Audio and Mixed Reality in 2020, ARIA Summit Highlights

AR in Action was once again held this week at MIT in Boston, Massachusetts. The small leadership summit on augmented reality gathered many industry leaders from multiple disciplines together to talk about the newest advancements of AR and what 2020 will have in store for the industry.

In this year’s summit, ARIA focused on three main areas, the technology, the experience, and the reality. Here are some of the main takeaways from each section.

The Technology

In terms of AR technology, the aim is to always get bigger, faster, and out of hand. Ideally AR devices would match our “human field of view (FoV)” which is ~190 degrees horizontal and ~125 degrees vertical. This helps create the right awareness of AR for users without having the image be cut off when your eyes move around. Most AR headsets currently have FoVs of around 100 degrees. Latency is another crucial factor, as faster response times create smoother AR experiences, while slower response times can cause virtual content to be misaligned with the users view. Lastly, AR headsets should become hands free, meaning that instead of controlling AR through hand-held devices, your actual hands, voice, and head movements control your AR experience.

The Experience

AR use-cases are growing, with some great advancements made in the educational and medical fields. Just in 2019, there have been several AR companies that received FDA approval for their AR solution to facilitate physicians and surgeries, proving that these products have the same or better efficacy than conventional medical solutions. AR has vast applications for education and training, from NASA using AR to assist in finding and displaying optimal route mapping (which can help save oxygen, ease wear on equipment), to physicians and nurses using AR to train on specific patient conditions and complications. AR also has the ability to give retailers and marketers new ways to showcase products and advertise their offers.

One of the most interesting talks given was by Dr. John Fan, CEO and President of Kopin Corporation. Dr. Fan presented last year at ARIA where he talked about Fan’s Five Principles in building a successful AR product for consumers. This year he was back and talked about what the breakout gadgets would be in 2020. Looking back at the 2010s, Dr. Fan demonstrated that many of the top gadgets of the decade had to do with audio and sound (Amazon Echo, Apple AirPods, Apple Watch). In 2020 he predicts that smartphones will transition to smart glasses beginning with an emphasis on sound and audio. To this effect, Dr. Fan showcased the new Solos AR Glasses. Solos spun out of Kopin in 2019 and is now focused on providing smart glasses for the consumer and sports market. Much like the Bose AR glasses from late 2018, the Solos AR Glasses focus on style and fashion first, with interchangeable frames to suite consumer preferences. Solos AR Glasses sync via Bluetooth and can play music, have a built-in micro-phone, and feature noise cancelling technology that can be found in Kopins’ military and enterprise products. There are additional proximity and motion sensors built into the device with more functionality to come once these audio glasses launch. Solos will first launch them in Asia this year. Dr. Fan believes in order to have true AR glasses, audio glasses will first pave the way forward for the industry.

Counterpoint ARIA Event Solos AR Glasses Front and Side View
Solos AR Glasses at ARIA: Front and Side View

The Reality

While many of the speakers showed how AR technology is growing, the current state of the AR/VR market is still nascent and small, especially the consumer market. On the enterprise side both AR and VR have been used in Industry 4.0 which is currently driving market growth. However, the consumer market has not had the same traction, except for of course, PokemonGo. At CES we saw NReal showcase their mixed reality glasses only weighing 88g and sporting a 1080p display with 52 degrees FoV. This was one of the busiest booths of the show, which also demonstrates what the consumer market is currently excited about. There will be more opportunities as this market matures, especially with 5G connectivity, edge cloud, and more powerful processors all enabling faster computing.

Conclusion

For AR devices to really gain momentum, they need to be seamlessly integrated into a persons’ life. Consumer AR glasses in particular need to demonstrate that they can move people away from their smartphones and towards using more voice/audio features that are built into the glasses. Changing user behavior will take time which is why companies should focus on a small part of the mixed reality experience first, before getting closer to a full augmented reality experience.