AWE 2022: An Analyst’s Take Of The Biggest News And Experiences From The Show
This year, AWE 2022 returned to the Santa Clara Convention Center at its original time in early June. Last year’s event, held in November after being rescheduled, was the first time I was able to attend given past scheduling conflicts, and I was impressed by its wealth of XR news. This year’s show also did not disappoint, with a raft of dazzling announcements from many companies in the XR community, spanning headset companies, platforms and component vendors. Without further delay, here are some of the most notable announcements to come out of the show.
Last year, Qualcomm announced its Snapdragon Spaces at AWE 2021. This year, the company continued its momentum with the general public release of its Snapdragon Spaces developer kit, which includes the software platform and a Lenovo ThinkReality A3 headset reference device. In addition to the general availability of Snapdragon Spaces for developers, Qualcomm also announced its first cohort of companies participating in its Snapdragon Spaces Pathfinder Program. The 23-company cohort includes a broad range of enterprise AR companies, including Holo-Light, VictoryXR, Career, Arvizio and more. A surprisingly low number of gaming companies announced, which isn’t much of a surprise when you consider AR technology is still very much focused on the enterprise. However, that innovation in AR gaming will still be necessary for Snapdragon Spaces’s long-term success; hence Qualcomm’s partnership (announced at AWE) with Resolution Games and Square Enix for the development of AR games. I have seen what Pathfinder Program partner Interwoven Worlds is building, and I am excited to see that level of interaction and engagement in AR games from other companies. Qualcomm also announced that TRIPP and echo3D would be the first two recipients of venture funding from the $100 million Qualcomm Metaverse fund. TRIPP, for its part, announced at AWE 2022 that it raised another $11 million (including money from the Metaverse Fund).
While Lenovo wasn’t necessarily showing anything new at AWE 2022, it did get the opportunity to show some of the ThinkReality A3’s industry momentum; its headset was on display at four different booths, including its own. Additionally, Lenovo’s ThinkReality A3 and Motorola phone are still the de facto development platform for Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Spaces platform. As that platform goes to general availability, it should only help Lenovo gain additional market momentum. Lenovo’s presence at the show was felt, and the company continues to make strides with its ThinkReality platform and devices. I am recording a webinar with Lenovo and Qualcomm to talk about building the Enterprise Metaverse with Lenovo and Qualcomm’s technologies, so stay tuned for that in the coming week. I also moderated a webinar and wrote a whitepaper about the Lenovo ThinkReality A3 over on the VR/AR Association’s website.
XCOM Labs is a company that has been working quietly for the last few years on 5G technologies, as well as some XR wireless solutions that I wasn’t fully aware of until AWE 2022. While I was aware of XCOM Labs’ wireless AR and VR military training solutions, I had never gotten to experience them firsthand and see how they might fit into the industry landscape. XCOM Labs had a suite at the show where it gave demos of both AR and VR headsets using its wireless 60 GHz mmWave solution for split rendering on edge computers—in the same room but using standalone headsets. The AR volumetric captures and high-definition helicopter 3D model experience utilized Microsoft Hololens headsets with an attached XCOM Labs mmWave module to wirelessly stream the content from the PCs doing the rendering. At the same time, the VR experience leveraged HTC Vive Focus 3 headsets with the same XCOM Labs module to stream a high-fidelity VOID experience that leveraged hand tracking from Ultrahaptics to make the experience more engaging. XCOM Labs and The VOID also used heaters and fans to add to the immersion. Because The VOID and XCOM Labs have mostly decoupled the compute from the headset (it was a truly seamless experience), it can afford to upgrade the edge compute or the headsets as technology improves and won’t be tied to deficiencies in headset performance or resolution. Heck, there is even the possibility of centralizing the compute (with the help of fiber) so that a single data center could power many locations in roughly the same geographic area. This means that XCOM and The VOID’s LBE solution is headset agnostic, even though it seems as though it will launch with the same Vive Focus 3 that I experienced at AWE 2022.
An off-the-shelf consumer Wi-Fi solution could easily accomplish this for a single user and has for many Oculus Quest users; however, once you try to scale regular Wi-Fi with many users, it tends to fall apart. This is why 60 GHz is excellent—there’s a lot less interference from other bands, and it is in the unlicensed spectrum band. XCOM’s solution utilizes 2GHz wide channels across four channels and currently leverages Peraso’s WiGig chipsets (though it implements its own custom network stack for ultra-low single-digit latency and video compression). Each transmitter covers a roughly 30 x 30-foot area with 20 users and can be stacked to improve coverage. XCOM also uses OpenXR in its implementation, yet another major win for the standard, which showed considerable momentum at AWE 2022. XCOM Labs CEO Paul Jacobs also spoke about the company’s future roadmap and plans to help deploy Private 5G networks soon using OpenRAN with custom radios for real-time video and other applications. Jacobs also says that its cellular technologies are still in the lab, including its 5G system, base station and OpenRAN solution. It will be exciting to see where XCOM Labs goes, especially as unlicensed technologies like 60GHz get integrated into standards like 3GPP Rel.17.
This ability to scale is another reason why the announcement of XCOM’s partnership with The VOID makes so much sense. XCOM has signed an exclusivity agreement with The VOID to be its exclusive customer for LBE VR experiences, giving The VOID a unique technology advantage over its competitors like Sandbox VR and Zero Latency. The VOID quickly became one of the most well-known VR startups pre-pandemic and, unfortunately, became one of the pandemic’s victims. Since location-based VR requires people to visit a retail business location indoors with other people, the pandemic made it nearly impossible for The VOID to survive and the company effectively shut down. The new CEO of The VOID, backed by Hyper Reality Partners, is Adrian Steckel, former CEO of satellite startup OneWeb. XCOM is taking a 10% stake in The VOID and will have a board seat. Steckel also stated that the new iteration of The VOID would have larger locations, larger stages and longer experiences, with new VR experience centers that require approximately 35,000 sq. ft. He also said that the company is more interested in gaming IP than the pop culture and movie IP that initially made The VOID successful pre-pandemic. He also said that the new VOID experience would have levels and games, whereas the original model was more of a theme park ride. I can attest firsthand that the original VOID experience lacked in replayability, so this seems like a smart move to me to keep customers returning. Steckel also said that the company would explore fantasy Ips and in-house content leveraging dragons and dragon egg NFTs to create deeper engagement with users and keep them invested in the experience. He said that the company expects to have its first locations open by the end of 2023 or early 2024.
Magic Leap 2
I finally got a chance to try Magic Leap’s latest headset, the Magic Leap 2. The company had a sizeable presence at the show and arguably the busiest booth with the longest lines and heaviest traffic (though the company anticipated the crowds well, in my opinion). Many people walked away very impressed with what they had seen with the headset, including myself. The resolution and field of view were fantastic, and I no longer thought about the headset’s field-of-view. This was not the case with the Magic Leap 1, which had a very limiting field-of-view and buggy controller. The Magic Leap 2 also has a new controller with SLAM-based tracking, which eliminates the drifting and other precision issues of the first generation. Admittedly, I only spent about an hour with the headset, but I got to see many different demos of the headset’s capabilities including segmented dimming (though I missed eye-tracking). Segmented dimming is one of the most unique features of the Magic Leap 2 and I could totally see how developers could take advantage of it to adapt immersion and focus on virtual objects in the real world.
Magic Leap has pivoted away from secrecy and closed systems, instead embracing AOSP as the base of the operating system for the headset. Magic Leap’s VP of Product Marketing and Developer Relations, Lisa Watt,s said in a talk at AWE 2022 that Magic Leap 2 will be OpenXR conformant early next year, though OpenXR will be available to developers in the fall. She also reiterated the company’s commitment to open standards by also announcing that Vulkan and WebXR will also be supported this fall. I honestly see AWE 2022 as the rebirth of Magic Leap as an AR company with a much better product and mindset than the company had in the past. While there is still a long road ahead, I am much more optimistic about the company’s outlook than I was before the show.
Holographic displays aplenty
At the show, Sony showed off its Spatial Reality Display, a 15.6” $5,000 display for creators to prototype 3D objects in a glasses-free 3D environment. I got a chance to see it back in 2020 as a prototype at CES and as a product later that year, and it appears to have gained quite a bit of momentum and excitement since then. Sony also promoted its volumetric capture studio solution, still in the prototype phase. It would allow different content creators to record holographic videos and then display them on Sony’s Spatial Reality Display or any holographic 3D display. The company is unsure whether it wants to sell the entire solution or offer it as-a-service, but the idea is to lower the cost of volumetric video capture.
Leia also showed off its 15.6” 4K holographic display at the event with different types of content, including 3D games and movies. I believe the solution as a lot of promise, but, for now, it’s just the display. It’s worth noting that Leia uses an Intel RealSense camera for gaze tracking, meaning it is much more interested in selling the display technology as a component for someone else to integrate.
Looking Glass Factory
Speaking of holographic displays, Looking Glass Factory also had quite the presence at AWE with the announcement of its ‘Holograms on the Internet’ and ‘Big F*cking Holograms’ solutions. ‘Holograms on the Internet’ is a program that enables hologram-like experiences on roughly any type of display, whether or not it is capable of 3D. The underlying platform, Blocks, functions by rotating an image to create the parallax effect, giving an object depth. This technology leverages WebXR, making it inherently cross-platform, and it seems like it could, in The Verge’s words, become the 3D successor of GIFs. I also got to see the company’s larger and more high-resolution holographic displays in person, including the 4K 16″ prototyping display and the 8K 32″ presentation display. I even saw an impressive demo of of a jet engine with its different parts exploded outward with gestures powered by a Leap Motion controller. The company also announced a new 8K 65″ display designed for use with larger groups so that everyone can see the holograms from almost anywhere in the room.
RealWear and the Navigator 500
Since I didn’t attend CES 2022, I could not try RealWear’s latest assisted reality headset, the Navigator 500. However, in addition to trying out RealWear’s latest assisted reality device at AWE 2022, I was able to experience the headset with multiple real-world industrial and factory applications, making it much more real to me as an enterprise solution. It was very interesting to see how different ISVs integrated RealWear’s headset and platform into their services to maximize workers’ utility on the front lines. At the show, the company announced that it raised an additional $23.5 million in funding, bringing its total funding to $142 million. Immediately after the show, RealWear also announced that Ford would be deploying its HMT-1 assisted reality headset to 3,000 Ford dealers across the US in partnership with Tech Mahindra and TeamViewer. Ford’s testing of the HMT-1 found that it helped to reduce vehicle downtime, expedited technical assistance and was a much more effective way to connect with SMEs.
Misc announcements and observations
Campfire announced its Studio Console and Group Teleport, expanding its platform capabilities beyond its table-top experience and enabling room-scale holographic collaboration. Additionally, Open BCI announced that its $22,000 Galea headset would integrate into Varjo’s Aero headset using Varjo’s eye-tracking. When I went to Varjo’s booth, I missed the Open BCI team but got to see Varjo’s Reality Cloud in person, which was a great experience. I also got to try out the latest AR waveguides from Lumus and was impressed by the field of view, resolution and color accuracy. I also saw LetinAR’s latest pin-mirror AR display technology and I look forward to seeing where and how it can reduce the cost of AR glasses.
Snap announced a $140,000 Lensathon competition for 2022 at the event, and AWE announced its own $100,000 XR climate change challenge prize. $140K seems somewhat low for Snap if it is trying to incentivize creators to make more lenses, but the weirdest part is that Snap is giving away Spectacles 3 glasses to winners instead of its AR glasses. Pimax also announced its Crystal headset, which it intends to compete with Varjo’s prosumer Aero headset, but it remains to be seen if the headsets are genuinely comparable. Waveguide manufacturer Dispelix announced two partnerships, one with MicroLED manufacturer JBD and another with LBS (laser beam scanner) projector manufacturer TriLite. Microsoft also talked about its MRTK version 3.0, which looks like a major overhaul of the architecture that deepens its integration of OpenXR and makes it much more cross-platform, modular and scalable.
AWE 2022 was a great show, and it felt like it had grown significantly from the reduced capacity of AWE 2021. The biggest takeaways from the show for me were the prevalence and quality of 3D displays and how much the enterprise is still driving AR technologies. Located next door to each other at the event, Magic Leap and XCOM Labs both had really great showings and were the talk of the show. While there was a lot of curiosity and anxiety around what Apple might announce at WWDC, it ended up being a false alarm. That’s probably a good thing for the industry since companies won’t be as likely to rush products out to beat Apple to market. I will be following up this article with my thoughts on the state of XR and the metaverse now that AWE and WWDC are over—stay tuned.
Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article.
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