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The 5 coolest things at Augmented World Expo 2016

augmented world expo  coolest gadgets bt
Christian de Looper / Digital Trends

Augmented World Expo has swelled and transformed over the years, boasting a cool 4,000 attendees in 2016, up from around 3,000 last year. The conference, which ran June 1-2 in Santa Clara, California, is home to great new products rooted in augmented reality — and some even beyond that.

So what were the highlights of AWE2016? Here are some of the coolest things we saw over two days at the conference.

Augmented Reality Glasses

bt-300
Christian de Looper / Digital Trends

Epson showed off its Moverio BT-300 AR headset for the first time in North America. The BT-300 is the company’s smallest and lightest headset to date, but it improves on the BT-200 in a number of ways beyond the design refresh.

One key example: The display has been switched from LED to OLED screen technology, offering more natural looking colors, the company claims, and we assume a greater battery life. The device also runs Android 5.0, so many smartphone apps will be playable on the headset through the device’s controller, assuming those apps work in horizontal mode.

Virtual Reality biking

vr-bike
Christian de Looper / Digital Trends

Virtual Reality is one of 2016’s biggest trends, and the quest to create a sense of immersion is ongoing. Accessories can help you feel as though you’re actually in the virtual world, and stationary bikes that do so are one of the more interesting examples we’ve seen.

VirZoom demoed a number of cool games you can play while you’re on a modified exercise bike. These games are controlled through the speed at which you pedal, the direction in which you lean, and two triggers located on the handlebars. Games include chasing an outlaw on a horse through an Old West town, flying a helicopter, and so on.

Another company, called the Augmented Reality Alliance, is taking bike-riding a little more literally. The company has come up with a game that simply involves riding a bike through a virtual countryside; you steer and ride it as you would a normal bike. While currently you can only ride through the rolling hills, the ARA is also working on a city-based version.

Why not simply take a bike outside and actually ride? Some people like to ride in different locations, and sometimes that’s just not possible — not only does it take time and money to travel, but the weather has to be good, the tires inflated, the helmet located and strapped on. For the average person who simply wants to exercise more, virtual reality based systems may prove more accessible.

Gesture Control

leap-motion
Christian de Looper / Digital Trends

Augmented reality headsets are great, but the tech needed to control them just isn’t there yet. Or is it? A number of companies had new gesture control systems at Augmented World Expo this year, which allow you to control augmented and virtual reality headsets with just your hands.

Perhaps the most interesting of these gesture tech companies was Leap Motion, which has an attachment for the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive and is working on one for Google Cardboard systems, too. This device detects the motion of your hands so you can interact with games and apps without controllers.

Another company working on gesture control is uSense, which is mainly working on a system for the smartphone — in fact, the system works on a range of smartphones and phone-based VR headsets. The company was even showing off demos with the Samsung Galaxy S5, to prove that it isn’t limited to new phones.

Drones

exo360
Christian de Looper / Digital Trends

Drones weren’t super prominent at AWE2016, but one in particular stood out. Built by a company called Queen B Robotics, it combines drones with virtual reality. How? Thanks to a total of five cameras, the Exo360 drone can capture 360-degree video and stitch it all together. Sure, the drone doesn’t have stellar specs in other regards (it can fly for only 18 minutes), but the fact that it can film 360-degree video is pretty interesting — using it we’ll be able to fly over different places in virtual reality in stunning 4K.

The drone is currently undergoing an Indiegogo campaign, and costs between $1,000 and $1,500. The more expensive Exo360 captures footage in 4K, while a cheaper model steps film quality down to 1080p.

Wearable Tech

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In order to truly experience augmented reality, we’re going to need more than just headsets. Also on show at Augmented World Expo were smart textiles and clothing designed to track our health and fitness, and feed that information into an app or service.

Canadian “innovation hub” Myant was prominent at the show; its view is that every piece of clothing should be able to do more than just act as a piece of clothing, whether that be tracking heart rate, or body temperature, or whatever. Perhaps one day information gathered from these smart clothes will be fed to an augmented reality headset, allowing us to see our vitals like Tony Stark in his Iron Man suit.