I have spent a good portion of this year traveling between cities and various emergent technology conferences and events. Most of these events have been really good, but in terms of augmented and mixed reality, the Augmented World Expo, in its eighth year running, definitely stood above the rest.
The event, which happened May 31 through June 2 in Santa Clara, California, was kicked off with a keynote from Ori Inbar, the co-founder of the event and CEO of AugmentedReality.org. Inbar did a great job of not only setting the tone but the pace for the entire show as well.
Most of the keynote speeches I have sat through and covered this year have been at minimal an hour and a half long. Nearly three hours long, in a few cases. Inbar got on stage, quickly talked about everything that was important, and was done 16 minutes later.
Once the keynote was finished, I got out and began talking to people — my schedule the first two days of the event was packed full. I began to notice something that was very different here from the other events I had been to this year. While, yes, I was having some conversations about marketing, they weren't full of the general useless fluff that comes along with most marketing pitches. This was researched and thoughtful information. These were well-thought-out use-cases. These people were experts.
As I walked through the dining area, I could hear an array of conversations going on. Noticeably, these conversations going on around me were not the typical "consumer use-case vs. enterprise" — conversation points that have been run into the ground in the last few years. These discussions were about topics like security, privacy in a technology that needs information to be useful, or the potential long-term effects of these technologies on society as a whole. One after another, the various debates I got into were a pleasant surprise, and I found myself jumping head first into many of them.
AWE has its roots in what originally amounts to a large scale augmented reality DIY meetup group. Now that the technology is finally catching up to the imaginations of the developers, the conference has grown tremendously. This really seems to set it apart from the other conferences I have been to this year. Ori Inbar and his longtime show co-producer, Tom Emrich — both members of our NR50 list — have done an amazing job helping the scene flourish. While it does now have the big corporate sponsors, it still holds on to that DIY center.
Of course, as with any large-scale event, there was an issue or two. The first day, the theater and many of the breakout rooms were packed all day long, with lines of people waiting for their turns to get into the room and see the various speakers. It was apparent the event had a bit more of a turnout than planned on. The next morning the AWE Team set up monitors outside the rooms so that people could watch while they wait or just get a chair and not deal with the line at all. This solution seemed to be the correct fix for the problem.
If someone asked, "Hey, Jason. I can only go to one AR related conference this year, which one should it be?" AWE is my answer, if AR content and discussion is your goal.
AWE ASIA 2017 is the AWE team's take on the same event in Beijing, China, running for its third year. The event takes place this week, July 19–21, 2017. If you are in the area, definitely make an effort to go.