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04:33 PM | June 06, 2022
5 Takeaways From This Year’s Augmented World Expo
As the “metaverse” slowly transitions from a buzzword to reality, the Augmented World Expo—a gathering of augmented reality CEOs, engineers, creators, consumers and investors—showcased what the future of the industry might look like.
Since its first event in 2010, AWE has grown to over 250 augmented and virtual reality companies from around the globe. The 2022 conference, which ran from June 1-3 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in the Bay Area, was the biggest yet—and flush with new experimental formats and new technology.
One example of the conference's new approach: a three-act augmented reality play performed at the conference called “MetaTr@versal: A Day in the Life.” Written by extended-reality (XR) technologist Sophia Moshasha, the play used VR screen mirroring to tell the story of an entrepreneur pitching new interoperability standards to investors.
“It was super ambitious, because we were using technologies from ARWall,” said AWE Head of Operations Andrea Lowery. “I can't even characterize all the different audio visual inputs and time and energy and creativity and tech that went into this thing.”
This year’s AWE featured keynotes, breakout rooms and a tech playground that included interactive and immersive experiences. Here are the five standouts from the conference and the advancing technology.
Magic Leap’s New Headset
Lines began snaking around the corner of the Magic Leap booth before the exposition floor even officially opened, as crowds gathered to try the Florida-based company’s new Magic Leap 2 augmented reality headset.
Participants were paired up and assigned to one of three demos. I was able to try the “wildfire” demo, where the glasses scanned a printed code on a circular tabletop and displayed a topographical map. The demonstrator toggled overlays off and on, showing the spread of weather and fire across the landscape. The company hopes their technology will be used in the future to train first responders, as well as workers in manufacturing, health and defense, among other industries.
The new headset aims to tackle some of the problems with the release of its first incarnation—including a narrow field of view and limited range of applications—by expanding the horizontal field of vision from 50 to 70 degrees and reaching out to more potential partners.
The most impressive part of the Magic Leap 2 was optical dimming, which shuts out nearly all light outside the augmented reality elements on the tabletop, drawing users’ focus to the data and cutting down on glare in outdoor environments.
Tilt Five: Immersive Table-Top Gaming
Tilt Five was another popular booth. The startup produces augmented and virtual reality gaming hardware, and has partnered with third party game developers to build software that integrates turns table-top games in AR experiences. The full system includes a game board, a light pair of AR glasses and a control wand.
The company raised over $1.7 million in fan funding on crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. It’s been shipping out completed products to its backers since December and hopes to have them all sent out by the end of the summer. Now, it has set its sights on expanding its offerings.
“We actually just signed with Asmodee Digital, who makes games like Catan, Carcassonne and Gloomhaven,” said Tilt Five Head of Communications Stephanie Greenall. “So we'll be taking a select number of their titles and putting them onto the board.”
Since last year’s AWE conference, Tilt Five has added mixed reality streaming, which allows fans to share their adventures on streaming and social platforms and the “XE Gameboard,” a larger board that tilts up so you can see further into the game.
TikTok’s booth showcasing its new AR features on June 3, 2022. Photo by Mallika Singh
TikTok Plays Catch Up in AR
About two months ago, TikTok launched Effect House, an AR development platform that plugs right into its mobile app. It’s an attempt to catch up on creative studio applications like Meta’s Spark AR Studio for Facebook and Instagram and Snapchat’s Lens Studio.
Effect House is built on a visual scripting system and a range of popular templates that is meant to make it easier for everyday creators to create their own visuals, without needing to know much about writing code.
According to Greg Feingold, AR ecosystem community lead at TikTok, there are already around 8,000 creators on Effect House’s Discord account, and videos using Effect House have already reached over 1 trillion views.
Fungisaurs: Augmenting Play with Figurines
L.A.-based artist and digital sculptor Aiman Akhtar’s background in 3D modeling and animation at studios including Nickelodeon, Dreamworks and Blizzard prepared him to develop his own line of augmented reality kids’ toys–in the form of small “dinosaur mushroom creatures.”
Fungisaurs started as a collection of real-life plastic toys in 2017, funded partially on Kickstarter. Three years later, Akhtar partnered with augmented reality company Octagon Studio to build ARise, a camera app that brings the physical toys to life and supports interactive play.
Next up for the company is more app integration, card functionality and a second series of characters.
“If we have a card read as well as the object, then we can trigger animations, we can trigger background changes,” Akhtar said. “So we can make narrative board games that can actually convey stories and have more interactivity between players.”
Fungisaurs was one of the only companies at AWE with a product tailored towards kids.
A conference attendee tries the HaptX DK2 Gloves on June 3, 2022. Photo by Mallika Singh
HaptX: Prototype the Training, Not the Product
HaptX, a leading producer in the haptic XR space, makes AR products for customers in training, manufacture, design and telerobotics. The company is based in Redmond, WA with offices in both San Luis Obisbo and San Francisco.
Its development kit, the DK2 Gloves, uses compressed air to simulate resistance by applying braking to the backs of the gloves, up to eight pounds of force per finger and up to 40 pounds per hand. The air contours the shape of the gloves to objects touched in virtual reality worlds.
Recently, HaptX worked with Nissan to mock up its Nissan Leaf electric vehicle virtually. Its system allows designers to touch and interact with the virtual car, obviating the need for wasteful and expensive automotive prototypes, which can cost up to $200,000 per model. HaptX’s gloves, meanwhile, cost in the high five figures for enterprise customers.
HaptX had both a stationary and mobile demo station at AWE. The mobile device was set up in a backpack. One woman trying it out at the Expo said the backpack’s weight was about the same as two MacBooks.
“This will get significantly smaller in the future,” said Victor Oriaifo, an account executive at HaptX.
He said the company aims to shrink the portable device once it’s manufacturing at scale.
Watch the main stage presentations on the AWE.Live mobile app ( iPhone/ Android), where the remainder of the sessions will appear by the end of next week. View this article in video form on our TikTok page!
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that AWE had its first conference in 2013. It was in 2010. It's also been updated to more accurately reflect the number of users on TIkTok's Discord account.
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05:00 AM | November 01, 2022
Located roughly a hundred miles east of San Diego, the Salton Sea is California’s largest landlocked body of water, for now.
Measuring 5 miles across and 35 miles long in its current form, the lake was created by diverting water from the Colorado River into the region for agricultural purposes. Once a vacation destination renowned for its wildlife and wetlands, a series of environmental mishaps and mismanagement have left the lake toxically salty, shrinking and often malodorous. Conditions have gotten so bad that Palm Springs Life Magazine called the region’s transformation “the biggest environmental disaster in California history” in March of 2020.
But against this unlikely backdrop, new life—or at least new industry—is scrambling to set up shop in the region. The Salton Sea, it turns out, is rich with lithium, an element that has taken center stage in the world’s transition to clean energy and its ever-growing demand for batteries. From smartphones to electric vehicles, there’s a pretty good chance that the last battery you used had lithium ions inside. Prices for the metal reached an all time high in September, and futures are up more than 400% since the start of 2021. With Biden’s new economic policy outlined in the Inflation Reduction Act, there are strong financial incentives to move battery production back to North America.
If that’s going to happen the Salton Sea could very well become the lithium capital of North America, or to paraphrase Governor Gavin Newsom, the region could become the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” and the players are already starting to assemble.
Currently, there are three companies attempting to set up plants in the Salton Sea for direct lithium extraction: EnergySource Minerals, Controlled Thermal Resources and BHE Renewables, a branch of Berkshire Hathaway. All three companies have similar business strategies from a high level, all of which involve geothermal power plants. These plants, which are common in many parts of the world, draw hot, salty water from deep in the ground to create steam which drives a turbine to produce electricity. What makes the Salton Sea so special is that its geothermal brines just happen to contain lithium.
In a 2017 study, researchers from the U.S. DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy analyzed more than 2,000 samples of geothermal fluid from U.S. sources and found that only 1% had significant lithium concentration. This rare confluence of geothermal activity and lithium presence provides an opportunity for companies to generate electricity and mine lithium simultaneously.
Beyond their marriage of geothermal energy and lithium extraction, the three companies begin to diverge.
According to former dot.LA engagement editor Luis Gomez — whose newsletter Lithium Valle, is essential reading on this topic — EnergySource seems to be out in front early.
“They claim to have the technology that’s patented, they claim to have done the research, they claim to have the funding, and they claim they're ready to go and start production,” says Gomez. “They are kind of considered the canary in the coal mine.”
According to a report from the United States Department of Energy, EnergySource plans to eventually scale production up to over 20,000 metric tons of lithium hydroxide per year using its proprietary Integrated Lithium Adsorption Desorption technology.
Construction on the plant was slated to start earlier this year, but has been delayed. EnergySource has said publicly that lithium production might begin in the second quarter of 2024, but it’s unclear whether this date will also be pushed back. The company has a long history of operating in the region, having run the John L. Featherstone geothermal plant since 2012. The new venture into lithium would leverage that same plant, but without more details about how their proprietary technology works, there’s not much to do but wait and see.
One potential problem facing all three lithium extraction companies is that the Salton Sea geothermal brines are not the same as the brines in evaporation ponds similar to those in Argentina, Chile and Bolivia, where more than half of the world’s lithium is produced. Specifically, the deep geothermal brines in the Salton Sea contain more silica and transition elements, which may complicate the chemistry of purifying the lithium. Still, many researchers are extremely bullish on the prospect of tapping into these reserves. Alex Grant, The Principal at Jade Cove, a research organization focusing on direct lithium extraction technologies, says that much of the skepticism surrounding the technology can be attributed to competing financial interests that are trying to squash the nascent tech’s potential in favor of an established method.
Lithium Mines in the Atacama Salt Flats, Chile from an altitude of 15km via Google Earth. The facility is about 10km wide.
For its part, BHE Renewables, operating as CalEnergy, runs a fleet of 10 geothermal plants in the Imperial Valley. The company had previously announced its intent to set up a direct lithium extraction demonstration plant sometime before the end of 2022 to assess the viability of lithium extraction. If that pilot program goes well, the company could build a commercial-scale facility as early as 2026 with a projected annual capacity of 90,000 metric tons of lithium.
Obviously, having the backing of Berkshire Hathaway comes with advantages and capital. Add into the equation another $15 million in DoE grant money obtained last winter, and BHE appears to be well positioned as a major player in the long term.
Finally, there’s Controlled Thermal Resources. As the only company not already operating a geothermal business in the region, CTR is something of an outsider and dark horse. By 2024, the company hopes to build both a geothermal energy plant and a direct lithium extraction plant to operate in parallel, projecting a capacity to extract 300,000 metric tons of lithium carbonate equivalent annually by 2030. As dot.LA previously reported, Controlled Thermal Resources has partnered with Statevolt, a company that intends to build a $4 billion gigafactory nearby that will run on power from CTR’s geothermal plant and make batteries from the lithium it extracts. It’s a beautiful closed-loop business model. But again, all of this relies on the direct lithium extraction technology, and details are scant.
According to Gomez, despite the typically cut-throat nature of the energy industry, the relationship between the three upstarts in the Salton Sea is often surprisingly cooperative at the moment.
“They want the others to succeed because it kind of gives them the confidence that their technology is also eventually going to succeed,” he says. “It gives confidence to investors.”
Which is all to say, there may well be space for all three companies if the technology is as solid as they claim. If that’s the case, the Salton Sea and its surrounding region may have yet another miraculous transformation up its sleeve.
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lithiumenergysourcecontrolled thermal resourcesbhe renewablessalton seaelectric vehiclessouthern califironia
David Shultz reports on clean technology and electric vehicles, among other industries, for dot.LA. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Outside, Nautilus and many other publications.
08:00 AM | October 21, 2022
Anasofia Gomez spends her early mornings filming herself journaling, picking up coffee and getting ready for the day. By 9 a.m., she’s ready to start her full-time job as a social media marketer.
The Los Angeles-based creator is just one of the 53% of non-professional creators in the United States who maintain a full-time job while also creating monetized content. Colloquially speaking, Gomez is considered a micro-influencer—creators with followers that range from 1,000 to 100,000.
Gomez treats her content creation as a second job: she starts her day at 6 a.m. just to film her content, which often features her outfits and local recommendations, and ends her days at 11 p.m. by posting her daily video. This level of dedication has earned Gomez almost 38,000 TikTok followers and partnerships with brands like perfume company Dossier and FitOn—a fitness app.
Jon Davids, the CEO of influencer marketing company Influicity, says brands often partner with micro-influencers to create a larger volume of content. Similar to their partnerships with normal influencers, companies will send micro-influencers free products in exchange for a promotional video. Depending on the influencer, some companies will pay over $200 per video.
The difference, of course, is that since companies can pay micro-influencers less, they’ll get more content for their money. For example, he says a mega-influencer may charge $5,000 for one video, while companies can take that same budget and work with roughly 30 micro-influencers.
“You can get lots and lots and lots of content without paying massive amounts of money for it,” Davids says. “And, frankly, the supply is just there.”
But Gomez says the money is often inconsistent. A month-long deal can briefly boost her income, but that doesn’t guarantee a partnership for the upcoming months. The inconsistency isn’t without its benefits, however. Gomez says that since she doesn’t rely on these partnerships for income, she can be more particular about what companies she works with.
Gomez has even turned her micro-influencing, work-life balance into content. Her series documenting her attempts to make the most of her time outside of work has taken off. Gomez’s first video about her “promise to get off the couch and seize life” has over 10 thousand likes. As such, she’s since maintained a series of videos focused on how she uses her time outside of work.
In fact, the “5 to 9” trend, which features people showing off their detailed routines before and after work, often with homemade meals and elaborate skincare routines, can get creators thousands of views. Other micro-influencers highlight content specifically about their careers: lawyers translate legal jargon, nurses discuss their work hours and teachers share their classroom management strategies. Which is to say, for many non-professional creators, quitting their full-time job would likely alter their content and potentially alienate their audience.
To that end, Davids says, these niche communities, such as influencers who make content about engineering or waste management, are often where micro-influencers thrive.
“The micro-influencers that we have today really didn't exist five or six years ago,” Davids says. “People who had very, very small audiences on social weren’t doing it to have any kind of professional presence—they were just kind of creating content for their friends and family.”
Which is why, Davids adds, amateur content creators can actively engage their followers on a more personable level than many mega-influencers.
Nonetheless, Gomez has thought about pursuing content creation full-time. But, she finds that she enjoys the security her traditional job provides compared to the lack of financial consistency from her influencing endeavors.
“You just never know what the future is with social,” Gomez says. “I think you really do have to be in a really good place [financially] to be able to say, ‘I'm going to quit my job and just do content creation.’” Amen.
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Kristin Snyder is dot.LA's 2022/23 Editorial Fellow. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA's Daily Bruin.
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