Augmented World Expo from the Comfort of My Home Office

Alan Bullock and Ed Lee
Jun 12, 2015

The Augmented World Expo (AWE) was held June 8-10, in Santa Clara, California. The show organizer, AugmentedReality.org, expected more than 3,000 attendees, with just over 100 exhibitors and a series of presentations and discussions featuring more than 200 speakers and panelists.

Cameras, imaging, and display technologies are important components of many Augmented Reality (AR) applications, and we are following the AR market as part of InfoTrends’ new Imaging Innovators Service.

We were unable to make it to AWE 2015 in person, but my colleague, Ed Lee, and I were invited to teleport to the event, using a robot-like video device called a BEAM*.

What is a BEAM? At the risk of over-simplification, it’s a motorized telepresence device that features a color LCD screen and two cameras and can be remotely controlled via wireless network connection. My face, captured by the webcam on my computer, was displayed on the screen. The upper camera provided me with a live view at what my virtual face was looking at, while a lower camera pointed at the floor just in front of the BEAM so I could see what (or who) I was about to run over.

From the cockpit (the BEAM application on my computer), I could use the keyboard arrows to control forward, reverse, left, and right movement, and on-screen buttons and sliders for things like zooming and panning the upper camera, adjusting speaker and microphone levels, and controlling speed. I could also enter my name and other relevant text that would be displayed on the BEAM screen for others to see – sort of a virtual trade show badge. I could also see the feed from my webcam in a small window at the bottom of the screen.

Here is a screen capture of my view during the conference opening session and press conference. All of the BEAM units (I think there were about a dozen of us) were lined up about 25-30 feet from the stage, behind four rows of chairs and in front of several tables. In this shot, I had the upper camera zoomed in all the way, but I occasionally zoomed out and panned around to see slides displayed on side screens.

In addition to the opening session, Ed and I each had a BEAM unit available to us for two hours of our choosing. We used those times to cruise the show floor, visiting exhibitors’ booths, seeing product demonstrations, and having real-time face-to- face conversations. In many ways, it was a lot like attending a trade show in person. I was able to connect with people I had previously met and have productive discussions.

There were a few challenges, such as exchanging contact information. The best option seemed to be to hold business cards up to the camera. I could do a screen capture to save the information, but people with whom I was speaking obviously had no such option. And, much like my middle-aged ears, it was a bit hard to hear when things got noisy, especially if someone else, in a different conversation, happened to be standing closer than the person with whom I was speaking. It was easy to approach most vendors, but sometimes, especially when a booth was busy, it was a little hard to get someone’s attention.

My BEAM presence was clearly a novelty to most exhibitors and attendees. Countless people said, “Hi” and waved at me (I, of course, returned the greetings). The most common question I got was, “Where are you?” Several people wanted to take my picture, and one even asked if he could take a selfie with me! A British reporter even stopped to ask me a few questions. All in all, it was both productive and a lot of fun.

Near the end of the day, as Ed and I were piloting separate BEAMs (from Boston and Raleigh, respectively), we found each other in the exhibit hall. Ed spotted me talking with someone and rolled up next to us. After brief introductions and some virtual chit-chat, another guy walked up and took a picture of the three of us. I gave him my e-mail address and asked him to send me the photo, and he obliged. So, here it is – the InfoTrends team at AWE 2015, along with a mystery guest. If you recognize him, please thank him for us!

InfoTrends’ Opinion

I really enjoyed using the BEAM at AWE 2015. With the help of an exhibit hall map on my second monitor, I could find my way around fairly easily, although I did have to ask friendly passers-by where I was on a couple of occasions when I could not easily read booth signs. I’m not sure my experience would have been as positive at a much larger event, such as CES, where aisles and booths are crowded, everything is a lot noisier, and exhibits are spread out between multiple halls and locations.

There were no real advantages over a standard live-streaming webcast for the opening presentation and press conference, but on the trade show floor, the BEAM allowed a personalized and interactive experience, and really was the next best thing to being there in person. I look forward to the evolution of this technology.

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* BEAM is a product of Suitable Technologies, Inc., and was supported at AWE 2015 by Event Presence.

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