The second day at AWE proved to be really really incredible. The biggest difference between the two days was that the Expo was open today, giving me the ability to try out all of the cool gadgets and headsets that I learned about previously. Some proved to be great, and others not so great. Ill give my thoughts on the speakers that I saw from Meta, Schell Games, and Kopin Corporation, as well as the products I tried out:
1) Meta 2
2) Microsoft HoloLens
3) Daqri SmartHelmet
4) ODG R8
The first presentation I saw was by Meron Gribetz from Meta, so ill start there.
Meron’s presentation started a bit slow, as he went through the beginning stages of starting his company, from a Kickstarter. As his kickstarter started gaining ground, he was sitting in his dorm room in New York, and saw that Steve Wozniak, Co-Founder of Apple, places an order for his product. Shortly after, Toyota does as well. After this, Meron started talking about what he learned from his customers. An interesting fact that Meron alluded to was that 85% of his customers wanted to use his AR product to increase productivity. Furthermore, another big problem that he faced with Meta was creating a new UI paradigm. He knew that he could not just simply import a 2D UI from the past, as Augmented Reality is all about coming up with 3D and immersive experiences. This is how he came up with his user requirements, and eventually, AirGrab. AirGrab is a patented gesture system to enable moving, scaling, and rotating objects in AR. When I saw the live demo of AirGrab on stage, I was in awe. For the first time in the event, I was completely blown away. First of all, it was a completely live demo, happening in real time. It was not a video like all of the previous presentations. It was happening in front of me. The first part of the demo was showing how the AirGrab worked. Basically, you reach out and grab the hologram of whatever you want in front of you, and a circle lights up. Once you are in the correct location to grab that item, the circle becomes a white color, and you know you can grab that object and move it around.
After Meron’s presentation, I was still in awe, and I really did not think anybody could follow up on what he demoed. But boy was I wrong. Although it did take me a few minutes to get on board with Jesse, his high energy and sarcastic jokes had me laughing the whole time. His presentation was focused on the concept of what will the AR and VR systems look like in 2025. One of the most interesting points that Jesse brought up was that he thinks that VR will dominate AR by 2025. The points that Jesse brought up were very valid. Some of the biggest problems in AR right now is the limited field of vision. In Jesse’s demo, he shows a video of someone using the HoloLens to interact with characters in AR but when the user gets close to the character, the head gets cut off, and you cannot fully see the character anymore because of the limited Field of Vision.
I saw this problem with all of the AR headsets I tried, but primarily with the DAQRI SmartHelmet, in that I had to physically hold my helmet a certain way to see a clear hologram. Same with the HoloLens, but to a smaller extent, I kept having to readjust the headset in order to be able to see the hologram clearly. One of the most obvious points that Jesse brought was that nobody will want to wear these crazy headsets. They look so dumb! I completely agree…I would hope that designers can look into creating a more aesthetically pleasing product. Another more subtle problem with the AR industry is privacy. If everyone will be wearing these headsets around, and they can take videos of others without anyone knowing, (Just like Meta showed), everyone will feel like they are being watched. Nobody likes that. Jesse’s biggest takeaway was that instead of focusing on AR, he thinks that we should focus on VR. And not only that, but we can focus on VR for kids. He thinks this is the market that will have a breakthrough and will widely adopt this technology in the consumer space. I don’t know how parents will feel knowing that their kid is in Virtual Reality most of the day, but I definitely don’t like the sound of that. But, on the contrary, I do think the kids from this generation onward will be playing in Virtual Reality and learning a lot from it. They will no longer be sitting in front of an Xbox playing Call of Duty or Halo. They’re going to be walking around, and exploring in Virtual Reality. If we make games that are able to teach kids useful concepts such as math, science, and other languages through the use of immersive technology, I do think that parents will be ok with letting their kids play in Virtual Reality. Jesse didn’t go too much into the details of what his products will be like, but I am guessing he is developing a whole suite of different educational and entertaining games designed for kids. It’s hard for me to comment on anything about his actual products but I do think that he has a great understanding of the market and has a great vision for the future of VR. Keep an eye out for Schell games…
John Fan, CEO of Kopin, had in interesting talk about what needs to be done to be able to break into the AR industry and see it become widely adopted. A lot of the speakers had similar themes, but I liked that John focused on the hardware, which was a nice change from all of the software intensive products that were showcased up to this point. John showed some of the successes of his company, which have mostly come in the military industry. He has produced a line of AR helmets which are used in the military and has captured almost all of the market share in this space. The helmets superimpose important data such as where fellow soldiers from your team are, where possible sources of danger are, and other cool features. Another interesting field he has entered is coming up with AR helmets for firefighters which uses thermal imaging to show where the fire is the strongest and has the highest temperature. As you can imagine, this can be extremely useful, especially in a high-risk situation such as evacuating a burning building. The biggest problem that John addressed was that the helmets for AR are currently to bulky, and that the optics is the problem. To this, John has offered a Optical Module that he has built into eyeglasses, which can display your smartphone screen by simply looking up.
From his video, this looked super innovative, but the only problem I saw with this was the ability to quickly turn this display off. If you see someone that you need to talk to and you don’t want to be looking at them through Google Maps, you would need to be able to quickly turn the display on and off. Other than that, I think this is a very nice product, and am looking forward to trying it out. Transitioning into the VR space, John says that the biggest problem is seeing lousy images in Virtual Reality. The proccessing power is not quite there yet, and to be able to see extremely sharp images in a completely immersive enviornment is a tough task to handle. Mr. Fan solves this problem by creating his own OLED microdisply for VR systems. OLED provides the highest resolution, fastest speed, and lowest energy requirements. He has many pattents pending, and won an CES Innovation Award for his Lightning Technology as it applies to VR systems. I do think that his hardware is quite revolutionary, and I am sure we will be seeing much more of Kopin in the coming years when talking about VR and AR.
The R8 was a really nice product because it is so small and portable compared to the other ones that I tried. While the field of vision is a bit small, (I had to gaze up and down to see the full hologram), the image is pretty clear, and it’s easy to move around with the product since it is wireless. Overall, I think these glasses are some of the best AR solutions we have on the market right now.
The Meta 2 is very interesting. I would say that this is the coolest AR product that I have seen at this conference, but there are definitely some problems with the user experience. The one big problem I had with the AirGrab technology is that there are times where it is hard to fully grab the hologram, and that the spacial mapping seems a bit off. Sometimes it feels you must grab through the object too deep in the Z axis, and it adds a weird feel to the product. The actual imagery is really cool, in that you can have all of your displays out, and can bring up vidoes from their app to your AR field of vision. Overall, this product has the most potential from the AR products I have seen, but the fact that it must be connected to a super powerful graphics processor is a downside.
This product is really cool. It is wireless, and has really clean graphics. The one problem that I had after trying this product on both Day 2 and Day 3 is that it feels heavy. The headset attaches to your forehead, and I felt the weight of the device pulling down on my forehead, making it a bit uncomfortable. Furthermore, the actual field of vision is very small, but the clarity of the holograms does make up for this. For example, when I was viewing a demo I would only be able to see about half of the hologram, and would have to pan up and down with the HoloLens to view the full hologram. Below is a video that shows others testing the HoloLens, and what holograms they would see with it on.
I think this is
a great product, but the hardware could be improved a bit in order to make it a
bit more comfortable.