Interview: AWE Founder and SuperVentures Partner Ori Inbar on ARKit, ARCloud and AWE

On October 19th and 20th, the Augmented World Expo (AWE) will come to Munich for the first time (second time in Europe). We talked with Ori Inbar, the founder of the AWE, about the influ­ences from Apple and Google, his ideas around an AR Cloud and of course, about what we can expect at the AWE event.

WHO IS ORI INBAR?

Ori Inbar is the Co-Founder and CEO of Augmented Reality.ORG, a global non-for-profit orga­ni­za­tion dedi­cated to advan­cing augmented reality (AR), and the producer of Augmented World Expo — the world’s largest event dedi­cated exclu­si­vely to the AR industry. Ori is also the founder of Super Ventures a fund dedi­cated to early stage AR startups.

ARKIT, ARCORE, ARCLOUD — WHAT’S NEXT?

Dirk Schart: What do you see as the most important drivers for AR at the moment? Is it more the hard­ware, soft­ware or a mixture?

Ori Inbar: As you know, I´ve been involved in the AR industry for a decade now and this year really feels like one of the most inte­res­ting ones. On the one hand, you see the smart glasses market matu­ring with serious corpo­ra­tions imple­men­ting smart­glasses solu­tions to improve their busi­nesses — showing where the whole industry could go. And at the same time — what may be the most inte­res­ting thing this year — is that the big players have jumped in, giving a lot of energy to ever­yone in the industry as well as to many newcomers.

It started with Snap­chat popu­la­ri­zing AR some­time last year and then this year came major announ­ce­ments from Face­book, Apple, and Google who all created actual AR plat­forms deli­vered through their chan­nels and products, both hard­ware and soft­ware, which comple­tely changed the game. First of all, now ever­y­body has at least heard about AR, which you could never have said until this year. I think this is the biggest step forward because now you have inves­tors, startups, and corpo­ra­tions star­ting to look at AR and put time and money into it. That´s a huge game changer.

Dirk Schart: You mentioned the big players Apple, Google and Face­book with their announ­ce­ments. While Face­book didn’t cause a lot of reac­tions amongst deve­l­o­pers, Apple and Google reached thousands of users in a very short time. Never­theless, Apple’s event around the new iPhone disap­pointed many people. What was your impression?

Ori Inbar: Their first announ­ce­ment of ARKit at WWDC (two weeks after AWE 2017), was probably the best AR industry announ­ce­ment… ever. So it built up a lot of expec­ta­tions. It kind of signaled that Apple is serious about AR and we were all hoping that it will be reflected in their next hard­ware release, the iPhone X. My first disap­point­ment was that they didn´t put a depth camera on the back of the phone. That was a real oppor­tu­nity to put AR mapping device into the hands of millions of people. One of the missing ingre­dients for taking AR to the next level was mapping the world in 3D. Well, we got the depth camera on the front, which is not too bad and takes the face filters from Snap­chat and Face­book to new spheres. It is cool but still disappointing.

The other part was the demos. I heard rumors around a whole lineup of AR appli­ca­tions that will be demoed at the event. Anything from prac­tical utility-like appli­ca­tions to enter­tain­ment and game-like expe­ri­ences. The expec­ta­tions were high; at least in the AR industry. They only showed a table game by DIrec­tive. It was well made with amazing graphics and ever­y­thing, but we saw a very similar game from Georgia tech in 2009. I think it was for Nvidia Tegra phone. In that sense, it wasn’t as jaw-dropping as we were hoping it to be. Many industry folks were saying it was on purpose; maybe they want to down­play it a little bit. One thing that Apple doesn’t want to do is hype some­thing before it is out there yet. They created the ARKit which is a great tool and channel for many deve­l­o­pers. But it´s now in the hands of deve­l­o­pers to create some­thing great. Apple doesn’t want to over­pro­mise this.

Dirk Schart: Going from the ARKit, ARCore to The AR Cloud. You wrote a very inte­res­ting article about the ARCloud, it would be cool to say a couple words about it and why you brought that topic up.

Ori Inbar: The ARKit and ARCore are probably the best thing that happened to the AR industry, but they´re not going to be suffi­cient to popu­la­rize AR so that ever­y­body uses it every day for ever­y­thing. With ARKit we saw a growing collec­tion of cool Youtube videos. People really got excited about AR because it looks cool on video. It a simple way to add special effects to the real world. But sharing a video of an AR expe­ri­ence is not the same as sharing the actual AR expe­ri­ence. To be able to share an AR expe­ri­ence, it is not enough to have ARKit. ARKit and ARCore do not allow multiple simul­ta­neous players, they do not allow to share AR expe­ri­ences in real time or even remo­tely. It´s a bit lonely to use an ARKit App — I wrote, kind of jokingly, that it is similar to the internet in 1996 where you were surfing the web on your own with no friends and no one to colla­bo­rate with. This repres­ents a big oppor­tu­nity for startups already opera­ting in this field. Buil­ding the next layers on top of AR kit and AR Core that would enable colla­bo­ra­ting and sharing in AR could be much more lucra­tive and valu­able to a startup, not to mention the deve­l­o­pers buil­ding content and appli­ca­tions on top of these layers. And that´s what I call The AR Cloud. Diffe­rent people see it in diffe­rent ways. It´s the future infra­st­ruc­ture for all AR and even VR in many ways. So that´s why I decided to write that piece.

Dirk Schart: You consider the shared expe­ri­ences as an important part for AR?

Ori Inbar: Abso­lutely. We´ve seen that time and time again. The killer capa­bi­lity of the internet is commu­ni­ca­tion and colla­bo­ra­tion. There´s no doubt about it. And the same rule applies to AR. AR is really about colla­bo­ra­ting. Colla­bo­ra­tion opens up a whole new set of oppor­tu­nities that let people use AR on a day to day basis. If you look at smart­glasses, the number one feature that most compa­nies are asking for is remote assi­s­tance. A colla­bo­ra­tion use case. From an AR perspec­tive, it is tech­ni­cally simple but that colla­bo­ra­tion is really what justi­fies corpo­ra­tions to invest in smart­glasses. I think it´s another proof point that colla­bo­ra­tion and sharing expe­ri­ences will drive mass adoption.

Dirk Schart: So how is “The AR Cloud” diffe­rent from remote assi­s­tance and other cloud-based appli­ca­tions we are seeing in AR?

Ori Inbar: Not ever­y­thing AR that is in the cloud is really The AR Cloud. I mentioned in the article that there are a bunch of great AR compa­nies that started to put some infor­ma­tion into the cloud since 2008. But what we mean with The AR Cloud, is really 3 things: One is the ability to create a 3D map of the world — which I would call the “soft copy of the world”. Two is the loca­lizer. The ability to just point your smartphone’s camera on any device anywhere and have a system that under­stands where you are. The loca­lizer indi­cates the camera pose so you can posi­tion 3D content in that scene in a realistic way. And there is the ability to put content on the 3D map in real time on any device (as well as remo­tely) so that people can colla­bo­rate and see the same 3D content in the same scene. The idea is that a variety of valu­able services will be built on top of it. To a certain degree, remote assi­s­tance services will probably be one of the essen­tial services to be built on it and to take advan­tage of that infra­st­ruc­ture. Today it doesn´t exist yet. What you guys are doing at RE’FLEKT is a great step towards that. And once the AR Cloud is in place, these services will become even more valuable.

Dirk Schart: You mentioned that Apple missed the chance to fit the iPhone X with a depth sensor. Google’s Tango phones with depth cameras are not successful. How long will it take us to get there?

Ori Inbar: Yeah, I think The full vision of the AR Cloud is still a few years away. And that´s why it gives an oppor­tu­nity for a startup to be a first mover and prove this concept. Either to create the next Google-size company or maybe get acquired by one of the big players. Google probably has most of the pieces of this puzzle already in place; from the work they put into Tango, probably the best 3D maps of the world, Stre­et­view, and the auto­no­mous cars project. And recently they announced the VPS, the visual posi­tio­ning system, which is going that direc­tion. But between having these capa­bi­li­ties and actually offe­ring a full AR Cloud service and inves­ting the time, effort and money into this, there´s a long way. It´s hard to believe, but Tango was announced in 2012 and still, it’s in its infancy. Only this year we saw the first smart­phones using that technology.

Dirk Schart: Talking about the oppor­tu­nities: Besides what you mentioned, where do you see the oppor­tu­nities in the enter­prise sector? What´s coming next there?

Ori Inbar: First, it´s really fasci­na­ting how the evolu­tion of the AR industry took place in the past few years. It started like VR in 2015 where gamers jumped all over it and thought it was going to be the next best plat­form for games, gimmicks, and adver­ti­sing. Pretty quickly it shifted towards enter­prise and it became clear that large corpo­ra­tions are much more open with their pocket­books to invest and expe­ri­ment with tech­no­lo­gies that promise to improve their busi­nesses, help save money, improve effi­ci­ency, save lives and so on. I think the first few startups that shifted direc­tions towards enter­prise are gene­rally more successful than their peers in this industry. That pivot started around 4 or 5 years ago and now it´s reaching its best state so far.

I´ve been follo­wing fortune 1000 compa­nies adopting AR and in 2015 have seen a lot of pilot projects. In 2016 I started to see more signi­fi­cant imple­men­ta­tions with studies showing real ROI by quan­ti­fying how it really helps busi­nesses. There were some really good studies. It was still only among fortune 1000 pioneers. But In 2017, thanks to these studies, those pioneers are star­ting to imple­ment AR in a larger scale. They have internal teams working on it. Every fortune 1000 company that respects itself has its own inno­va­tion lab with AR and VR. Espe­ci­ally in auto­mo­tive, manu­fac­tu­ring, field services, and large retailers. This year we are tran­si­tio­ning into signi­fi­cant imple­men­ta­tions, probably touching hund­reds of people within an enterprise.

AWE COMING TO MUNICH

Dirk Schart: Many of those things we discussed from ARKit, ARCore, to enter­prise, to remote is what we will see at AWE on October 19 and 20. Can you tell us a little bit about how is it going with the planning?

Ori Inbar: I am really excited for this second year of AWE in Europe. As you know, we have been running this event for 8 years now in the US. It´s fasci­na­ting to see it evolve from a couple of hundred people in a room, mostly insi­ders that no one else under­stands what they are doing, to the point where it is reaching 200 exhi­bi­tors and almost 5000 atten­dees. We like to believe AWE is helping acce­le­rate this industry. In the past two years, we started to have a presence in Europe in a similar way to the US and we see the same level of exci­te­ment, the same level of inte­rest and adop­tion but it has its own flavor in Europe.

I think on one the hand there is a stronger focus on the enter­prise than in the US, maybe a bit less focus on enter­tain­ment, gaming and advertising-oriented. That may be a reflec­tion of the fact that Europe and espe­ci­ally Germany where many of the startups, as well as the compa­nies adopting AR, tend to be, are typi­cally more critical in the way they look at IT. That´s one of the reasons but I am also plea­s­antly surprised to see how much crea­ti­vity and crea­tors are joining AWE. Brin­ging those two worlds toge­ther is really a huge achie­ve­ment for me because that´s where the inte­res­ting things happen. The magic happens. When the people working on the enter­prise side get inspired with new ideas and new approa­ches from the crea­tors because ever­yone is a story­teller at the end of the day. And crea­tors get to see how their work can impact the real world.

Dirk Schart: It seems you’re happy with the growth of the AWE Europe so far.

Ori Inbar: Abso­lutely. This event is going to double in size compared to last year which I think is a nice growth. Also in terms of the expo, we have almost doubled the number from last year and have really a great collec­tion of exhi­bi­tors. Some of the most important players from Europe as well as some from all over the world. By the way: we have repre­sen­ta­tion from over 40 coun­tries in Europe already on board and I think it´s going to reach one hundred speakers. And again, many of those speakers are actually repre­sen­ta­tives from Fortune 1000 compa­nies telling how they are adopting AR. Another good proof point of what we can expect in the AR industry. It is looking great.

We also like our choice of Munich. Both in terms of the number of the compa­nies from around here that are presen­ting as well as compa­nies atten­ding. Munich is a fantastic city. We see Silicon Valley-type growth happe­ning here, so I am excited AWE is coming to Munich.

Dirk Schart:
Last question: What is your personal highlight?

Ori Inbar:
It´s always hard to pick my highlight because it´s like choosing who I like best among my children. When I look at my evolution in the AR industry starting as an entrepreneur, ecosystem builder and recently as an investor connecting startups to investors, I am really looking forward to the interaction between startups and investor at the event. We have a new program this year dedicated to investors. We have selected 10 startups to pitch their products in front of investors and all attendees. I’d love to see AWE becoming a place where startups know they can come in, meet investors and make deals. This one of the ways we can help accelerate the industry.

Dirk Schart:
Thank you very much for the interview, Ori.

SUPERPOWERS TO CHANGE THE WORLD

Please find more details, such as the exhibitor list and the speakers lineup on the AWE EU page. Book your ticket and join the biggest AR/VR community in Europe. We have some discount codes left for our readers — get in contact with us!.

Looking forward to meeting all of you at AWE in Munich!

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Originally published at www.re-flekt.com on September 27, 2017.

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