files, and pictures quickly and easily; and an upcoming compatibility with Android apps, auto HDR, and more.
There is also what appears to be significant backward compatibility, making the transition quite painless. There are some bugs and there have already been a few updates and fixes. So far, I like it. Unless you’re comfortable setting up a computer from scratch, let’s wait until CES to hear more.
Over the past year, NVIDIA and AMD have introduced a new generation of graphic processing units (GPUs). The new generation is so powerful that the use of scalable link interface (SLI), which allows the use of more than one GPU on a computer, has almost gone away. The new generation are not that much more expensive if you can get them at list price, which right now you can’t. GPUs and their powerful processing capabilities are also used for cryptocurrency mining, thus the demand for GPUs has increased exponentially. This has created a shortage and led to scammers selling them on average for almost double the price.
We are also looking forward to seeing new offerings from the approximate 185 automotive exhibitors; Samsung, Sony, LG, and other smart home exhibitors; all the amazing advanced new ideas and devices at Eureka Park (perhaps the most exciting area); and so much more, including the annual Showstoppers event.
Stay tuned as we bring you highlights during and after the show. There is much to look forward to in a (hopefully) post-pandemic 2022.
Dan Feinberg is an I-Connect007 technical editor and founder of Fein-Line Associates.