Why Augmented Reality and Collaboration Make for a Safer and Better World

Augmented Reality (AR)-enabled systems show a mechanic how to repair an engine, or perhaps in the future will guide an inexperienced surgeon in a delicate heart operation. In my opinion, it’s when AR is combined with human collaboration that the magic begins. AR will soon work its way into a variety of applications that are bound to improve our lives, but more importantly, I am convinced it’s to become a catalyst for greater human understanding and world peace.

Augmented Reality Can Bring Us Closer

Everyone’s heart raced when Jake Sculley, the wheel chair-bound Marine in the movie Avatar, first connected his thoughts to those of his avatar, walked and then ran. His mission was to infiltrate the society of the natives, learn their customs and, having gathered that information help destroy their world. Of course, we all know how the story ends…It’s difficult to do harm to those we know. The first step in Hitler’s campaign to eliminate those he considered unworthy was to convince his followers that the others were less than human. In fact, this is a universal technique involved in incitement to violence against another group. It is only when we finally get to know someone that, even if we don’t agree, we can begin to understand and care about them.

Sharing Experiences

AR allows a user to see an enhanced view of reality, placing graphic images and 3D models over the real background. This will be great for building and repairing things by ourselves, but when we combine that capability with modern telecommunications, remote users will be able to participate in those processes with local users in real time, and appear to the wearer of the glasses as if standing alongside them. We won’t just see our grandkids in a Skype screen; we will take them with us on new adventures around the world or in our backyard. An astronaut in space will literally see the hand of the equipment specialist on earth pointing to the board to be replaced as they speak.

Gutenberg changed the world because the printed page could easily display the manuals that apprentices used for learning the trades that freed them from the fields. Radio and then television added sound, motion and recently 3D to the flood of information. Telecommunications has brought the cost of distributing it to practically zero. Now AR combines these capabilities and creates an infinite number of parallel worlds that you may create and visit, as well as acquire skills in from one-on-one instruction. It’s the closest thing to teleportation this side of Star Trek.

Non-verbal communication is said to account for between 55 and 97% (depending on the study) of communication between people. AR will provide practically the same information due to its enabling of “belly to belly” proximity. You will be able to virtually sit in a conference room and interact with other remote participants, watch a theater performance in your living room or tag along with a friend on an exotic trip to a foreign land. That friend will be able to see you, too.

New Ways of Displaying Information

Talk about disruptive. This is downright neutron bomb material. Why do you need a laptop or tablet when you see the screen suspended in mid-air, with the glasses projecting a keyboard on any surface? Gone are large-screen TVs, when everyone sat stationary watching the game from the same angle. Why wouldn’t they prefer it in perfect 3D? Forget glass cockpits in airplanes; why not have all the instruments projected in your field of view? How about infrared images of deer or pedestrians in fog or at night shown on the windshield of your car, to avoid hitting them in time?

Augmented Reality and Collaboration

But, again collaboration use cases will take the cake. The level of empathetic bonding that occurs when you’re in the room with another person will make current social messaging seem like sending smoke signals. Professionals in other countries will virtually know you and work together on projects as I am proposing using the Talent Swarm platform. Along with such proximity-enabled work will come a better understanding of other countries and cultures.

Collaboration is key, but it can’t happen at scale if everyone needs to buy and use exactly the same hardware and software. Collaboration across networks and companies as diverse as the places where humans live and work builds upon deep interoperability. Interoperability with existing and future systems will require a globally agreed-upon set of open standards. We will work within the AREA to strongly advocate for interoperable systems and push for global standards together with other AREA members. Once we have collaborative AR platforms, the benefits of this technology will rapidly serve all people of the world. Becoming an AREA founding sponsor member is, for Talent Swarm, not only common sense, but putting a stake in the ground, demonstrating our leadership for a more productive and peaceful world. We will avoid embarking on another wasteful battle such as VHS vs. Beta, nor allow a single company to reduce the opportunities or lock others out. Christine Perey, Executive Director of AREA, refers to it as our mandate: to ensure that an ecosystem of AR component and solution providers is in harmony with the customers’ needs, and able to deliver the diversity and innovation upon which economic success is based.

Path to the Future

With a concerted group goal centered on the advancement of AR, and with many technological developments both in the works and being introduced at an increasingly fast pace, we will one day look back to 2015 and say, how did we ever get along without Augmented Reality?

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.