The 10 most innovative virtual and augmented reality companies of 2020
Snap, Microsoft, and Warby Parker top the list of companies that made the most compelling spatial computing products of the past year.
Virtual reality and augmented reality technology is finding niches in both workplaces and in consumer applications. The companies whose work in the space stood out this year include makers of the core hardware and software like Snap and Microsoft, as well as a number of smaller players that have applied spatial computing in new environments such as stadiums (Dallas Cowboys) and horror gaming (Illumix). These achievements may be small steps toward a future where spatial computing replaces our mobile and desktop screens as our go-to interface.
For scanning the world to apply lenses to it
The ephemeral messaging platform has increasingly become an AR company in recent years. In 2019, it added a good deal of artificial intelligence to the mix as well by introducing a new feature called Scan. Scan uses computer vision technology to understand objects in the camera’s view, then suggests AR overlays, called “lenses,” that are relevant to that object. If your camera is trained on a dog, for instance, Scan might bring up pet-friendly lenses. Snapchatters just press and hold on the camera screen to scan the world around them. Snap says more than 70% of its daily active users play with its lenses every day.
Read more about why Snap is one of the World’s Most Innovative Companies of 2020.
For improving its HoloLens 2 with better field of view and gesture controls for business adoption
Microsoft is trying to help business users transition away from the 2D screens most use every day to a future of hands-free, wearable user interfaces and 3D holographic images. Its HoloLens 2 mixed-reality headset, released in 2019, doubles the field of view of the first HoloLens, features a more balanced and comfortable design, and greatly improves the resolution of the 3D imagery you can see through the lenses. It also adds hand tracking, which lets you navigate the content you’re seeing in the lenses, as well as full eye tracking, which lets you scroll through text with your eye movements. Microsoft’s enterprise customers are using HoloLens to do such things as access information to help the customers in front of them, and to collaborate with faraway coworkers within virtual work spaces.
Read more about why Microsoft is one of the World’s Most Innovative Companies of 2020.
3. WARBY PARKER
For taking the guesswork out of frames shopping with its Virtual Try-On tool
Warby Parker may have more than 110 physical store locations, but not all of its customers can necessarily get to one to try on their glasses, or some may simply prefer the e-commerce experience. The drawback of online apparel shopping, of course, is not being able to try things on. Warby’s new Virtual Try-On tool lets customers fit 3D images of different glasses to their faces so they can get a pretty good idea of how they’ll look. The addition of the Try-On tool to the Warby app helped double monthly downloads year over year in 2019, the company says.
4. DALLAS COWBOYS
For exciting fans with stadium-wide AR activations such as “Pose With the Pros”
The Dallas Cowboys worked with AT&T, Samsung, and Nexus Studios to prepare AT&T Stadium for some big-time AR experiences for fans. The organization relied on the Nexus Studios AR platform to create holographic images that can be seen through the user’s phone. The holographic images of players, mascots, and more can also interact with fixed objects like the stadium itself. During halftime of a 2019 game, the Cowboys streamed a live AR football game featuring giant cartoonlike players that appeared to be happening on the field. The team also installed large photo kiosks where fans can watch as virtual Cowboys gather around them for a selfie, which can then be shared on social media.
For immersing kids in reading
The famed VR company Within is breathing some fresh air into AR storytelling with its Wonderscope platform and a series of interactive AR stories for kids. The stories feature cute characters that play-act stories in the real space right in front of the child, while the child reads lines aloud to move the story forward. The company was invited to showcase its AR stories in 16 Los Angeles public schools through a program with L.A. Public Libraries and the after-school program L.A.’s BEST. Later this year, the company will unveil Supernatural, a fitness-training application for VR.
For VR training programs used to train more than a million Walmart employees
Strivr is using VR to give employers a cost-effective way to train employees. The company offers modules for training employees to do everything from treating customers with empathy to dealing with an armed robbery in the workplace. Strivr is now providing training solutions to Walmart, where the company has distributed 17,000 VR headsets that give employees access to more than 55 of its learning modules. The program includes almost 4,600 Walmart stores in the United States and more than 1 million employees.
For making showrooming an asset for retailers
VisionX builds AR and VR applications for retailers that let customers visualize what their products might look like in their own living room or bedroom. Viewed through the camera of a smartphone or tablet, products like a lamp or a coffee table appear in 3D, and the app intelligently measures for scale and adjusts the lighting and shadows to make the experience realistic.
For scaring gamers with Five Nights at Freddy’s AR: Special Delivery
Horror games and augmented reality are a good mix if done right. Scary things can be even scarier if presented convincingly in the context of the real world. Five Nights was already a VR game, a cult hit with creepy-looking characters against an eerie backdrop, and its transition to AR is a triumph. Part of the reason FNAF works well in AR is because of the jump scares: Ghoulish animatronic creatures tend to jump out at you from behind real-world objects. And all you have to protect yourself is a flashlight and a shocker.
For helping customer service agents diagnose and fix problems
TechSee’s “Smart Assist” feature uses AR and computer vision to help customer service agents diagnose and fix malfunctioning hardware devices. The feature uses the support caller’s smartphone camera to give the customer service agent a view of the problem, while the computer vision model spots visible symptoms that lead to a diagnosis with 95% accuracy, the company says. Then the system can deliver advice and next steps to the client using annotations that show up directly on their smartphone screen. Some problems can even be solved without the help of a human customer service agent. TechSee says that its technology is being used by wireless service providers, consumer electronics companies, insurance companies, and utility companies.
For making a statement about sustainability with a white T-shirt you overlay with graphic messages via Instagram filter
In the future, when we’re all wearing AR glasses or contact lenses, physically printing words and images on objects like clothing and road signs may become unnecessary. Carlings is perhaps a bit ahead of the game, but it’s already come out with a T-shirt whose design shows up only when viewed through the Instagram app. The design even changes size and perspective from the vantage point of the smartphone. A logo at the top of the shirt triggers Instagram to display the design, which can be changed by the owner of the Instagram page whenever they want.