17 Conference Report #techonomy17

Extending Reality

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  • Techonomy2017 Conference in Half Moon Bay, California, Tuesday, November 7, 2017. (Photography by Paul Sakuma Photography) www.PaulSakuma.com

  • Techonomy2017 Conference in Half Moon Bay, California, Tuesday, November 7, 2017. (Photography by Paul Sakuma Photography) www.PaulSakuma.com

  • Techonomy2017 Conference in Half Moon Bay, California, Tuesday, November 7, 2017. (Photography by Paul Sakuma Photography) www.PaulSakuma.com

  • Techonomy2017 Conference in Half Moon Bay, California, Tuesday, November 7, 2017. (Photography by Paul Sakuma Photography) www.PaulSakuma.com

Speaker

Marc Carrel-Billiard
Global Senior Managing Director - Accenture Labs, Accenture

Tony Parisi
Head of AR/VR Strategy, Unity Technologies

Moderator

Ina Fried
Chief Technology Correspondent, Axios


Session Description: As augmented, virtual, and mixed realities begin to push the boundaries of the physical, we are finally seeing practical applications of AR and VR across a spectrum of industries. What will these new “realities” mean for business, society, and our sense of where and even who we are?

Below is an excerpt of the conversation with the full transcript available here.

Kirkpatrick: I want to bring up Ina Fried, who’s a great friend of Techonomy and one of the great technology journalists of the world. She’s the chief technology correspondent and editor at AXIOS, which itself is a pretty extraordinary new institution in media.

Fried: Thank you, everyone. I’m really excited to talk about the next topic, which is Extending Reality: VR and AR, and welcome Marc and Tony. We focus a lot on where things are going, and that’s where I want to use most of our time, but I think that it’s really important to look at where we are today in VR and AR, and how we got here. I think there are some lessons to be learned.

I think this isn’t new to most of the people in the audience who’ve been through a few of these technology curves. We get super excited about something, a ton of money pours in, and then there’s this moment, [it’s been] called the trough of disillusionment, and I think we’d all agree that we’re there with parts of VR and AR. Let’s talk a little about where we are right now and how we got here.

Tony, Unity was born as a gaming engine, but it’s also really at the center of this because if you want to develop for VR and AR you need a world in which to do it, and you guys provide that world. Talk about where we are right now and how we ended up here.

Parisi: It was about three years ago when there was an explosion on the scene with the Oculus Rift, with Facebook spending billions of dollars to purchase this VR headset, and it shocked everyone. That excitement was around this consumer experience that would take you somewhere. And what we discovered is that people didn’t want to just get taken somewhere, they wanted to use VR to do a lot of different things.

There are several other manufacturers of virtual reality hardware—this kind of thing that obscures your whole face and vision—and in parallel with that, unbeknownst to a lot of folks, Microsoft was taking Kinect technology and working on this thing called the HoloLens, which gave you an augmented reality headset experience so that you could see the world around you.

What’s happened over the last couple of years is lots of industrial and non-gaming consumer entertainment and brand creative use cases have emerged, and it appears that the world truly is excited about this technology. And we’ve hit this place where, because of the bulky nature of a VR headset and because of the social aspects of wearing those, there’s been a bit of a stall in the marketplace where a lot of folks are expecting meteoric growth—as we do, we get ahead of ourselves and our expectations here—and that’s self-corrected. There’s less froth in the venture community to fund VR startups, and so on, and yet at the same time there are industrial use cases happening, which we can enumerate in a minute. So it’s proceeding at pace, but it’s gone from the front page news to becoming a technology that needs to find its way through the marketplace.

At the same time, phone-based augmented reality has burst on to the scene this year with Apple announcing ARKit and Google announcing ARCore, and the promise there is that we’re going to reach about a half a billion people based on the devices that they already have in their pockets or the next versions of phones from either Apple or Pixel, Google and Android phone makers. That’s interesting, it’s a very lightweight experience—you’re taking your phone, you’re holding your phone up; you’re seeing magical stuff through a magic window that is your phone. One of your hands is occupied doing this—my arm is already tired, by the way—and the other is doing that, so it’s not the same as HoloLens and all that magical stuff that we expect where we’re masters of reality manipulating things in mid-air; it’s not there yet. But it’s something that’s going to give us magical content right in front of us with a device in our pocket.

Fried: You don’t have to pay anything more—

Parisi: You don’t have to pay anything extra; you don’t put anything on your face. There’s nothing heating up on your face, and it doesn’t challenge the computer in the same ways that a super graphically intense VR thing does, like a mobile VR like Gear VR. So there’s a lot of goodness to it; it’s not by anyone’s estimation—I’m not speaking for Apple or Google on this—but I don’t believe anybody who’s into this believes that this is the end state. We believe this is the next step toward people understanding immersion, along with 360 videos, which we’re all fairly familiar with, which you can view on a flat screen, do this with your phone, or get in a headset to see.

We’re in this place right now where the high-end VR is working its way through industrial use cases, which I’m sure Marc will talk about, and the stuff in your pocket with augmented reality is going to be the consumer’s first taste and it’s going to be a place where developers get to go work for a while and presumably make some money. We’re seeing a bit of a shift in the developer community toward AR as well, but it’s all 3-D immersive content, which—me being at Unity—we love that. We make the 3-D engine, we make the platform, people buy our development software, and on mobile they also monetize through ads, so this is a fertile ground for us and we’re seeing it power industries across the board. So it’s super exciting.

Fried: From my sense, two things are happening: one, with the consumer for the moment you’ve still got a gaming community putting on headsets, but the mass market is shifting to this phone AR and that where the “ready for primetime” is. The headsets are there, some people put them on, the optics have to get better, the use cases have to get more compelling, but one of the really interesting things is what’s going on in the enterprise.

People don’t hear about it as much, and my guess is that it’s still small-scale types of things, but you have a couple of really interesting factors going on. You have the fact that companies, there’s big money in it so if they can get a little bit more productivity, increase safety—that sort of thing—that will pay for expensive gear. You’re not hanging around with your friends, so you’ll put up with a little more awkwardness. Marc, talk about what you’re seeing at Accenture, both in the labs and in the business.

Carrel-Billiard: I think Tony was absolutely spot on in describing the landscape today, which is really moving in different directions. [At] Accenture, we’re really a big consulting company in the enterprise business, and there’s two numbers that are really striking if you look at the last IDC survey related to the AR/VR market. Today, the estimate is about $40 billion dollars, that’s the market of AR/VR. And if you look at it, out of those $40 billion dollars, 70 percent is related to consumer business. And that 70 percent is not about service, it’s about devices that people buy, mainly in gaming. But what’s really interesting is that in three years’ time, by 2020, it’s estimated that the business is going to be $143 billion dollars. That’s starting to be interesting, because not only will the number be bigger, but the ratio is going to change completely. Instead of 30 percent for enterprise and 70 percent for consumer, it’s going to be completely the other way around. It will be 70 percent enterprise, 30 percent consumer. And there will be a lot of services developed. So, as you said, it’s all about use cases. It’s all about efficiencies; it’s all about different things we’re doing.

I wear two hats. I drive our global business around AR/VR—in fact we don’t even call it AR/VR to be honest, because we believe that it’s going to be beyond AR/VR. I think we should call that “extended reality” because we want to combine different sensors and different technology and capabilities that’s going to make you transported to a completely immersive experience. It’s not just the visualization, it’s also the audio feedback, it’s also the olfactory sense, combining that together, the cumulative effect is going to make something really magic, as Tony mentioned.

Going back to enterprise, that’s basically one part of my business.  The other part of my business is to run all of the R&D globally for Accenture. What’s interesting here is to look at the use cases that are going to be prominent for our clients. There are a couple examples of things I want to share with you. Typical things that we’ve been doing for aeronautics, for example, for the aerospace industry. We’ve been releasing a project with Airbus on their 330 manufacturing platforms. What they do is here is that the one thing we can do to help the workers to be more efficient in the way that they bolt seats in the plane. For all of us it seems pretty simple: we get a bunch of bolts, we have an instruction guide, and off we go, we just have to bolt them. Well, it’s a bit more complex than that, because there are a bunch of holes in this whole plane, and very often what we figure out is that they start with the first seat, and they shift for one hole and the whole thing has to be done again. So what we’ve done here is used Vuzix, this display system, to provide augmented reality and tell them exactly where the hole is that they need to bolt the seat on to.

Fried: And the benefit here is obviously—

Carrel-Billiard: 500 percent increase in efficiency. This is it.

Fried: Also, you have this thing where people put up with a lot more bulkier thing. One of the issues with the technology that powers particularly AR, ODG and others have these glasses and they’re nice enough, but they’re not the kind of thing that you nor I would want to spend four or five hours with our friends wearing, and they cost more than we’d want to spend.

Carrel-Billiard: Yeah, and that’s it. I think you’re right. We’re not yet there, where we’re going to be able to deploy all of these devices at scale. Why? Because they’re, as you said, too heavy, the battery life is not good enough, and they don’t have all of the certifications. They can be IP6, but they need to be IP7, they need to be “x-compliant” for explosive atmosphere environments and all those different things you need, for example, in an oil and gas refinery. It’s not there yet, but it’s coming. And in fact, if you look there are three stages: there’s the consumer device that we play with and that can work in a confined environment; there’s the kind of “bridge” device—we had some people here who were showing these kinds of devices yesterday, Realware for example—it’s a device you can wear on your helmet that has IP6 certification and then you can start developing use cases there; and then in a year or two years, you’ll have a really rugged device, things that are going to last for 12 hours on battery and you can drop them, they don’t break.

Fried: So that piece, to me, as someone who’s covered tech for a while, that’s the piece that I’m pretty convinced gets solved. It’s a thing over time. It’s units, it’s Moore’s law, cost come down, and size comes down.

Carrel-Billiard: Yes.

Fried: On the content side, what are we going to do with this side? Will it just be the typical thing where on the consumer side, the Foxs and Disneys will come back when the numbers are there? Is there a catalyst in there? What drives things back to consumer and the masses? Or on the enterprise side, what takes this from niche use cases of fixing an airplane where the value is huge to the average productivity worker? I’ve seen demos where I’m typing on Microsoft Word and instead of using a monitor, I’ve got a headset because I can use six windows at once. What drives both sets of adoption?

Parisi: On the consumer side, the Foxs of the world are not just sitting around; they’re not just “wait and see.” Some of the big game studios are definitely “wait and see” and haven’t committed a ton of resources. But when you look at the entertainment industry more broadly, and Hollywood, this idea that you could create cinematic experiences that take people into a magical, artificial world, there might be an extension of a brand IP you already have in the theatre is attractive. It’s not exactly like the movie business is lighting up the world these days, so they’re also looking at this as potentially a new business model. They’re keeping a really close watch on it and they all have innovation labs, Fox Next, Viacom Next; there’s a lot of these out there in the entertainment world that are trying to push the envelope on the medium a little bit to understand what content creation means here. They don’t want to wait around and get caught by the time these devices hit mass scale.

That being said, other than a few on Steam for the HTC Vive for example, where you have a few hundred thousand of these headsets, there have been a few titles that have made a few million dollars, so there’s some small independent developers that have done pretty well on that. There were some early signs of success, but no one has had this breakout killer app on the consumer side yet.

While this is all going on, though, folks like Google aren’t standing still, both from their mobile side and even doing things for the Vive and these desktop platforms. They’re thinking about this as education, as tourism. They brought Google Earth into VR, they’re thinking about a program where they’re taking you places around the world and that can be a combo of video and synthetic media. When you look at a company like Google, they’re really thinking of this as the future consumer interface to teach people, to take them places, and they’re making some experiments.

Nothing has really broken through yet, but we’ve got the shared belief that something will. We’ve got to enjoy of these waves of technology adoptions in the past to know that we couldn’t have predicted the killer app going in, and so some of this is just a matter of “time will tell” and staying in the game.

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