Augmented Reality at CES 2015 is Better and Bigger Than Ever

There’s something for everyone at CES. Do you need a way to store your earbuds so the cables aren’t tangled? What about printing icing on a cake?

Roger Kay, a technology analyst who writes for Forbes, recommends breaking up the event into ten parts. It’s not about the horrendous taxi lines or other logistical issues of dealing with so many people in a relatively small area. I walk everywhere I go. I leisurely covered twenty-four miles on the flat Las Vegas ground in four days; there are buses to and from the airport. Kay wants his topics served out in concentrated exhibition floor zones.

Like for Kay, many of CES’ themes lie outside my areas of interest and despite the headaches caused by the crowds, having the option to see and sample the developments in a variety of fields is one of the reasons I return each year.

Finding what I need to see isn’t a matter I treat lightly. A month before heading to Las Vegas I begin planning my assault because the CEA’s web site is horrendously inefficient and their new mobile app pathetic. Using brute force, I locate all the providers of head-mounted personal displays, the providers of hardware that is or could be AR enabling, and the “pure” AR firms with whom I already have relationships. I also plan a long, slow visit through the innovation zones, such as Eureka Park. I know another half day will be dedicated to Intel, Samsung, Sony, LG Electronics and Qualcomm. Then I search for outliers by name.

A few days prior to the event I begin following the news feeds on social media and technology trade blogs. While there, I also scan the headlines for surprises. 

Highlights of my CES 2015

For reasons that don’t have to do with Google Glass, vendors are making good progress in the personal display space.  The first reason is that more companies are experimenting with new combinations of familiar technology components, particularly with hardware. Optinvent is recombining their optical technology with a set of headphones. Seebright is adding a remote control to your smartphone. Technical Illusions is combining reflector technology and projectors with new optics. It’s like gene mixing to produce new capabilities and life forms.

Vuzix demonstrated the new waveguide technology in their optical see-through personal displays for Augmented Reality.

Vuzix demonstrated the new waveguide technology in their optical see-through personal displays for Augmented Reality.

That’s not to say that designs for the “traditional” optical see-through display form factor are standing still. Getting new investments, such as Vuzix received from Intel, is a major accelerator. ODG’s sales of patents to Microsoft in 2014 produced sufficient revenues for the company to develop a new model of their device targeting consumers.

The second reason for the significant advances in the personal display product category is the evolution of components. I saw firsthand in many exhibits, the “familiar” components these displays are must include, such as motion and other sensors, eye tracking kits and optics. All are rapidly improving. For these components, “improving” means smaller size packaging and lower power consumption. 

It was good to focus—if only briefly—on the familiar faces of AREA members such as APX Labs and NGRAIN who were participating in the Epson developer ecosystem booth, and to see the latest Epson products, which seems to be increasingly popular in enterprise. I found APX again in the Sony SmartEyewear zone, where I was able to try on the Sony prototype. I also caught up with executives and saw impressive new AR demonstrations by companies whom I don’t often see attending my events. If you’re interested, I encourage you to click on these links to learn about MetaInfinityAR, Occipital, ScopeAR, Technical Illusions, LYTE, XOeye Technologies, FOVE, Jins Company, Elvision Technologies, Avegant  and Augumenta. I’m sorry if I neglected to include others that I saw at CES.

Although they were around and showing AR or AR-enabling technologies, and we may have crossed paths unknowingly, I didn’t have a chance to meet with Metaio, Lumus, Lemoptix or Leap Motion.

I spent more time than expected visiting and observing the booths of Virtual Reality headset providers who were at CES. There were several exhibition zones dedicated to Oculus VR, with the new Cresent Bay device.  The lines waiting to try on the new Razer OSVR (Open Source VR) system were stunningly long. It amazes me that a small company like Sulon could afford such a huge footprint in South Hall to set up private briefing rooms for its Cortex display for AR and VR, and yet exhibit openly outside.

Elsewhere there were hordes swarming at the Samsung Gear VR and the Sony Project Morpheus zones. What good are all these headsets without content? I stopped in at JauntVR, which seems to be getting a lot of attention these days. I’m sure there were dozens more showing VR development software, but VR is peripheral to my focus.

I was impressed by the NVIDIA booth’s focus on Advanced Driver Assistance Systems this year, demonstrating real time processing of six video feeds simultaneously on the Tegra K1 Visual Computing Module. There were also excellent demonstrations of enterprise use of AR in the Hewlett Packard exhibit. Intel dedicated a very significant portion of its footprint to Real Sense. And, similarly, the Vuforia zone in Qualcomm’s booth has expanded by comparison to 2014. The IEEE Standards Association offered an AR demonstration to engage people about their work.

Automotive companies were also showing Augmented Reality. I saw examples in the BMW pavilion, in Daimler’s area, the Bosch booth, and Hyundai’s prototype cars.

At the other end of the spectrum there were many exciting new products in the pico projector category. MicroVision and Celluon were both showing HD pico projectors for use with smartphones; such technology will certainly be considered for projection AR in enterprise. ZTE and Texas Instruments also introduced their latest pico projector models at CES 2015.

Digging in Deeper

Although no longer in Las Vegas and despite my careful advance planning, I continued with my CES homework for at least a week. For example, I watched the archive of the “New Realities” panel and played back other videos that cover AR and VR at CES on CNET, Engadget, Tested and Financial Times

The IEEE published an analysis of AR at CES in Spectrum that reaches the same conclusion I drew:  the “C” in CES is for Consumer but a lot of consumer technology is going into corporate IT.

I hope I will have digested all that I gathered at CES 2015 before I begin preparations for 2016.

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