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AWS launches Amazon Sumerian to build AR, VR and 3D apps quickly

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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 says different features in Sumerian in preview include 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.”

It does this by way of providing many pre-configured building blocks to make creating apps quickly and with less coding to cover the basics like inanimate objects and the basics of a human form.

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 the body-scanning startup Body Labs and GameSparks, a platform for building games. I’d argue that you can see some of that tech and general approach coming to the fore here as well.

In fact, it’s often not obvious how Amazon will redeploy talent and technology in its products down the line. One of the people leading the company’s mixed reality efforts in AWS is Kyle Roche, who actually came to Amazon when it acquired his IoT startup 2lemetry. Roche also had a background in augmented reality. He’s now the GM of Sumerian.

In keeping with the idea of trying to kick-start more AR and VR development, Amazon is also creating a series of 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 what AWS has been doing in other areas by trying to simplify otherwise-complex new computing applications. 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.)

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