Augmented reality is taking firm root in the market. The launch last year of mobile AR platforms, ARKit and ARCore, all but guaranteed mass reach as an imminent certainty and, just earlier this month, SuperData Research announced that the mobile AR market had officially hit 1 billion users.
The positive trend flows upward in tandem alongside heavy traction among Fortune 1000 companies that continue to validate the tech as consistently increasing productivity and safety levels by streamlining workflows for a wide variety of manual tasks. In fact, enterprise AR is an scorching space as early-adopting sectors like automotive and airlines transition passed experimental tinkering and onto mainstream implementation that will only keep on spreading across their business lines through 2019.
Mobile AR isn’t enough
However, all of this traction will start to plateau if AR apps, services, and experiences continue to be bound behind walled gardens like the app store model, which in and of itself cannot help but constipate the immersive tech. For instance, however much a boon it is, mobile AR as a platform can generally only offer isolated, solitary, experiences that will seldom result in the kind of critical use cases that will encourage and sustain frequent and lasting usage.
To enable AR to proliferate like wildfire, the ecosystem needs to be bolstered by new underpinnings that are devoid of the influence of old rulebooks on what universal freedoms AR should be afforded to enjoy. It needs an infrastructure that allows the AR ecosystem to evolve and expand into a tapestry of interconnection that, on the one hand, weaves it all together, and, on the other, infuses meaning into every object in the real-world, so that our living and physical reality becomes the gateway.
Meet the AR Cloud
Indeed, if you haven’t yet heard of the “AR Cloud”, it’s time to take serious notice. The term was coined by Ori Inbar, an AR entrepreneur and investor who founded AWE. It is, in his words, “a persistent 3D digital copy of the real world to enable sharing of AR experiences across multiple users and devices.”
Such a connective tissue represents a digital doppelganger of the physical terrain all around us at 1:1 scale that becomes, by one apt analogy, the search engine of AR, or as Chris McAlorum, product lead at the national mapping authority for Northern Ireland, described it back in June, as the “enabled landscape”. It encapsulates everything, inanimate or in motion, in its augmented wake, running in parallel to our living reality in real-time.
“With the AR Cloud, the how-to-use of every object, the history of any place, the background of any person — will be found right there — on the thing itself.” Inbar wrote in his seminal piece last year.
Blending digital and physical
Daniel Sproll, cofounder and CXO at realities.io, describes the AR Cloud’s future potential along the lines of the science fiction novel Central Station by Lavie Tidhar, in which the world is “completely permeated with technology but a technology that became so transparent that it stopped being seen technology.” We do seem to be headed that way, and fast, as featured in the latest episode (“Analog Boy”) of the short film, “Glimpse” by Futurism Studios, where when the protagonist’s AR smart contact lenses malfunction, the real-world, suddenly deprived of its digital wizardry, is rendered back into blank canvases.
The AR Cloud allows the real, physical, world and all of the otherwise mundane objects scattered throughout it to animate seamlessly with meaning and imagination, and AR itself becomes the interface that allows us to intuitively navigate the new layers of reality. It is a unifying infrastructure, without which, all of the fragmented platforms, devices, content are left relatively unhinged, continuously fated to live out a half-life that is needlessly short, all because in its absence, they are not afforded essential and critical capabilities like precise and persistent shareability.
Inclusive to the bone
“ARKit, AR Core and other AR platforms can certainly be part of the overall AR Cloud future. These platforms are essential for the most optimal AR experience on a given device (mapping and tracking an area or space).” Inbar told me in an email. “Other parts of the AR Cloud will take care of cross platform experience (which e.g. ARKit won’t do), as well as persistence of content (which the big players will probably be slow to provide).”
“The WebXR specification will provide a common platform on which to develop massive scale AR Cloud applications that do not require specific hardware tied to it. The flexibility of web experiences through Progressive Enhancement can exponentially grow the access to the AR Cloud while at the same time unify platform fragmentation caused by different hardware and form factors.” said Diego Gonzalez-Zuniga, a developer advocate for Samsung R&D UK. “This, combined with upcoming reduction in latency and higher bandwidth that 5G will bring, positions the WebXR API as an elegant, scalable and key fundamental layer for AR Cloud experiences in the very near future.”
One big rallying cry
But such a shared platform invariably entails building out a grand infrastructure with so many moving pieces that, aside from being borne on the shoulders of at least one of the major titans of industry, would otherwise serve as too large-scale an undertaking to expect to roll-out anytime soon. Thankfully, Inbar has forced the issue by rallying together nothing short of an army of small(er) players to form under the banner of the “Open AR Cloud”, an organization tasked to connect and coordinate the grassroots effort to build out the ecosystem.
“Open AR Cloud plans to be the go-to place for all those who want to contribute to a great future for spatial computing.” said Jan-Erik Vinje, Co-founder and Managing Director of Open AR Cloud. “Together we can work proactively from the very beginning to start building an Open AR Cloud ecosystem founded on principles of interoperability between platforms, solutions, services, apps, and content as well as developing industry guidelines and practical solutions promoting high ethical standards for the protection of privacy, freedom, and safety of users and the society.”
Vinje says that we are likely just months away from the arrival of the first wave of mainstream commercials apps that leverage AR Cloud tech, which is timely since the industry is in urgent need of the kind of standardization that it offers across all platforms and tools. Its ongoing absence has resulted in the current plight of pioneers in the space like Blippar that are struggling to keep their heads afloat amid the rapid rate of change and resulting hyper-fragmentation in the industry.
“When this happens I predict it will make the power and potential of a precise and persistent real-world connection a no-brainer for millions upon millions of people around the world.” Vinje told me.
Amir Bozorgzadeh is cofounder and CEO at Virtuleap, the startup that is powering up biometric algorithms and predictive analytics that allow you to better understand and adapt to the human condition in VR, AR, and 3D environments.