IGS 2023 wrapped up last week, tipping off a monumental event filled with XR innovation across a series of industries. The event concluded just in time for the launch of AWE this week, which equally sees the XR community unite to promote marketplace developments and innovation.
As important industry events occur, the sector continues to progress. Major firms like Microsoft, Valve, and Apple are continuing to build immersive product portfolios leading towards the dawn of 2024.
The industrial Metaverse is a term seemingly picking up steam. As the Metaverse for work became tarnished due to undelivered promises and poor optics, market leaders are rebranding their enterprise-grade services to interest forward-thinking end-users – at the same time, Apple is building its spatial computing promise, steering clear from established XR terminology.
The Latest Updates from Microsoft
This week, Microsoft unveiled a new patent aiming to improve functionality for devices like its HoloLens 2 and others, indicating a potential revival of its R&D into MR headsets.
The initial patent states that Microsoft plans to create a “display device [that] includes a display substrate and a backplane substrate.”
The patent continues:
The display substrate includes an array of micro-LEDs forming individual pixels. The backplane substrate includes a plurality of pixel logic hardware modules. Each pixel logic hardware module includes a local memory element configured to store a multi-bit pixel intensity value of a corresponding micro-LED for an image frame. The backplane substrate is bonded to a backside of the display substrate such that the pixel logic hardware modules are physically aligned behind the array of micro-LEDs and each pixel logic hardware module is electrically connected to a micro-LED of the corresponding pixel.
Also, the report stated that Microsoft will explore microLED displays to circumvent some of the issues with waveguide technologies, including “their size and the poor visual quality.” Additionally, using microLED displays can reduce HoloLens device form factors while boosting the headset’s imaging quality.
Additionally, this week, Microsoft closed down Project Airsim, an AI ambition tied to the firm’s Industrial Metaverse roadmap. As part of the closure, Microsoft is also laying off the project’s employees as it plans to discontinue the Azure AI-based service by December 15 2023.
An official Microsoft statement on the layoffs said:
We are proud of the impact this incubation created for our customers and we will continue to invest in both Azure as the computing platform that powers the industrial metaverse, and a wide range of AI projects within the company. We are working closely with our customers on this transition.
Moreover, the news comes after Microsoft shut down Bonsai, another acquired AI start-up set to play a significant role in the firm’s industrial Metaverse. The acquisitions were initially led by Microsoft’s Chief Technology Officer Kevin Scott, who also directed the firm’s recent OpenAI partnership, which seemingly has taken attention away from Airsim and Bonsai – therefore leading to each studio’s closure.
Valve Updates SteamVR
Valve introduced SteamVR 2.0 this week, which brings usability updates to the popular PCVR dashboard for Index users and beyond.
The update primarily adds improved user functionality, such as introducing more Steam and Steam Deck elements into the SteamVR ecosystem, an updated keyboard that supports dual-cursor typing, new language support, Steam Chat/Voice Chat integration, an improved storefront that displays the latest VR releases, and Steam notifications.
Moreover, SteamVR 2.0 adds various fixes, including general performance, controller, and driver optimisations. Additionally, the update improves the usability of Meta headsets on SteamVR.
A statement from Valve explained:
In this release we’re bringing all of what’s new and exciting on the Steam platform into VR. This is our first big step in a larger ongoing effort to better unify the Steam ecosystem for all users, providing a more consistent experience across devices. This update also allows us to add new Steam features in the future much faster and more frequently.
Nokia and the Industrial Metaverse
This week, XR Today spoke with Thomas Hainzel, Head of Digital Industries Evolution & Partnerships, Nokia, to explore the massive potential of the industrial metaverse. The industrial metaverse will transform how facilities, plants, and even smart cities will propel their operations into Industry 4.0 through the new ecosystem of technologies.
Thomas Hainzel: Some say the Metaverse is dead. I fully agree that no, it’s not. We are just at the beginning of it, and we will see a lot coming down the road in the next couple of years.
Regarding the OpenRAN Alliance, we are a leading partner of it and have a lot of activities running out there. We also look into the 5G RAN performance and its security, reliability, and efficiency, which requires hardware, software, and services innovation across the network domain.
We also have openness as part of our identity at Nokia, and we collaborate with many different ecosystem partners to enable such use cases.
How does that rely on the industrial metaverse? Firstly, it can only come to life if a couple of partners and entire ecosystems work together. That also means that we need to be open and see that multiple vendors with use the software, hardware, device, connectivity, and platform layers.
That is why OpenRAN is important to make sure that the seamlessness—the integration of different domains—comes together across network topologies and technologies. It’s also important that security standards align because security is key in the industrial metaverse.
When we talk about interoperability and lifecycle management for network functions, we are used to that from the past due to the standards for mobile networking technologies like 3GPP.
Interworking and interoperability are key, and we want to use that experience and knowledge in defining those interfaces, whether they are front-holding, real-time, intelligent controller, or other interfaces.
We want to ensure our experience is from those very open, standardised discussions on the mobile network technologies integrating into the industrial metaverse, because bringing hundreds of parties and use cases into this requires integration, alignment, and networking.
That is why I think we can benefit from how we behave and work today, on the OpenRAN side, so that this can be beneficial for the industrial metaverse.
During the discussion, Thomas Hainzel also spoke on industrial Metaverse network infrastructure requirements, rollouts, and success stories.
Apple Deepen iPhone AR
Finally, Apple introduced 3D spatial recording features on its latest iPhone iteration, allowing users to capture moments as 3D assets using the device’s camera. Users can then view their iPhone-captured 3D spatial recordings via Apple’s Vision Pro MR headset as an AR visualisation.
Following its latest iPhone spatial update, the firm is deepening its offering but debuting object capture and photogrammetry abilities, which can increase the number of workplace use cases for the iPhone in specific sectors. Apple’s iPhone portfolio already has a deep integration into many businesses thanks to the product’s ubiquity as a worldwide digital communication tool.
Last week, Apple introduced Object Capture as a new feature for the latest iPhone and iPad models that developers can access via the macOS Monterey and Xcode 13 beta.
In a promotional video, an Apple spokesperson said that Object Capture replaces the need to manually create 3D models, “which can take weeks,” Apple remarked. The video also explained how Object Capture uses photogrammetry to turn a series of 2D images into photo-realistic 3D objects in just minutes.
Apple highlighted how “leading developers like Maxo and Unity are already using Object Capture to unlock entirely new ways of creating 3D content.” Moreover, the firm explained how Wayfair uses Object Capture to develop innovative digital tools at its manufacturing plants. Employees use iPhones and Macs to create AR assets that customers can place in their homes before purchasing a piece of furniture.
The news comes as Apple prepares for the release of the Vision Pro MR headset – due in 2024. Seemingly, the firm is introducing a greater number of immersive features for its iPhone and iPad portfolio to increase interoperable XR functionalities between Apple-brand devices.