AWE EU XR Conference 2022


Posted on October 26, 2022

AWE Europe 2022 (20th – 21st October, Lisbon)

Upon arrival, seeing the familiar sight of a grey and rainy airport, I had to double check my plane had not turned around and landed back in Manchester, but alas Lisbon had chosen to provide some unseasonal rainy weather to coincide with my visit to the world’s largest XR conference AWE in Lisbon (October 20-21). I needn’t have packed shorts after all.

As a published author in Augmented Reality technology and experimenter in AR & VR, I wanted to see the current state of play in the XR industry and report back to my colleagues in the Avanade Emerging Technology team.

No alt text provided for this image

This 2-day conference combined talks from several industry leading speakers across several tracks (Enterprise, XR Enablement, XR Impact, Developer, Retail, Ecommerce & Advertising) along with an Expo of XR devices from various supplier both small start-ups and large companies.

Keynote

The keynote delivered by AWE organiser Ori Inbar discussed a few themes that resonated with me, confirming that I was amongst my tribe of fellow XR enthusiasts.

No alt text provided for this image

He described how XR gives people superpowers, allowing us to experience the past, the future, travel to different places in the blink of an eye or even fly through the sky.

Superpowers aside, he talked about using XR to make our dreams a reality, limited only by our imaginations.

Ori described how XR is already a force for good, reducing travel, unnecessary production, consumption and waste and described his optimistic hope that XR can be used to help save the world by helping fight climate change and introduced AWE’s XR Prize Challenge.

No alt text provided for this image

Onto the sessions!

In the first session There is no m-word.. (yet!), Industry leaders Rupert Breheny, Muki Kulhan, Alina Kadlubsky set the tone for the conference discussing how there isn’t currently a Metaverse, though mentioned a few of its probable components.

No alt text provided for this image


It is generally accepted amongst the panel and attendees that the sudden rise in popularity of the m-word hype is due to massive FOMO (fear of missing out) – with reports of customers approaching suppliers asking “can you build us a metaverse?” with no particular reason why or knowledge of the implications. Underlining the importance of partnering with XR suppliers whom can help their customers navigate XR/Web 3.0/The Metaverse.

In a chat with Rupert after his talk, I shared my view that Simon Sineks Start With Why is very applicable here.. We know the How (conference full of XR creators), we largely know the What (XR capabilities), what is generally overlooked is the Why. Why do customers actually need a/the metaverse to achieve their goals?

In the next session How (and why) to close the gap between the XR Industry and the XR Community, we delved into the importance the XR community plays in realising the increasing adoption of XR in business and industry. We discussed the importance of raising awareness of the capabilities of XR using social media and the ever increasing importance of the creator economy.

No alt text provided for this image

To summarise, we were left with some advise on how to grow our own personal XR brands and get increasingly involved in the XR community, as we (the community) are after all, what runs the XR capability in the XR industry.


In the session Creators in the Metaverse: All of Us, we discussed the increasing number of ways that people can create for the Metaverse, in a creative/collaborative way with the barrier to entry being continually lowered, and that a focus on authenticity must be at the heart of what we do. The panel also shared their beliefs that todays common patterns and modalities that we are used to will likely have to be unlearned to make the greatest use of new ways of interacting, creating and collaborating in the metaverse. Another common theme that soon began to evolve from the conference is the use of AI in XR and Metaverse experiences, in particular generative AI such as Stable Diffusion and Dall-E whose text to image capabilities will disrupt content creation workflows and industries.

In the session, Leap into the Industrial Metaverse, TeamViewer shared how they had taken their current logistical offering and added XR experiences to increase end-to-end efficiency for their customers.

In The Metaverse for Business: Moving Past The Hype, we were given quite a high level overview of what the Metaverse is / will be, largely an introduction to the topic, rather than going deep in any one area.

During the pandemic, XR technologies were leveraged to help meet an unprecedented urgent demand for action. In How Pfizer Leverages AR/VR In Their Manufacturing Plans Now and What They Are Exploring For the Future, we were shown just how much this pharmaceutical company uses XR technology in its daily activities and where it continues to develop their capabilities. For example they showed how an AR app was created to guide people to the correct freezer in one of their (very large) freezer farms.

No alt text provided for this image

If artificial digital humans interests you then, AI Digital Humans with Deutsche Telecom and UneeQ would have been right up your street. Deutsche Telecom showed Selena, their photorealistic digital human which acted as a next generation chat bot.

In the last session of the day, Accessibility/5G in Europe, the panel discussed how we risk creating a growing digital divide if we build experiences that assume a minimum amount of connectivity, and that widespread 5G rollout should be prioritised by worldwide governments. Worryingly, with a growing cost of living, broadband is often the first amenity to be cancelled by the average family to lower costs, removing their connectivity to the online world and potentially further increasing the digital divide.

My favourite session of the conference was How to Mix Realities and Unlock Shopping Superpowers. During this talk, two XR specialists from Shopify described and demonstrated how XR experiences are at the forefront of Shopify’s mind. They demonstrated an app that leverages Apples recent RoomKit functionality to scan a room, before removing objects and furniture from it then allowing customers to place new furniture in there.

No alt text provided for this image

There were a nice few lessons to be learnt from The Top 5 Things You Need to Know about Enterprise VR Training that can be applied to not only VR training scenarios but many other XR use cases. Including “Plan for success”, which as odd as it sounds.. is aimed at people whom sometimes enter into an XR proof of concept project, which upon succeeding didn’t know the next steps to take, often not progressing further or missing opportunities.

In Meaning and Purpose: The Keys to Building the Metaverse, the panel discussed and explored what experiences will attract people to the Metaverse and what will keep people coming back citing creating storytelling experiences that illicit emotional response and engagement being crucial for success.

The panel in Reframing Identity for Mixed Reality discussed a number of important issues of identity, in particular in the Metaverse. The majority of the conversations I found to be just as applicable in todays technologies (chat rooms, Roblox etc) and not new problems. i.e. anonymity and nefarious purposes. On a positive note, one heart-warming story told was of a trans individual realising they were trans when immersed in an avatar with a gender different from their biological gender and finding it more comfortable. There was also an interesting discussion around people having multiple identities for multiple purposes. Personally, I reach towards the synonym “personas” at this point. i.e. in my opinion, we have one identity, but can have multiple personas depending on the scenario.

No alt text provided for this image

In another inspiring talk, Metaverse for Good – Prize Competitions to Drive the UN Sustainability Goals, We are told of a second “XR for good” competition with substantial cash prizes. The purpose of the SDG Metaverse Prize competition is not to directly solve the UN SDG’s (Sustainable Development Goals) but to use XR technologies and experiences to raise awareness of them. An extremely important endeavour with the planet running out of time without a change in general mindset and substantial intervention.

No alt text provided for this image

Introducing XR in the Energy Sector was a fantastic talk showcasing how XR has been used in the Energy sector for firm Elia. Elia had introduced XR within their organisation to make a number of improvements. The typical one being training, but also remote assistance, something increasingly important for offshore platforms with minimal staff.


No alt text provided for this image

In an fantastic example of how XR can be used for good, in How to Create “Edu-tainment” based Curriculum with VR, Not For Profit Exponential Destiny shared how it goes into lower income schools, asks which subjects are failing, builds a curriculum around it in Virtual Reality, delivers the teachings and measures the results, setting up those children to succeed in a high tech future. Amazing.


Summary

The conference was full of so many good talks, it was impossible to attend all those that I wanted to, I shall have to watch a few more on catch up.

There were a few common themes I found stand out during the conference.

  • The importance of community – the crucial link between tech, industry, and business
  • The rise of AI in XR - In particular, AI content generation
  • XR for good – XR provides many benefits to society
  • The metaverse is coming – Don’t get caught in the hype, seek expert advice

-- Lee