AWS announces Amazon Sumerian for building AR, VR and 3D apps quickly



We’d heard months ago that Amazon would be using its Re:Invent AWS event to roll out some a new service related to building in mixed reality — augmented reality and virtual reality. And on the eve of the conference kicking off, it’s done just that. Today the company announced Amazon Sumerian, a new platform for developers to build and host VR, AR and 3D apps quickly and with minimal coding, for smartphones and tablets, head-based displays, digital signage and web browsers. As with many other AWS services, Sumerian is “free” to use: you pay only for the storage for what you create.

The service — announced at AWS’s “Midnight Madness” pre-show event — is available in preview from today. Initially, the service is browser-based and works in any browser that supports WebGL or WebVR graphics rendering, such as Daydream, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and iOS mobile devices.

Amazon details the different features in Sumerian as including the ability to design in AR, VR and 3D immersive environments using libraries of pre-built objects; the ability to create animated characters (using its Lex speech recognition and Polly for natural language understanding); and then shipping the apps to various hardware.

It’s also integrating with third-party developers for certain features — these include Mapbox for location services.

AWS naming the service Sumerian — the language spoken by Sumer people of Mesopotamia — is an interesting choice and fits with Amazon’s concept behind the service.

Sumerian the original language was one of the world’s first written tongues and is considered to be the basis of many languages that followed. Amazon’s thinking behind Sumerian the AWS product is that it is trying to bring AR, VR and 3D into the mainstream by building set of tools to make it much easier to use.

“Customers across industries see the potential of VR and AR technologies for a wide range of uses, from educating and training employees to creating new customer experiences,” said Marco Argenti, Vice President, Technology, AWS, in a statement. “But, customers are daunted and overwhelmed by the up-front investment in specialized skills and tools required to even get started building a VR or AR application. With Amazon Sumerian, it is now possible for any developer to create a realistic, interactive VR or AR application in a few hours.”

In keeping with the idea of trying to kick-start more AR and VR development, Amazon is also creating a series of helping pointers to steer people to different kinds of apps — critical, given that one of the big criticisms of mixed reality services is that the applications for the technology have yet to prove themselves as “must-have”.

Amazon is focusing here on very practical end-points: “training simulations, virtual concierge services, enhanced online shopping experiences, virtual house or land tours” are among those it names could be improved with the use of virtual environments populated with animation and 3D and more natural interactions with users.

The service also brings together a lot of AWS has been doing in other areas. Last week, the company announced a new consultancy to help people build more AI-based services, and last month, it announced Gluon, a simplified machine-learning model builder. The bigger picture here is that the new wave of computing and technology has a lot of coding and other time-consuming processes behind it, and Amazon wants to be the one to modernise and simplify that — thereby becoming the default platform for creating applications on that new tech.

(This is not unlike Apple’s push in its early days to demystify computers by making them super easy to use for the average consumer, at a time when the pre-existing basic home computer still required you to wear a tinfoil hat to use.)

Amazon’s been making a number of acquisitions to help build out its position in AR and VR and the new wave of computing. They have included Body Labs, but also acquisitions that sit adjacent to this, such as GameSparks, a platform for building games.

 

Featured Image: Thomas Cloer/Flickr UNDER A CC BY-SA 2.0 LICENSE



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