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.
Last question: What is your personal highlight?
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.
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.