Joining the XR Hivemind in Silicon Valley
What does a first-time visitor to AWE (Augmented World Expo) think about the XR industry’s annual Silicon Valley soiree? It’s Rachael McGowan’s debut at AWE, the event where people in XR come to connect, play and get inspired. It is three days of announcements, showcases, talks and celebrations in the community, where you become, er, immersed in immersive tech.
Draw & Code are no strangers to the wonders of AWE but it was my turn to travel across The Pond to experience it for myself for the first time, in person, without living vicariously through the digital updates and streams, and AWE did not disappoint.
Day one started strong with a diverse range of talks, my favourites dealt with what brands use AR for. It was an odd arrangement on the first day with only part of the show open, but that included the appropriately yellow Snap AR lounge. The part of the lounge creating the most buzz (and smiles) featured demos of their AR tech we’re so familiar with on our mobile devices powering full-length mirrors that dressed you in virtual clothing try-ons.
The potential for AR to weave its way into different parts of our lives and to take on many forms was evident with people testing out Spectacles, magic mirrors and using Snap’s technology on touch-screen devices. This indulgent and expansive haven away from the main showfloor highlighted how the same AR tech can expand far beyond the self-expressions of the Snapchat app.
This year we had a presence on the richly-coloured Dolby.io stand, showing off our VR demo that used their real-time streaming technology. Designed for the Meta Quest Pro VR headset, our demo had been built using Unity and Move.ai’s motion capture tech to transfer live music and stage performance into virtual worlds. We had previously showcased the demo as part of Dolby House at SXSW and were delighted to team up with them again for AWE.
During the second day of the event, the full showfloor opened for the longest day of the three, but even with so many innovations on display, many people’s minds were elsewhere. Earlier that morning Meta, who had a stand next to Dolby.io, had revealed the Meta Quest 3. This announcement appeared to not be across all their channels and was snuck out at 8am local time. It was bizarre and appeared to be a counter not only to all the news emanating from AWE, but also a defensive move ahead of Apple’s impending Vision Pro reveal.
As expected, there was plenty of anticipation about Apple’s arrival into the XR space. With the behemoth’s history of solidifying their products as leaders in their markets, it’s no wonder that attendees were eagerly contemplating what Apple’s reveal would mean to our industry.
Amongst a hall of hardware connoisseurs and software alchemists, the scope of what Apple’s headset would cover was hotly debated. You can read about Draw & Code’s initial thoughts on Apple’s Vision Pro headset here.
Finding Out What Brands Use AR and How
As the exhibition hall opened for people to get hands-on with demos and face-to-face with their peers, there were a few stand-outs. The recent NReal to XREAL rebrand was a welcome colourful addition to the exhibition hall, showing off the new XREAL Beam, an accessory helping their mission to bring spatial displays to all devices.
Niantic had their own space away from the main exhibition hall in their Niantic Lounge, showing how they’re sticking to their mission of getting people out of their homes and interacting with others through AR. Like Snap and Dolby.io’s approach of putting real creative and commercial uses of their technology centre stage, Niantic and 8th Wall had some good demos to help show what brands use AR for. I
n one demo, Wol, an AI-empowered owl, ushers you through your space as it’s transformed into redwood forest through either AR or VR and shows how AI can add an extra dimension to mixed reality experiences by getting voice and sound more actively involved.
Metaverse may have been the buzzword last year, but AI and its integrations and implementations in how we work in XR was ever-present across the event this year, and it was interesting to see how AR can use it for further user exploration rather than for more creative, technical or production outputs.
The shared ideal across AWE is that people want to create content that enhances people’s connection with their environment and how they engage with other people, and are passionate about doing that. The crowds of tech romantics, daydreamers, visionaries and even pragmatics that gather at AWE is inspiring. This shared alliance to move the community forward is a breath of fresh air.
The collaborative efforts it takes to build and put together what we’re all passionate about is evident, and part of a more refined discussion this year was the impact that AI will have on this. In an industry that relies on a wealth of skills and wide-scope problem solving and experimentation, it’s interesting how this collaborative approach extended into the use and integration of AI.
Coca Cola’s Benny Lee gave a talk on ‘Designing Digital Experiences at Coca-Cola’ and shared how they approach AI as amplified intelligence; it can influence and change how we work as we know it, but as the change in work methods we adopt is inevitable, it’s not your product or service you’re offering that is different, it’s how you change the story around it.
Perhaps the most interesting and fun aspect of AWE is speaking to the plethora of people who love and are excited about our industry. The XR hivemind of creatives, innovators, artists and developers come together to share not only what the tech can do for them but more importantly, how the tech can help other people and ultimately move spatial computing and XR possibilities forward.