A conversation: Marc Saltzman and Sam Jang of Augmented Intelligence
(Interview edited for clarity and brevity)
Marc: You’ve heard of augmented reality and virtual reality, AR and VR, so what’s XR? Joining us on the line to chat is Sam Jang, he’s the CEO of Augmented Intelligence, and we have him on the line all the way from Taiwan. Welcome to the show, Sam.
Sam: Hi everyone, it’s nice to me you Marc.
Marc: Likewise. So before we talk about this event, this group that brought you to Canada called XR EXPRESS TW, tell us what XR is exactly, what are we talking about here?
Sam: XR is like a combination of all three things. So we have AR, VR and MR, which stands for mixed reality. It’s a combination of all of them.
Marc: So let’s break that down. VR is when you put on a headset and you are digitally transported to another place, so you don’t see the real world around you. AR, or augmented reality, is where you’re looking at the world through your phone or maybe a headset but you can still see the world around you and there is digital information on top. Mixed reality seems to have different definitions depending on whom you ask but it often includes the ability to move in your own space, physically, and then it affects that digital world. Is that a fair way to describe those three?
Sam: Yeah, that’s correct. And so examples of MR is the new gadgets called the Magic Leap or the HoloLens. They are kind of like Google Glass and they can project virtual images into the glasses and map into the real world.
Marc: Now you’re introducing another term called XR. Tell us what that means exactly and how it folds in the three different other kinds of experiences.
Sam: XR EXPRESS Taiwan is an organization that tries to integrate all those categories into just one word. So it’s a new term they have created for the combination of these three categories into one. Does that make sense?
Mark: Yeah, so what would an XR experience be like, if it is combining the three?
Sam: We imagine that in the future, when the technology is more mature, there could be some gadgets that can do things in general life, for example, if you know the HTC Vive Pro that has two cameras outside that can also project into the real world. Imagine some of the gadgets for VR will also have the capability to do the AR or the MR at the same time. It’s really possible that the new hardware coming out in the near future will have these three — AR, VR and MR — capabilities at the same time.
Marc: But could you give us an example of something that you may experience with the combination of the three. Give us a scenario, a sample of what we’re looking at maybe in the future.
Sam: Well, my company is in the medical VR field, so I can give you an example about what this can be in the medical field. We only have a VR headset right now, you couldn’t see the outside world. So let’s say if we open two of the cameras like the HTC Vive we can of course see the outside world. So let’s say if we projected the outside world image onto the virtual reality then we can do some sort of mapping of these two images together for an AR or MR capability. So the scenario is like if the surgeons are trying to simulate brain surgery, for example, traditionally in VR the surgeon couldn’t see the outside world, which means he or she couldn’t see the patient. Through this kind of simulation it’s a much more immersive environment (but) they couldn’t interact with the patient. But if there is another capability that I can open the camera, then I can suddenly see the patient and project the patient’s images. In this case I can see the patient’s tumour and then project it to the patient’s head in real time. So in the real world I can see the patient’s skull and tumour at the same time. It’s like a superpower for a Superman, he has the x-ray capability that can see all things inside the skull.
Marc: That’s very cool, I get it. I guess a surgeon can also see a heads up display that maybe shows the patient’s heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen levels also, on his display that is virtually projected in front of him while he’s operating, to glance at, correct?
Sam: Yeah, brilliant. That’s a very good idea and a very good scenario.
Marc: So tell us about your experience with XR EXPRESS TW and how was your time in Vancouver.
Sam: There was an event called the AR/VR Global Summit in Vancouver just this last week, and this event is for all the companies in the AR, VR or MR industry to showcase what they can do in the enterprise industries. So XR EXPRESS Taiwan brought five startups including us from Taiwan to Vancouver to showcase what we do. The other four companies are doing the real estate industry, the filming industry and the gaming industry, and we are doing the medical anatomy training and surgery simulation stuff. This event is quite interesting because we had the chance to meet some of the staff professionals from the universities and to engage them with some potential projects that we can create in synergy between the corporation side with the academia side.
Marc: How far away do you think we are from that scenario you painted for us with the surgeon, is this five years away, is it two years away, or maybe a decade away?
Sam: I think it will be in the very near future, like probably two to three years. As long as the hardware is getting better and better, which means that the hardware can be more compact, can be smaller with much more computational power. Also we are waiting for 5G, which can stream in higher-bandwidth data from the cloud server to the AR, VR or MR devices, then lots of things can be done in surgery simulation and also in other industries.
Marc: So you’re saying a combination of new hardware, faster infrastructure like 5G, and software experiences, we need all those three things for this revolution to come?
Sam: Yes, we are very excited to see that coming in the next year, especially with 5G. There are some huge corporations like Amazon, Google and Microsoft are also trying to work things out, how to integrate their cloud servers with 5G. Let’s say you can have all the computation run in the cloud server. At that time the audience might only have a mobile phone and might be able to use some very good VR or AR contents on their mobile phones.
Marc: So all the computation power is in the cloud, it’s on the back end, you won’t need that kind of power with you locally, is what you’re suggesting, right?
Sam: Yeah, that’s right.
Marc: What website would you recommend for our listeners to learn more about XR EXPRESS TW or Augmented Intelligence?
Sam: My company is at mai.ai, which stands for medical augmented intelligence because what we are trying to do is to augment the medical intelligence through our technology. So if you are very interested in the medical field and what the new technology for medical visualization can bring to your life you can go over our website.
Marc: Sam, I really appreciate your time and you expertise.
Sam: It’s my pleasure.
Marc: Mine too.