Canon is hoping that metaverse-style technologies will give the company a future beyond the dwindling camera business.
Canon’s CES press conference didn’t make a single mention of the traditional cameras the company is most famous for – a reflection of the plummeting consumer appetite for cameras in the smartphone era.
Instead, the company focused on a series of products that are geared for the metaverse era.
Kokomo for tomorrow?
One of the products Canon is pinning its hopes on is Komoko, a virtual reality platform that allows people to communicate in a virtual, metaverse-like space.
Unlike traditional video calling, Canon says Kokomo lets people communicate face-to-face in “life-size setting”. Canon made much of the fact that you saw the full body of the other person you’re speaking to, in an echo of Mark Zuckerberg’s infamous announcement that he was bringing legs to the metaverse.
Kokomo provides a series of Zoom-style virtual backdrops for people to communicate in, including a Malibu trailer, a beach house or a mountain tea house. There’s also a passthrough mode if you just want to appear in your own office or living room.
The biggest obstacle to adoption is the hardware requirements. Both participants need a VR headset, with Kokomo currently supporting only the Meta Quest 2. Canon says it hopes to expand support for other VR headsets in the future.
Continuing the metaverse theme, Canon also gave more information on its Free Viewpoint video system, which is being trialed with two NBA teams.
Using a series of cameras mounted above the basketball court, Canon is able to create a virtual representation of real-life basketball games. The user experience is similar to a video game, rather than watching actual video footage.
Canon says this has a number of advantages for viewers. First, they can watch the action from camera angles that simply wouldn’t be possible with conventional broadcast coverage, such as a player’s-eye view of a slam dunk. Fans watching from home could choose from a variety of camera angles to watch the action.
“Younger generations already get it,” said Mike Conley, chief information officer at the Cleveland Cavaliers, one of the club’s Canon is working with. “They’re [already] doing it through gaming, doing it through Oculus [VR headsets].”
The system also has advantages for the teams, including a huge amount of player data capture that doesn’t require the athletes to wear any special tracking equipment. For example, clubs could monitor a player’s gait after an awkward landing to assess the risk of injury.
Commercial opportunities also reared their head. For example, the virtual courts could be plastered with sponsors’ logos that don’t appear on the real-life court, giving the club new revenue-generating opportunities.
Canon’s also hoping to get a slice of the commercial VR business already scoped out by products such as Microsoft’s Hololens, with its Mreal headset.
The Mreal X1 is a compact headset now in the market research phase. The company claims it could be put a wide variety of business uses, including collaborative product design, training and prototyping.
One demonstration showed how someone wearing the headset could walk around and even sit inside a prototype car. As the wearer of the headset looked out of the car’s windows, they could see the audience at Canon’s press conference, showing how the virtual and real worlds can (relatively) seamlessly converge.