It was an honor to work closely with USA Today reporter Marco Della Cava on this profile story covering our client, Augmented World Expo – a fast-growing, cutting-edge event kicking off its fifth annual show today.
Augmented world takes center stage at expo
Augmented World Expo kicks off here Wednesday with some 200 exhibitors of virtual reality-focused tech, a doubling in size over last year that highlights the growing ubiquity of such gadgets and software.
“The biggest trend is the technology’s evolution from gimmick to value,” says organizer Ori Inbar, who points specifically to wearable tech’s promising hands-free impact on surgery, training and gaming. “Our interface with computers is going from the mouse to the touchscreen to gestures in three-dimensional space.”
A visit with some of the exhibitors as they set up reveals a range of tech that often makes Google Glass look quaint.
Epson is showcasing its second-generation Moverio BT-200 3D glasses ($699) by using Scope software that takes you through building a Lego helicopter with virtual instructions. Canada-based Thalmic is showing off its Myo ($149) forearm strap, which can be programmed to translate specific hand gestures into VR actions.
“With almost any augmented reality device, you need your hands free,” says Thalmic’s Alex McCallum, turning a Jimi Hendrix song up on his iPad by rotating his hand in space. “We’re heading for a new phase of input devices.”
Munich-based Metaio is looking five years down the road with its prototype of a tablet PC mounted with a thermal camera: the combination aims to turn any surface into a virtual-reality touchpad based on the heat coming off your fingertips.
“This technology can help (wearable) headsets become a mass product,” says Metaio U.S. marketing chief Trak Lord. “The key to launching digital information is touching it. With this, the world will become your touchscreen.”
On the more playful side are companies such as BitGym. It already offers a subscription-based app ($7.99 a month) that aims to make machine-based workouts more fun by bringing you onto some of the world’s most beautiful trails via video. But this summer the Berkeley-based company aims to add virtual features that include avatars of friends using the same trail and gaming incentives.
“Augmented reality allows us to create an immersive exercise experience,” says BitGym CEO Jean Michel Fournier. “The closer we can bring you to being on a real hike or run, the more engaged you’ll be with the workout.”
Among other AWE highlights:
— Pantomime 3D is gleefully demoing an ingenious bit of software that brings the user into a gaming world that’s overlaid onto the real space seen by your tablet’s built-in camera. “It’s augmented reality for the rest of us, because you don’t need a headset,” says David Levitt, co-founder of the Sebastopol, Calif., company, as he bats around a virtual ball with subtle flicks of his wrist.
— Occipital’s 3D Structure Sensor ($349, available for pre-order) attaches to the back of an iPad and, using its own battery source, takes in information as you circle an object or person. Wait a few seconds and suddenly there’s a 3D version of that object, “ready to be sent to a 3D printer or into a game,” says marketing director Adam Rodnitzky.
— Dima Kislovskiy, founder of New York-based Augary, fires up a laptop to show off driving data-collection software that he hopes will lead to safer streets. “Whether its in eyewear or projected onto our windshields, information wants to be in front of us not a glance away,” he says, showing a demo of a driver whose navigation system amounts to bright blue lines hovering at the top of his windscreen. “We’re starting with a virtual map of Manhattan and we’ll go from there.”
— The automotive space also is a fertile one for the folks at SoftKinetic. The company’s gesture-sensing software guts are already in games such as Sony’s PlayStation 4, and they’re currently working with Delphi Electronics to embed cameras into the interior fabric lining of the ceiling of future-generation cars.
Why? “Imagine you can skip to the next song by simply waving your hand, or your kids in the back seats can control their entertainment systems the same way,” says Mike Nichols, vice president of content and applications. “Soon, our cars will know who you are and what you like to do just by getting in the car.”