Emerging technology has always been part of my career and life, as a software developer, speaker, sci-fi author and industry analyst for over 30 years. The coverage and work I specifically do at 451 Research combines what is going on now, in areas such as Industrial Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) with a forward looking element for start-ups and company digital transformation schemes engaged in improved or new approaches.

Often in tech, as in life, everything old is new again.

Experience shows that over time cycles of technology combine, each element matures and then tend to come together and find their place in the world. I always say that Augmented Reality is the user interface for IoT, especially in an industrial context and this remains true but there are elements of AR in the consumer space that potentially offer something slightly different. All technology, especially for personal use, needs social acceptance and understanding, this is usually the hardest bit.

Consumer Technology

January saw Las Vegas taken over by CES 2020. This technology show is focussed on consumer technology. Everything from cars to fridges, robots to phones, TV’s to sports equipment.

AR and VR has grown over the past few years and looking at the exhibitor directory for 2020 there were just over 350 companies listed as Virtual and Augmented Reality exhibitors. Obviously not all pure AR and VR only but part of the company displays related to this industry. Just to give that some perspective there are 4,500 exhibitors. That means that nearly 10% of CES 2020 covered AR and VR in some form.

The 350 AR, VR was next to 70 for 3D printing, 160 for Travel and Tourism and 573 for Health as examples. This does not mean everyone is diving into AR or VR but it’s a significant number of companies showing products, tools and content in the space.

Just adverts?

In the late 90’s we used to talk about 6 degrees of separation between people (obviously pre-social media) and in particular those degrees of separation to actor Kevin Bacon, the Bacon Number. I will leave it to you to look at this on wikipedia if you weren’t there, with the stack of memes we now get deluged with it may not make much sense, but it was important at the time.

There are some amusing calculators such as Oracle of Bacon that find the relationship links from any actor to Kevin Bacon. These remove the fun in the game of film knowledge, but you can explore the concept. I wrote a bit about its relevance later on in 2009, looking at the connectivity and bigger picture.

Why so much on Kevin Bacon? I was sitting watching old school TV and an advert for telecoms provider EE appeared, Kevin Bacon has been the face of these for some years. Clearly linked to the aforementioned Bacon Number and EE connecting people with phones and internet.

This advert featured band Bastille performing a set in Birmingham New Street station, but this was being live streamed over 5G to the local venue and to commuters in London’s Liverpool Lime Street and Edinburgh station. This was not streaming as a standard single camera but as a 360-video capture, importantly with added AR graphics and effects added into it. Viewers in the remote locations could see the gig placed into the physical environment through phone screens complete with additional 3d objects and effects.

Locally people could see the additional graphics adding to the performance. Also notable was the use of Nreal’s AR glasses, given to some of the commuters. These are not yet generally available but look like they are on the list for EE in the near future.

Clearly the advert was primarily about the 5G rollout and the fact it can deal with low latency high bandwidth requirements, but AR (and VR) streaming is often used as a reason for it to exist. It allowed the company, via its ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi, to dive in and claim a first for a streaming AR powered gig over 5G.

Rival Vodafone also have some adverts, with F1 champion Lewis Hamilton, around the 5G rollout but featuring him using the Magic Leap AR headset as part of the footage. The filmed advert is entitled “Lewis Hamilton x gaming”.

Another, called “Lewis Hamilton x drones” sees the racing champion engage in first person view drone racing, another user case requiring very low latency communications, and is a fast-growing sport and TV/Streaming experience.

These “firsts” are often part of the ramping up of social acceptance of a technology. We saw the same with the streaming concerts inside the gaming environment Fortnite. They can sometimes be debated as how much of them is an actual first, but they are what they are. They reach into our homes and lives and start to normalize the future potential.

Conclusion

A form of AR, closely linked to 5G, has turned up in a mainstream advertising. The association of AR with Kevin Bacon reduces AR’s own Bacon Number to 1. That is just a bit of fun, but the advert, and actual impromptu gig, does mark something in take up and understanding of AR.

Hamilton as a well-known formula 1 driver fronting both AR and VR drone racing experiences also introduce these things to everyday life through channels people pay attention to.

It’s been a long while coming, we are not there yet, but…. Yay!