Cloud

Amazon Sumerian Is A Web-Based VR Programming Tool For AWS

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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The cloud-based ‘Sumerian’ development tool automates the development of 3D experiences and their deployment across desktop and mobile devices

Amazon Web Services (AWS) has introduced a web-based tool for the creation of virtual or augmented reality experiences, building on the company’s widely used web hosting infrastructure and artificial intelligence tools similar to those that power Amazon’s popular Alexa products.

The move taps into growing interest in virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), which involve the use of 3D environments or elements overlaid upon the user’s surroundings for applications such as training simulations, virtual concierge services, online shopping or virtual property tours.

Such applications typically run on mobile devices, in web browsers or specialised headsets such as the Facebook-produced Oculus Rift. Apple has made AR a prominent feature of its new iPhone X with “animojis”, cartoon faces animated using the high-end handset’s face-tracking technology.

Amazon said its new tool, called Sumerian, allows users with no specialised 3D graphics or programming experience to create AR or VR experiences by customising and combining libraries of pre-built environments, characters (or “hosts”) and objects.

A sample environment produced by Amazon Sumerian. Credit: AWS

Amazon Sumerian

Users will also have the option of importing assets from FBX and OBJ files.

The way the elements interact with one another and users can be controlled using scipts and the applications can be linked to Amazon Polly and Amazon Lex, which provide speech and natural language support for hosts, allowing characters to respond to users in a lifelike way.

Amazon already offers speech interaction in its popular line of smart speakers, such as the Amazon Echo and the Amazon Dot, powered by its Alexa voice-activated virtual assistant.

The resulting applications can run on Oculus and HTC Vive devices as well as iOS devices with WebVR-compatible browsers. Amazon said Android support via ARCore compatibility is planned “soon”.

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“Amazon Sumerian provides tools and resources that allows anyone to create and run augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and 3D applications with ease,” said  AWS technical evangelist Tara Walker in a blog post.

Sumerian, which is currently in limited preview, is intended to be free to AWS users, with users paying only for storage for 3D assets and traffic to access applications.

Amazon said users will later be able to import data from Unity, an engine widely used for developing AR and VR projects.

Sumerian could be a step toward further popularising AR and VR applications, which currently require specialised tools and skills to develop and deploy across different devices.

Amazon launched the project at midnight on Sunday at the launch of the AWS re:Invent conference in Las Vegas, which continues through this week.

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