These days, while we see virtual reality all over headlines, it’s less common to find an article on augmented reality or AR — but that all could change in the near future.
AR, which involves the integration of digital information with our physical environment in real-time, has been steadily growing over the past few years, finding its way into multiple areas of our lives. From the explosion of Pokémon Go to Snapchat’s meme-worthy dancing hot dog filter, AR technology is more accessible today than ever before.
The growth is not surprising. With the creation of programs like Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore, developers can more easily make apps that place digital objects in the physical world. While the capabilities offered by these programs mostly end there, there is a world of possibilities when it comes to AR. These apps can theoretically allow the object to interact with its surroundings in the physical world or allow for multi-user engagement. Without these features, AR apps are seen as too much of a novelty for mass adoption right now, but that could all change quickly.
As AR continues to advance, a question emerges: how can we go beyond simply placing a digital object in the physical world to creating an AR infrastructure that allows for real-time communication between endless objects, the world and us? Experts believe the answer lies with an AR cloud.
What could this AR cloud look like and why is its creation essential for the continued growth of AR technology?
Exploring an augmented reality cloud
Matt Miesnieks, CEO of 6D.ai, which is working on the AR Cloud, defines it in a recent Forbes article as “a machine-readable 1:1 scale model of the real world.” He goes on to say that “our AR devices [would be] the real-time interface to this parallel virtual world, which is perfectly overlaid onto the physical world.” This single, shared model of the world — which can be updated in real-time to allow for increased collaboration — will provide AR technology with the element of interconnection it’s been missing. An AR cloud is critical for the mass adoption of AR technology.
An AR cloud could take augmented reality far beyond its current applications in gaming or novelty apps; it could fundamentally change how we organise the world’s information. In another recent Forbes article, Ori Inbar, founder of Super Ventures, which is dedicated to AR, and a co-founder of Augmented World Expo, writes that today, most of the world’s information is organised by different file types and stored on servers that can be accessed through the internet. Retrieving this information usually requires the user to manually search. Yet more than 50 percent of searches are now made while on the move, which he says point to a “growing need to find information right where you need it, in the now.”
The AR cloud will serve as a soft 3D copy of the world, Inbar continues, “and allow you to reorganize information at its origin, in the physical world.” This means any information you needed to know about a place, object or person could be found on the thing itself, possibly eliminating the need for smartphones.
Our colleagues at Amazon recently introduced a service called Sumerian, which is currently in preview mode. Sumerian provides developers with the tools and resources they need to create and run AR, virtual reality and 3D applications that can run on Oculus, HTC Vive, iOS Devices and support ARCore on Android.
Sumerian does not require users to download software, and they only have to pay for the storage used for 3D assets and the volume of traffic generated by those accessing the virtual scenes created. The service includes a library of pre-built objects to use, and it integrates with AWS services such as Lex and Polly, which provide automatic speech recognition, natural language understanding and text-to-speech capabilities.
While the potential uses for an AR cloud are endless, development is likely still a ways off. The infrastructure of an AR cloud would need to be able to support real-time applications and AR interactions at a massive scale. Recent advances like 5G and more advanced uses of edge computing get us closer, but our current infrastructure isn’t yet equipped with the right tools.
Given the current pace of technological advancement, however, it’s only a matter of time before an AR cloud is developed. It will be interesting to see how developers approach the task, and even more interesting to see what develops inside one.
And as the cloud industry continues to evolve, we’ll be right here to break it down for you.