I’ve been asked countless times why I started AWE and the short answer is that we needed a home base for a revolution. AWE exists because of a core group of believers, because there was a need, and the timing was right.
For 10 years – from the show’s conception in sunny California to its expansion across the Atlantic – AWE has served as a meeting place, launchpad, lab and every other type of platform needed to establish and grow an industry around augmented and virtual reality. It has become the annual benchmark for AR/VR, where the industry goes to do business, catch up, and get inspired.
This is the brief origin story of the Augmented World Expo (AWE), which – according to the rules of any Marvel movie – is linked to another origin story, that of the industry and ecosystem we know today as XR (AR/VR/MR) or spatial computing. Of course, I’d like to believe that AWE has pushed immersive tech forward by its very existence. A decade later, it’s possible to look back at the history of the event as a microcosm of the evolution of modern AR/VR.
The story begins at the end of 2009. Virtual reality had been lying dormant since the 1990s, while augmented reality – both ridiculous and awesome-looking at the time – remained largely within university and lab settings. With the (second-gen) iPhone, Microsoft Kinect and Google Goggles, however, everything changed: AR ‘made it’ into the innovation arms of the world’s technology giants and we saw the base ingredients for mobile AR, including image recognition and motion sensing. Seemingly overnight the AR industry was born with a jolt of investment by large tech companies and a spree of webcam-based AR campaigns by big brands like Esquire Magazine and General Electric.
There were some brave startups, too, including Ogmento, my own focused on hard-core AR tech for gaming. There wasn’t a meeting place, however, for us or anyone interested in building an industry around the technology. Thus, AWE was born. There were about 300 people at the first AWE in 2010 (for comparison, nearly 7,000 attended the 10th AWE this past May), representing Fortune 1000 companies like Amazon, Boeing, Hallmark, Google, and Microsoft that recognized the potential of AR early on. More remarkable are the list of exhibitors, including Layar (acquired by Blippar in 2014), Metaio (acquired by Apple in 2015), and Vuforia, Wikitude, Occipital and Lumus (still key players a decade later).
When AWE began, gaming and entertainment were the expected starting points for immersive tech, but – as is the case with every new technology from the computer onwards – initial investment and revenue would come from the enterprise. By 2013, Google Glass Explorers were generating interest in AR. Subsequently, dozens of early smart glasses appeared at AWE. Depth sensing such as Google Tango and Occipital Structure Sensor was also front and center that year, just in time for virtual reality to get reborn. With the launch of the HTC Vive and Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus in 2014-2015, VR became a large part of AWE. People embraced the idea that AR/VR would give humans superpowers and AWE debuted in Asia, signaling that China could become the largest market for immersive tech.
HoloLens, Pokémon GO, Snapchat filters… 2016 was a big year for AR and for AWE. There was a new appetite for AR glasses, greater demand for games, and interest in social AR and VR. Apple’s acquisition of Metaio in 2015 had created a void as far as AR conferences in Europe, so the first AWE EU went down in Berlin. The following year marked the birth of the AR Cloud and the year the AWE exhibit hall became a veritable attraction. 2017 ended with an avalanche of developer tools from Apple, Google, Snap, Facebook, and Amazon. It seemed the industry was finally on a trajectory to mainstream. Hype had turned into real promise and at AWE the industry was turning its attention to the use of AR/VR for good.
Despite massive investments by tech giants and venture firms, 2018 turned out to be a year of some disillusionment. There were actually a record number of AR startups in the space, many companies were shifting direction to AR (especially enterprise), and location-based VR was taking off, but the tech was definitely taking more time to mature and catch on than expected. The theme for AWE 2018 was “Go XR or Go Extinct”—dramatic, yes, but true, as proven by the record number of Fortune 1000 companies that attended the show. It became clear that every corporation, startup and investor had better get into XR or risk falling behind.
That brings us to today: 2019 marks a decade of AWE, and we’ve been celebrating across the globe with our next stop in Munich, Germany. From a small get-together in 2010, AWE has mirrored the progress of the technology it promotes. And yet, 10 years later, the venue isn’t the only thing that hasn’t changed about the show: The major themes like moving from mobile to glasses and 3D-fying the world, the drive to realize the true potential of AR, and even many of the Fortune 1000 and AR companies in attendance at the first AWE continue to define the event. We’re still trying to figure out how we’ll interact with the world without a keyboard and mouse and the impact of spatial computing on humanity. And so, AWE continues to grow. Here’s to the next 10 years of the show and completing the story of the rise of spatial computing.
Ori Inbar is the Co-Founder and CEO of AugmentedReality.org, a global non-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing augmented reality (AR), and the producer of Augmented World Expo – the world’s largest event dedicated exclusively to the AR industry. AugmentedReality.org’s mission is to promote the true potential of AR, and hatch augmented reality initiatives that offer unique value to its active users.In 2009, Ori was the co-founder and CEO of Ogmento, one of the first venture-backed companies conceived from the ground up to develop and publish augmented reality games – games that are played in the real world. Ori has been an enterprising champion of the augmented reality industry since 2007. He established Games Alfresco – a leading augmented reality blog that helped popularize AR, and co-founded the Augmented Reality Event (ARE) – the world’s largest and most influential conference for AR – now in its 4th year. Ori is a recognized speaker in the AR industry as well as a sought after adviser for augmented reality initiatives.Previously, as Senior Vice President of Solution Marketing for SAP’s platform, Ori was responsible for the positioning and marketing of SAP NetWeaver – which under his leadership grew from a mere concept to a billion dollar business for SAP. Prior to SAP, Ori joined TopTier Software, as one of the first employees of this start-up.He lead the development and introduction to the market of more than 15 multimedia and business applications including the world’s leading enterprise portal, which in 2001 was acquired by SAP for $400 Million. Ori has a double major in Computer Science and Cinema from Tel Aviv University, and is a graduate of INSEAD University business leadership program.