The coming year promises to be a good one for those of us watching the augmented and mixed reality world. And the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), starting Jan. 5 in Las Vegas, Nevada, for its 50th year, is bringing 2017 in with a bang—we're expecting a ton of great announcements on the horizon.
From the HoloLens developers edition release and ever-churning Magic Leap rumor mill, to Pokémon Go and the resurgence of the smart glasses movement, augmented, mixed, and virtual realities have been all over the place in 2016. So, it's no surprise that for its second year, CES will dedicate an entire section of the floor to augmented reality called the Augmented Reality Marketplace.
We'll likely see at least a few new augmented and mixed reality technologies unveiled at CES 2017, and maybe even a surprise or two. Here's a rundown of who is going to have a presence at the show this year, and what we expect to see. Some of these details are confirmed, but a few are purely speculation.
Microsoft HoloLens and Windows Holographic
Sadly, the trend for Microsoft in recent years has been saving their biggest announcements for their own, stand-alone events. So we most likely won't see a new HoloLens version or consumer release date announced at CES. That said, Microsoft does not seem to have any hardware events scheduled at this time, so you never know.
In years past Microsoft's presence at CES has mostly featured their hardware partners' projects.
Windows Holographic ecosystem— Microsoft's Windows 10 powered, mixed reality platform—is a high priority for Microsoft at the moment. It is, in essence, a holographic operating system for an entirely new class of devices. They've teamed up with Acer, ASUS, Dell, HP, Lenovo, and 3Glasses as hardware partners.
A few products from Microsoft's Windows Holographic partners are slated for release in the fourth quarter of 2017. These devices were presented on stage at WinHEC Shenzhen in early December, 2016. Nothing has been announced to be at CES this year, but this trade show is one of the biggest in the world, so sets a great stage for these kinds of presentations.
I am sure the press will love to get their hands on these Windows partner headsets. What little we know about the hardware is, like HoloLens, they will have some form of inside out tracking. Unlike HoloLens, they will be tethered to your computer. We also have some minimal PC specs.
Occipital's Bridge and the Structure Sensor
Occipital Inc announced their mixed reality headset a few weeks ago. Using a model much like the Samsung GearVR, the Bridge headset uses an Apple iPhone to power the mixed reality process. Their dev kits will be released in March of 2017 and will run $499, and Occipital does have a booth at the Augmented Reality marketplace, so we're expecting they'll have something to show off there.
Up to this point, we have only seen a few demos; I have yet to hear a word about the device's overall performance. This needs to be rectified soon—hopefully at CES.
Osterhout Design Group's R9 SmartGlass
The Osterhout Design Group (also known as ODG), develops augmented reality smart glasses and recently announced a $58 million Series A round of funding.
ODG's website currently features their R7 model smart glasses, what Nima Shams, ODG's VP, Headworn, refers to as "a high-end tablet on your head." This model seems to fit perfectly into the original definition of augmented reality—it overlays information into your line of sight, allowing for email checking and other simple tasks.
But, a video recently surfaced on YouTube, of what is assumed to be ODG's latest model, the R9. Based on footage in the video, these smart glasses look more akin to mixed reality than the R7. ODG does have a booth in the AR Marketplace, so we're hoping they'll do an official reveal at some point during CES.
The Magic Leap hype train is running at full speed coming into the end of 2016: CEO Rony Abovitz said recently that 2017 is going to be "an exciting year" and CMO Brenda Freeman just said the company is "racing toward launch."
That said, there were rumors early in the year that Magic Leap may reveal something at CES 2017 if they got a Keynote speaker slot. From what I have seen, they do not appear to be at CES this year. We will see, but it seems highly unlikely that Magic Leap ends up showing anything at CES this year, since they are not registered as a vendor.
Vuzix's Blade 3000 Smart Sunglasses
Vuzix has been working on smartglasses of all kinds as long as I have followed augmented and mixed reality. I remember back in 2011 really wanting a pair of the Wrap 1200s but with a $8000 price tag that was not going to happen. They look so cyberpunk!
Their latest iteration in the smart glasses market are the Blade 3000 Smart Sunglasses, which essentially extend your smartphone, tablet, or laptop into your vision—much like the Google Glass did. These are a bit better in terms of style and look than Google Glass, and have won 4 International CES Innovation awards.
Vuzix does have a booth in the augmented reality marketplace this year. I do not believe they will have any big reveal but will likely be demoing the Blade 3000s to the attendees.
Sony has been fairly quiet in the AR space, but have had the SmartEyeGlass out for a few years. This product appears to be fairly simple in comparison to the other offerings in the AR marketplace, offering only a monochrome display, and is being offered as an enterprise solution for business, not personal use.
Sony has also started selling some of the parts they make to hardware manufacturers and developers. They recently added amonochrome green holographic waveguide display called the LMX-100 development kit to their catalog, which lets start-up developers explore creating devices with a monochrome waveguide without manufacturing their own.
I would be excited to see Sony surprise us at CES with something competitive with the current market. They've done a great job not only bringing in competition to the market but dominating it this year with virtual reality. Maybe they can bring that energy to mixed reality as well.
StereoLabs, the makers of the Zed 3D depth sensor, a sensor designed to scan a space to create mixed reality experiences, have a new AR/MR/VR hybrid coming in early 2017 called the Linq. This team has been quiet since the announcement of the Linq in November. Any new information about this new headset will be a great addition. While they are not on the exhibitor list, one can hope.