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.


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.

Building Better AR Products: ARIA Summit Highlights

ARIA stands for Augmented Reality in Action and is a leadership summit held yearly at the MIT Media Lab. The summit is sponsored by Kopin, a leader in wearable display solutions that has been in the market for over 30 years. Kopin is known for making the $400,000 helmet that F-35 pilots wear and also offers a vast array of enterprise wearable display and microphone solutions.

Whereas VR, or virtual reality has gotten immense hype, AR is often seen as the forgotten stepchild of the field or is even used interchangeably with VR! This is why ARIA came about as a way to showcase innovative augmented reality solutions that are currently under development as well as those already in the market. The summit featured talks from industry leaders from companies such as Google, PTC, Magic Leap, Bose, and Kopin, while also showcasing work from educational institutions such as MIT and Harvard.

In the keynote speech, Kopin CEO and Chairman Dr. John C.C. Fan spoke about five core rules for creating successful wearable AR experiences. In the next few paragraphs I will highlight these rules and showcase several companies who are following these principles that were present at the summit.

Rule 1. Humans First – Tech Second

Successful wearable AR products must be able to solve for the question, “why should I wear this?”. Adoption of new devices can only happen if a consumer is willing to wear the device. It must be comfortable; it must be fashionable. Without these drivers, innovations won’t be accepted. While Google Glass was a great example of a product that was designed for comfort in mind, it was not fashionable at the time. One could argue that Google simply miss-timed the release of their device, as now wearable AR devices are becoming more and more in style. Google X’s Jay Kothari gave a talk on how Google Glass has evolved over time and what current use cases the technology is still being used for.

Rule 2. The Virtual World Cannot Overwhelm the Physical

There are countless demos / mockups out there that showcase the power of AR and they all seem to cram as much information as possible onto a display. Augmenting our reality does not mean overtaking the reality one is in, and a product must have that in mind. Kopin showcased its Solos smart glasses for cycling as an example of Rule 2. As cyclists are often elite athletes, they will have a good idea of what stats they want on their display and can customize their experience to their liking. The glasses will only show the most important information to a cyclist. This way they have fewer distractions and can still focus on their physical surroundings.

Rule 3. Maintain Situational Awareness

As humans we want to always be aware of our surroundings. We like to see, hear, touch, smell, and taste things around us. Buildings products that keep our sense of awareness intact is important and sets up certain design criteria that should be followed. Sight and sound are the most important of these two and should define how we interact with augmented reality. See the above example again as a reference.

Rule 4. Voice is the New Touch

In our physical world our voice is the most important way to communicate. While we have been using the mouse and keyboard for many years, they have been compromises to our true communication capabilities. Thus, focusing on voice as the channel for communication in AR is key. Spatial is a company that has burst out of stealth mode recently who showcased their vision of AR to create a better collaboration tool at ARIA. Spatial transforms any work-space into a shared augmented reality where people can communicate, brainstorm, and collaborate on ideas using shared walls and other visual aids. While Spatial still uses laptops and smartphones as part of the collaboration effort, it also has an emphasis on voice / voice commands. Just like in the actual physical world, the AR world should integrate voice as a primary tool of communication and engagement.

Rule 5. Balance Design with Benefits

In any product, there needs to be a trade-off between the design, the functionality, and the aesthetic look. Over-designing a product with unnecessary features will not lead to customer uptake. There should be specific benefits that motivate people to adopt an AR product which they will willingly use for extended periods of time. For example, most people do not think of Bose as an AR company. However, one could argue that they have been in the AR business for a long time already. Augmented reality does not just stop at voice or sight; hearing is another sense that can be augmented. This is where Bose has come out with a new “hearable” device called Bose Frames which were presented at ARIA. These sunglasses come with head movement sensors, speakers, and a microphone to take calls. The frames are both stylish and functional and don’t over promise on their benefits. The glasses protect your eyes and the speakers allow you to listen to music. The hearable AR space is largely nascent, but Bose is already thinking of using the Frames as a way to explore cities better through tracking head movements combined with GPS to give users accurate information on buildings, streets, monuments that are right before their eyes. While there are several more AR use cases promised in the future (games, fitness, travel), the Bose Frames have done an excellent job at balancing design with benefits.

These five rules focused on wearable AR products, however the lessons can be applied to AR applications as a whole. AR can have powerful implications on future developments in education, medicine, journalism, and even analytics. However, the design of the product and the benefits the solution will bring must always be seen in the context of our own reality and how it fits into our own world. Keeping this in mind will help drive adoption and user uptake as well as push the boundaries of AR forward in the future.

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