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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.