The bellwether event in the XR ecosystem, Augmented World Expo (AWE), is marking its 15th anniversary by moving to Long Beach (near LA) from Silicon Valley. The conference and expo run June 18 – 20th. The event features over 500 speakers on 15 tracks over three days, accompanied by an expo with over 300 exhibitors, museum exhibits, and awards show. Over 6,000 participants are expected to attend. “AWE’s 15th anniversary comes at a breakthrough year for the XR industry and I expect the event to fully reflect its rich history, its strong present state, and a promising future,” says Executive Director Ori Inbar.

AWE is very good at capturing the zeitgeist in this vertical of the tech industry. In May 2022, the hot topic at AWE was the Metaverse. Last year, Mixed Reality was the order of the day as participants were giddy with anticipation of the Apple Vision Pro, and the new Meta Quest 3. AWE co-founder and Executive Director Ori Inbar, a venture investor who’s been following the industry for twenty years, gives an annual kickoff keynote that seeks to define the moment. This year’s hot topic will most assuredly be AI, and how it will converge with XR and wearables.

The conference agenda is exceptionally ambitious. It features 200 keynotes and panels featuring over 500 speakers over three days in fifteen tracks on nine stages. Among the fifteen tracks are education, health, wellness, accessibility, retail/marketing, games/entertainment, and enterprise. Plaudits go to programmer Sonya Haskins, who ensured that nearly half of the panelists and speakers are women. AWE will be recording all stages and will later release videos on its YouTube channel, which has built up an archive of thousands of hours of AWE insight and history over the past fifteen years.

Speakers at the Long Beach conference include Palmer Lucky, founder of Oculus and Anduril, game design legend Jesse Schell, Meta executive Jamie Keene, Chi Xu, founder and CEO of XReal, and Alex Katouzian of Qualcomm. In a tweet last week, Lucky said he would unveil plans for a new headset at the show.

Perhaps the most anticipated, not-to-be-missed event on the main stage is the return of AR illusionist Marco Tempest, a former NASA JPL Creative Technologist and founder of MagicLab. In a dramatic live performance that marshals AI tools like Stable Diffusion, Comfy UI, and Aximmetry, to create realistic, dynamic content on the fly, Tempest will be reanimating 17th-century mathematician Ada Lovelace, “the first computer programmer.” Tempest’s shows affirm Arthur C. Clarke’s famous dictum: sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

In its 15th year, AWE is celebrating its history with historical and educational presentations, an XR history museum, and the XR Hall of Fame. The XR History Museum will feature over 80 vintage AR and VR prototypes and devices from the past 50 years. Many are on loan from pioneers themselves, such as the 1990 Xybernaut, and the 1992 Virtuality Viset 1 (one of the first commercial VR headsets). Ivan Sutherland’s first Head Mounted Display from 1968, “The Sword of Damocles,” has been recreated in a Quest headset. Morton Heilig’s “Sensorama,” which we saw at Siggraph last summer, will also be on display. The cabinet is currently undergoing restoration at USC, but you can simulate the stereoscopic experience using a VR headset.

AWE’s new Hall of Fame inducted its first cohort last month, consisting of 101 scientists, artists, entrepreneurs, business and thought leaders who have made a mark on the still nascent immersive industry. Included are foundational scientists and researchers like Ivan Sutherland, Tom Furness, Mark Bolas, Jaron Lanier, Tony Parisi, Shelley Peterson, Mark Billinghurst, Gabe Newell, Nonny de la Pena, John Hanke, Palmer Lucky, Tim Sweeny, John Carmak, Jeri Ellsworth, David Baszucki, and Tamiko Theil. 101 is too large a number of inductees to mention in this story, but it is also too small to capture the vast number of people who belong in this new Hall of Fame. Organizers say they will induct more honorees every year.

The AWE playground, an immersive exhibition space adjacent to the show floor which features a number of bespoke pieces that can only be seen at this show. Some of the experiences offered are below.

  • A demo of Wilkins Avenue AR’s “Out There,” the first musical created for the Apple Vision Pro.
  • Cameron Kostopoulos’ “Body of Mine,” an extraordinary art piece about gender and identity, won a special jury award at the SXSW festival last year.
  • Demo Freeaim’s VR Shoes let you walk naturally in VR across infinite distances and in any direction.
  • Spacebar is “a VR arcade set in the Wild West of cyberspace” that takes place inside a giant pinball machine. Players on the outside use physical pinball controls, while others go inside the machine, for a “head-to-head contest of pinball meets dodgeball.” If this is half as amazing as it sounds, it alone will be worth the price of admission.

AWE’s prestigious Auggie Awards are given in 19 categories, from Art to Developer Tool. These are coveted by the cognoscenti that comprise the majority of the show attendees. It’s easy to be nominated, but actually quite hard to win. AWE gives three of its own awards as well, Best in Show, Startup to Watch, and the Awesome Award for most audacious moonshot concept.

Even seasoned techies like me have a hard time following the relentless inside baseball talk and middleware demos. Nonetheless, every year I leave the Augmented World Expo (AWE) exhilarated and exhausted from walking, talking, standing, schmoozing and suffering from sensory overload. In three days, I learn more at AWE than I do the rest of the year, which is why this grizzled veteran says, after fifteen years, AWE is still XR’s most essential conference.

Charlie Fink is the author of the AR-enabled books “Metaverse,” (2017) and “Convergence” (2019). In the early 90s, Fink was EVP & COO of VR pioneer Virtual World Entertainment. He teaches at Chapman University in Orange, CA. Follow him on Twitter or LinkedIn, and check out his website or other work.

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