Insights from AWE USA 2017
This week I attended AWE USA 2017 in Santa Clara, CA. This 8th edition of AWE is the largest AR & VR focused conference and expo in the world. It's a diverse global group both speaking and attending the conference. I didn't hear an abundance of things that were new to me, but I did get insight on working processes that were proving effective for similar teams and had the opportunity to try cool new experiences and hardware.
My favorite insights were on process
Philippe Lewicki, Captain at Afternow, gave an excellent presentation on his team's processes to prototyping. After ideation, sketches and scripting, their team starts with acting out the experience using paper prototypes. Through this they are able to evaluate components, distance and arrangements. Then they create TiltBrush Prototypes, using VR tools to quickly create and test UI. TiltBrush is great because you can create an interactive prototype by bringing your file from TiltBrush into Unity and then transferring it into the HoloLens. Next, they use 2D before 3D to create a rapid prototype by receiving files from their designers in Photoshop and Sketch. The team at AfterNow conducts 2 user tests per week - an aggressive timeline, but they say it's really made a difference for their work. I'm excited to try this process for my own projects.
Another favorite talk was by Nat Guy, Lead User Interface Developer at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Lab. He detailed the process of developing HoloLens tools for the team on the ISS. Their journey to getting their application and the HoloLens in space included tests at NEMO, an underwater training facility off the coast of Florida, and a ride on their reduced gravity aircraft - affectionately called the 'vomit comet'. He also described watching the first HoloLens Space X launch on Falcon 9 when just minutes after lift off the Dragon spacecraft broke up in a fiery blast. Fortunately, six months later they had a successful launch and got their HoloLens' on the ISS.
Microsoft's enhanced Story Remix, Paint 3D and the Reggie Watts HoloLens Experience
The Mixed Reality team from Microsoft had an awesome three-part booth. The first section showcased their Windows 10 Story Remix feature. During our demo it became clear that this is the photo aggregator and casual editor that all photo/video apps dream to be. It was incredibly simple to use with drag-and-drop functions and will leverage a library of rigged 3D assets and community shared 3D. Microsoft is planning to deliver Story Remix with the Windows 10 Fall Creators update later this year.
Paint 3D is getting nice updates for Fall release - we were able to demo editing 3D characters and then took Mixed Reality photo booth style pictures (complete with props like a mushroom hat). It was incredibly intuitive, simple and fun.
In the Reggie Watts HoloLens experience, Reggie's dynamic performance really won over this 4 section experience, but there were a ton of great details worth mentioning. To guide users into start position you saw lines of 3D arrows and directional audio guiding you to position your HoloLens with a 3D representation of the headset in space. Once you were in position with the virtual headset a new section of content loaded. Speaking of loading - the experience had a great loading sequence with Reggie briefly singing and dancing - funny and unexpected, it was almost like an easter egg that you were delighted to see each time it came on. Behind Reggie for each section was an ambient animating 3D environment - each very technicolor.
The presentation space from the Microsoft team was the best in the entire Expo. They had Faux green walls on the exterior, and each space had a unique look and feel. Not a huge footprint - but they allowed for 3 people per station at a time, and their queue remained one of the more manageable.
ZapBox was the coolest new product that I saw. They had a very successful Kickstarter last year in which they summarize their product as "Mixed Reality for $30". After checking out their demo and touching the product - I can say that I think they are going to do really well. Their product is paper, but it feels really substantial and their price point is awesome for a number of uses. You can even custom brand their kits which would be great for a company or school.
Ultrahaptics gave two really nice demos for their touch development kit. One was a simple shape demo with the touchpad in front of a screen and the other combined the touchpad with a sorcerer Vive experience. Beyond practical and home and DOOH applications for this type of hardware, I see a lot of potential for how inputs like haptics can enhance a number of AR/VR applications. The more that we can immerse ourselves in an experience, the more real it will feel to us.
Kat McCluskey (@mccluskeykat) is Senior Art Director for the Razorfish Emerging Experiences team, based out of our Atlanta office.