Six years ago, when CMO.com first attend Augmented World Expo (AWE), the event was heavy on flashy demos and confident predictions about how significant the technology would soon be in marketing. A coherent route forward, however, was less clear.
Fast forward to this year’s AWE, held May 31 to June 2 in Santa Clara, Calif. AWE was a showcase for how the augmented, mixed, and virtual reality industry has matured. (Quick guide: AR is generally a 2D overlay of information or visuals onto real-world objects, MR is the projection of 3D objects into real-world space, and VR is the creation of whole new environment.) Participants discussed ecosystems, standards, and even ethics, and several sessions were devoted to the technology’s potential throughout the enterprise. And, yes, there were lots of flashy demos across a show floor twice as big as last year’s.
Also a sign of the times: The fastest-growing segment of attendees was Fortune 500 companies looking for business solutions, according to organizer.
Here are some of the, dare we say, awe-inspiring highlights from the show, along with a handful of equally awesome photos.
‘We Need Friction For Growth’
One of the first presentations featured educational technologist and digital artist BC Biermann, founder of MR urban art group The Heavy Projects, and Jay Iorio, director of innovations for the IEEE Standards Association. They discussed the ethical issues raised by controlling people’s sensory input.
“Left to its own devices, the marketplace will provide what the customer wants, which is a more pleasant experience,” Iorio told AWE attendees. “People tend to remove friction from their lives, but we need friction for growth,” and that growth will be stunted when people can choose what experiences to expose themselves to even more than they can now.
In a follow-up conversation, Iorio said “the brain is easily fooled,” so ethical considerations need to be baked in from the start.
Meta Workspace, a new AR operating system, makes it possible to use your hands to interact with an AR virtual object.
The concern for social good also was raised by the “Women in AR” panel, moderated by Jodi Schiller, founder of AR marketing company New Reality ARts. Schiller argued that diversity in the industry is important not just for social value, but for financial reasons as well. “I can approach marketing executives and say, ‘Most of your customers are women, and our women developers will know how to speak to them,’” she said.
Several presenters addressed how to encourage or support adoption of the technology by enterprises. In one session, “AR: Crossing the Chasm,” Dan Cui, CMO of eMagin’s head-mounted display division, said that companies need to focus on end-use models, not on technology.
“People don’t buy technology; Apple taught us that,” he said. “People—and enterprises—buy because it makes their lives better.” What’s needed for adoption to take off, he continued, is standards and partnerships that can build a complete AR ecosystem, not just individual products.
The DAQRI Smart Helmet provides AR data visualization, work instructions, and more overlaid on a real-world environment.
In a panel discussion on “Bringing AR to Scale in the Enterprise,” Brian Mullins, CEO of AR device vendor Daqri; Neil Hand, Dell’s VP of innovation, and Jesper Christiansen, director of IBM’s Digital Twin IoT initiative, addressed similar issues of use cases and the need for ecosystems of products. “In order for AR to scale, we have to ask, ‘How do we make sure it’s addressing the right problems?’” Mullins said.
When asked about the most suitable use cases for the adoption of AR, Mullins nominated field service engineers, who can have the service information they need at hand, on site, eliminating the need for an extra service call.
Mullins’ viewpoint was echoed by Andy Lowery, CEO of hands-free tablet maker RealWear, in a session about “The Road to Industrial Immersive AR: Crossing the Chasm. Lowery advised: “Don’t look for where you can use AR, but for where you need help.”
AR In Marketing
Unsurprisingly, several exhibitors and sessions focused on the role of AR and VR in marketing. Brands are embracing VR, which will lead to “new ways of buying things,” said Rikard Steiber, president of VR app store Viveport & SVP of virtual reality for HTC Vive. He suggested that the Ikea catalog might one day have a VR component.
The University of California, Davis, set up an education-oriented AR sandbox, on which geographic contour lines and height-sensitive colors were projected and changed as visitors moved the sand around.
In a session called “Intelligent Augmented Reality—The Coming AR+AI Revolution,” Parham Aarabi, CEO of “virtual makeover” technology ModiFace, pinpointed two elements of AR and VR that make an impact for brands: customization and realism. Aarabi demonstrated some of the tools ModiFace has built for customers including Smashbox and Sephora, whose websites let customers “try on” makeup on their own photos or video. For Sephora, ModiFace is working on a tool that will enable customers to scan any photo, such as one of a model or celebrity, and apply the makeup from the person in the photo to the customer’s live video. The tool will also suggest the Sephora products needed to get the same look.
Aarabi pointed out that not only do such tools have the potential for increasing sales, but they also provide the company with extensive data about what looks customers are attracted to or the kinds of products they’re interested in.
Speaking of data, 40% of consumers would be willing to pay more for a product if they could experience it through AR first, and 71% would shop at a retailer more often if it offered AR, according to Martin Herdina, CEO of AR SDK provider Wikitude, in a separate presentation about “How AR Creates Real Value in Retail.” Herdina cited examples of AR’s use in both in-home and in-store shopping. Canadian Tire, for example uses AR in its catalog to help customers in the early research stage. As for in-store possibilities, he mentioned the “try-it-on” experience that is the goal of the AR startup PeekPerks.
During the same presentation, Walmart systems analyst Steven Lewis described how the retailer has been experimenting with AR for picking and stocking products. He showed how, using a camera along with store layout data, employees could use virtual images of items on a shelf to see where to put them. His group is working on proofs of concept so far, but, Lewis said, even cutting a small amount of time off the restocking process, spread over Walmart’s huge number of stores and employees, could save the company millions of dollars.
Microsoft’s HoloLens lets users see 3D images in real-world space—what Microsoft has termed “mixed reality.”
Finally, David Marimon, CEO and co-founder of Catchoom, an image-recognition and AR provider, said retailers should prepare to use AR to capitalize on each stage of the customer journey. Citing various surveys and research firms during a presentation about “Augmented Reality: the Next Big Shift in Retail Experiences,” Marimon said that 71% of shoppers want to use AR to see a product in alternate styles or colors. Using AR to let customers see how products will look in their homes has resulted in a 25% boost in sales and a 10-minute increase in time spent on the site for shopping platform Apollo Box, he said.
Others, Marimon added, have found that 33% of shoppers spend more if digital is part of their shopping experience. He predicted that 100 million consumers will be engaged in immersive shopping experiences by 2020.
Top photo: Icaros combines a fitness platform and a VR headset to let attendees feel like they’re flying.