Dan Cui, Director of Business Development at VML, recaps AWE’s latest technologies and those yet to come at the world's largest spatial computing event.

The Augmented World Expo on June 18th in Long Beach, California showcased over 500 speakers across fifteen tracks on nine stages – highlighting how technology is being used to address everyday challenges and enhance the human condition. The tracks included AI, XR enablement, Apple Vision Pro, training, health, wellness, accessibility, retail and marketing, games and entertainment, enterprise, development, and more. This diverse lineup ensured there was something for everyone, from seasoned professionals to newcomers in the XR space, emphasizing practical solutions rather than technology for its own sake.

Many industry experts believe that 2024 is a breakout year for XR. The synergy between AI and XR is becoming increasingly apparent, with AI significantly enhancing XR capabilities to not only understand but predict next steps and outcomes. This fusion is driving innovation across various sectors, from healthcare to entertainment, making XR experiences more immersive and intuitive.

AWE 2024 was a hotspot for innovations across hardware, software and real-world applications of XR technology. Highlights included advancements in 3D displays, AI-powered displays, haptic feedback and optics. A wide assortment of software applications supporting all aspects of XR development, deployment, management and analytics was also showcased, demonstrating the multifaceted growth of the industry.

The conference featured an impressive roster of sponsoring companies, including Qualcomm, Snap, Meta, Niantic, Deloitte, Microsoft, Unity and many others. Their presence underscored the significance of AWE 2024 as a central hub for innovation and collaboration in the XR industry.

Apple Vision Pro

Apple Vision Pro 01

As expected, Apple Vision Pro took center stage among the many software vendors and development platforms. A dedicated workshop for developers, designers and product managers showcased the potential of Apple Vision Pro, with many attendees excited about Apple's plan to enable WebXR by default in the next software update. This move is expected to significantly broaden the scope of applications and use cases for the Vision Pro, making it a highly anticipated development in the XR community.

Google Gemini Integration

Google Gemini 01

One of the standout announcements at AWE 2024 was from DigiLens, a leading innovator in waveguide technology and XR headsets. DigiLens revealed the integration of Google Gemini into their Argo headset. Google Gemini, known for its advanced AI and machine learning capabilities, promises to bring a new level of intelligence and responsiveness to XR devices. The integration of Google Gemini into DigiLens’s Argo headset will enhance user experiences by providing more accurate contextual awareness and predictive capabilities. For example, in enterprise settings, the Argo headset can assist workers by anticipating their needs and providing real-time information, improving efficiency and safety. Other headset vendors are also looking to integrate Gemini into their product offerings.

XR Headsets

XR Headsets 01

The growth of new headsets continues to push the boundaries of XR technology. Many AR/XR glasses are not quite ready for everyday consumer use, but companies like Vuzix are leading the charge with fashionable, lightweight designs. However, optics still pose challenges, with issues like FOV, clarity and optical artifacts needing further refinement. Holoarc Technologies’ Arcone demoed its 16K (8K per eye) VR headset prototype, offering an impressive viewing experience with a promised price point of less than $500. Despite the excitement, industry leaders Vuzix and Vario opted for private meetings this year, possibly hinting at significant developments on the horizon.

Storytelling and Entertainment

Storytelling 01

Several companies, including Wilkins Avenue, showcased innovative approaches to storytelling through AR. Their project "Out There" is particularly groundbreaking, being the first musical created specifically for spatial computing AR, now featured on the Apple Vision Pro. Starring Emmy and Grammy nominee Vanessa Williams, "Out There" integrates narration, music and technology to craft an immersive and interactive storytelling experience. This project exemplifies how Wilkins Avenue AR is pushing the boundaries of immersive entertainment by blending the real and virtual worlds.

Other Key Announcements and Product Launches

AWE 2024 was not just about discussions and workshops – it also served as a launchpad for several exciting new products and technologies. Here are a few highlights:

Qualcomm announced that Snapdragon Spaces, its open mixed reality (XR) platform, will be forward-compatible with the upcoming XR platform built through collaboration with Google and Samsung.

Snap revealed it will use generative AI to create images on demand and integrate generative AI into developer tools.

Meta introduced the Lifestyle App Accelerator for developers to prototype new lifestyle applications with mixed reality. Selected partners will receive seed-stage funding, Meta product resources, and mentoring from Meta and VC partners.

Niantic launched Niantic Studio, a free visual interface for Niantic 8th Wall developers, offering an entirely new way to build immersive 3D and XR experiences.

Microsoft announced auto-generated avatars, an AI-powered solution that makes avatar creation more efficient and accurate, along with improvements to Mesh in Teams, including avatar emotes and a new immersive space tailored for workshops.

An Anniversary to Remember

Dan Cui and Tom Furness

Celebrating its 15th anniversary, AWE 2024 featured a remarkable exhibit of roughly 100 headsets, showcasing the evolution of XR technology from the late 1960s to today. I was honored to contribute 10 headsets to this exhibit, covering the late 1990s through 2012. Among these was the world’s first Android-based AR glasses, which my team and I conceived and developed. This groundbreaking device and patents were eventually acquired by Google and became part of the Google Glass effort. Other notable contributors to the exhibit included industry AR/VR leaders such as Palmer Luckey, creator of Oculus, and Tom Furness (pictured with me here, on right), known as the "Grandfather of VR."

AWE 2024 highlighted the transformative convergence of AR and AI within the XR industry. This year's event emphasized the critical role these technologies play in driving innovation and expanding the boundaries of what’s possible. The array of topics covered, from AI enhancements and enterprise solutions to entertainment and health applications, underscored the diverse and impactful uses of XR technologies.

The synergy between AR and AI was a standout theme, illustrating how intelligent systems are making XR experiences more interactive and predictive. For companies in the XR sector, participating in events like AWE 2024 is essential to remain competitive and at the cutting edge of technology. The conference emphasized the importance of staying engaged with rapid developments in the field and provided a platform for learning, networking and exploring the next generation of XR innovations.

For any organization committed to leading in this space, being part of such a dynamic event is crucial for fostering innovation and driving growth.

Dan Cui is Director of Business Development at VML. You can connect with him on LinkedIn here.

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