Why AR Cloud Platforms Are Making Immersive Experiences Accessible to Everyone

The potential of augmented reality (AR) to transform the world around us is incredible. As I explored in my overview of AR technologies, overlaying our physical environments with interactive digital information unlocks revolutionary new computing interfaces and experiences.

While the popularity of AR apps is growing exponentially, existing solutions rely on the native cameras and sensors of individual mobile devices to blend the real and virtual worlds. This leads to inconsistent, disconnected experiences across users that vanish when apps are closed.

AR cloud platforms aim to overcome these limitations by persistently mapping physical spaces in 3D to enable shared, continuous access to AR overlays by multiple users across different devices. Think of it as the next generation World Wide Web – precisely mapped virtual replicas of cities, buildings or rooms in the cloud!

As an industry veteran who has worked on emerging tech innovations for over a decade, I‘ve been incredibly excited following the rapid evolution of AR cloud technology over the past few years.

In this detailed guide, I‘ll give you an in-depth look at exactly how AR cloud works – from the key components powering these platforms to real-world applications that highlight the massive disruptive potential across industries. I‘ll also share expert insights on the road ahead and resources to help you start building the future of AR today!

Let‘s dive in!

How AR Cloud Platforms Work – Revolutionizing Shared Experiences

While the hype around concepts like the Mirrorworld and Magicverse has raised mainstream interest, many readers still wonder – how exactly does AR cloud work under the hood?

At a high-level, AR cloud platforms aim to create and continually update detailed digital "twins" of real-world environments like buildings, cities, or spaces within them:

AR Cloud

Image source: Relay42

As you traverse the actual physical setting, the digital twin allows software to understand your precise location and surroundings to overlay contextually relevant interactive holographic content anchored to those spaces.

This enables immersive experiences far beyond what phone-based AR applications can offer today.

Let‘s break down the key technical pieces powering this behind the scenes:

Spatial Mapping

The foundation of digitally duplicating real-world environments involves creating detailed interior maps and scanning physical geometry.

Specialized hardware like depth sensors, LiDAR scanners, infrared cameras, and even drones are used to capture millions of 3D data points and images of spaces:

Spatial Mapping

Image source: Microsoft Docs

Sophisticated AI algorithms stitch this data together into usable 3D mesh representations with impressive efficiency and scalability:

Microsoft‘s Scene Understanding SDK for HoloLens

Such digitization of the physical world forms the foundation for anchoring virtual objects and experiences within it.

Localization and Pose Tracking

The next challenge involves precisely tracking user location and position relative to the mapped spaces as they move around in order to render perspective accurate AR overlays.

This goes beyond standard GPS coordinates to also pinpoint the exact orientation of devices based on advanced sensor fusion algorithms.

Spatial anchors are used to enable multiple ways of detecting poses and positions:

6DOF Tracking

Image source: SmartGlassesHub

For example, the Apple iPhone Pro lineup leverages LiDAR sensors along with computer vision, accelerometers and gyroscopes to achieve improved spatial awareness and scene understanding for occlusion and lighting of virtual objects.

Such robust localization and real-time alignment of virtual and physical coordinate systems is what sets AR cloud experiences apart from current phone AR implementations.

Asset Hosting and Rendering

The persistent 3D maps act as the container for hosting all sorts of interactive digital content – 3D models, videos, images, textures, lighting data etc. Developers can upload augmented assets mapped to precise areas within the space digitization.

Sophisticated rendering engines then allow displaying relevant AR overlays accurately from users‘ point of view based on their tracked location in the physical setting. The assets blend seamlessly into the real-world scene taking full spatial context into account:

AR Rendering

Image Source: Foundry

The AR cloud spearheaded by platforms like Google, Apple and Niantic aims to build the core infrastructure and services to make such immersive overlays reliable and accessible on a global scale much like GPS and mobile networks infrastructure today.

Based on these foundational technologies, let‘s look at some real-world applications that give a glimpse into the disruptive future enabled by AR cloud.

Real-World AR Cloud Applications – Endless Possibilities

Much like web and mobile platforms gave birth to innovations that now seem obvious like ride sharing, live streaming, gig economy marketplaces etc, AR cloud opens endless possibilities for businesses and consumers we can only begin to envision today.

While early days, global tech giants, innovative startups, research labs and proactive enterprises across sectors are already building proof-of-concept applications, services and tools leveraging AR cloud that highlight its immense disruptive potential.

Here are some emerging examples that offer a peek into the exciting future:

Multiplayer AR Gaming

Gaming pioneers like Niantic are evolving location-based hits like Pokémon GO to build real-world metaverse platforms for sharing persistent experiences:

The ability to interact with other players, virtual characters and objects mapped to real neighborhood landmarks, parks and buildings unlocks innovative gameplay mechanisms.

Third-party developers can leverage these open cloud platforms to build their own location-based worlds spanning smart cities to theme parks or even transform childhood fantasies like playing superheroes in one‘s own backyard to reality!

According to Goldman Sachs, such geo-located entertainment alone promises to grow into a $184 billion market by 2030.

Immersive Commerce

Retail giants are also getting in on the action by building interactive digital storefronts that allow shoppers to visualize products in their actual environment before buying:

Lowe‘s Holoroom demo

Concepts like virtual aisles, digital dressing rooms and gamified rewards integrated location-aware experiences will enable more personalized engagement with consumers when paired with data intelligence.

Imagine walking into your favorite clothing store and instantly seeing recommendations projected in AR based on your purchase history or getting tips overlayed on actual products – helping solve pain points and moving users further down the conversion funnel.

Industrial Metaverse Applications

From shop floors to critical infrastructure, industrial AR use cases are already being deployed using marker-based approaches today. But dedicated enterprise AR cloud platforms will take it to the next level with multi-user access:

Industrial AR Cloud

Image source: Medium

Imagine technicians getting heads-up visual data on machine diagnostics floating in situ on factory floors, construction teams assessing virtual structural models mapped precisely onsite to review work progress or doctors accessing critical patient vitals holographically during complex procedures.

Shared professional experiences integrated in the physical workspace rather than separated simulations revolutionize training, decision making, remote assistance and operations in sectors where environmental context is critical.

As 5G networks expand globally over the coming years and AR headsets mature in form factors from Microsoft, Facebook, Apple etc beyond phones, such commercial applications will deliver substantial productivity improvements and cost savings at scale.

AR SDKs/Platforms Today vs The Future Potential of AR Cloud

Many readers wonder – how exactly does AR cloud differ from or improve upon the existing approaches used in current ARKit, ARCore and other mobile SDK powered apps today?

While device based development platforms have enabled the first wave of AR innovation in gaming and retail, core limitations persist around consistency of experiences across users, spaces and sessions.

Some technical areas where AR cloud promises massive advances include:

Persistent Digital Replicas – Phones must map environments from scratch each session using just their embedded cameras and sensors. AR cloud‘s continually updating 3D maps ensure reliable availability of spaces.

Shared Multiuser Access – Accuracy of overlays degrade as more people join phone AR experiences. Cloud platforms allow synchronized anchoring of content across many simultaneous users.

Ultra Realistic Visual Quality – On-device processing constraints limit graphical richness and occlusion complexity on phones. Cloud-rendered scenes support cinema quality virtual object lighting, reflections and shadows mapped onto real world.

Cross-Device Accessibility – Tethered phone screens limit interaction novelty. AR clouds allow leveraging various hardware types like phones, wearables, tablets etc and port experiences across them without rebuildng.

So in summary – AR SDKs stream virtual objects to your eyes. The AR Cloud streams persistent environments to any device you‘re using!

Upcoming Technological Innovations Further Driving AR Cloud Evolution

Underlying innovations across enabling hardware, software and infrastructure domains will likely power order-of-magnitude improvements in AR cloud capabilities in the coming decade:

AR Cloud Ecosystem Map

Image Source: Overlay.AR

Photorealistic blending of real and virtual is a massive technical challenge. But specialize graphics improvements like pixel streaming by Microsoft and advances in Lidar hardware on upcoming mainstream AR headsets will keep pushing boundaries.

5G networks expansion delivering high bandwidth, greater device densities and low latency connectivity promises to support next generation immersive environments transitioning from pre-built to adhoc mobile experiences.

Innovators are also integrating autonomous drones, mesh networks and vehicle-mounted rigs for city-scale 3D data acquisition beyond handheld scans to realize universal AR layers.

Complementary trends like blockchain integrating digital asset ownership, crowdsourced 3D content creation via smartphone app networks and open interfaces for experience portability between platforms reinforce technological momentum.

Analyzing The AR Cloud Competitive Landscape

Given the massive disruptive potential we‘ve discussed, heavyweights across the tech industry – from public cloud infrastructure providers like Amazon AWS, Microsoft Azure to smartphone makers Apple, Google and social media giants like Facebook are racing to stake their claim in the emerging AR cloud space.

Let‘s take a look at early competitive dynamics based on developments over the past year:

AR Ecosystem Map

Image Source: Perkins Coie LLP

Google is leveraging billions of Street View and Google Maps data points as input to AR mapping efforts while Apple with its install base of millions of LiDAR equipped devices seems poised to take indoor scaling lead.

Facebook recently open sourced headset camera data to accelerate computer vision research as it aims for superior scene analysis and understanding for its Project Aria AR glasses.

Dedicated AR firms like Niantic and Scape Technologies chose to get acquired by leading service platforms like Unity Gaming and Facebook while startups like PixelMax working on next-gen experiences continue attracting capital.

I believe for end users, the appeal of experiences that blur virtual and physical worlds will far outweigh tech platform battles much like mobile and software apps ignore underlying hardware and OS choices today!

Evaluating Societal Impacts – Privacy and Ethical Considerations

However, as digital and physical worlds converge via AR, reasonable concerns exist around privacy, consent, inclusion, security, misinformation and appropriate tech usage that the industry must consider seriously as AR cloud emerges at mainstream scale.

For example, Clearview AI recently unveiled controversial facial recognition powered AR glasses risking normalization of mass surveillance. On the other hand, startups like Vamrr showcased using AR to coach interpersonal skills for reducing unconscious biases and improving communication.

Such examples highlight the need for urgent development of security safeguards and regulations managing collection/access of physiological data and managing permissions around information overlays in private and public areas.

Incorporating opt-in models where possible via consent tokens rather than by default access litmus tests offer a healthier path to adoption. Furthermore consistent deidentification, decentralization, anonymization and encryption of mapped spaces, avatars and interactions would help mitigate emerging concerns.

The AR cloud journey is accelerating rapidly, albeit still at its infancy in the technology adoption curve. By taking careful consideration of societal implications early alongside pursuing ambitious innovation, we can aspire to manifest this transformational computing paradigm as a constructive rather than disruptive world force.

Getting Started with AR Cloud Development

Based on all the possibilities discussed so far, as technologists, I‘m sure many readers are intrigued to start experimenting with building their own AR cloud concepts.

Since enterprise platforms are still evolving with a focus on large scale deployments, for hobbyists and developers, location based web experiences offer a quicker way to grasp core concepts:

  • Map Integration – Explore embedding custom data pins, images, 3D models based on geocoordinates using Google Maps Javascript API or Mapbox GL JS.

  • Spatial Queries – Try developing mobile web demos that retrieve and display contextually relevant media overlays based on current user position leveraging geolocation APIs.

  • Multiuser POCs – Research collaborative web experiences like drawing virtual content synced across devices using same map area using tools like Firebase Realtime Database.

While not fully immersive, such hunger driven, hands-on exploration will build valuable intuitions regarding the fusion of physical and digital realities in your own imagination even before true AR glasses reach mainstream availability!

For those itching explore further, I‘ll be sharing more technical tutorials on AR cloud coding concepts like plane detection, occlusion rendering using JavaScript frameworks like AR.js, React Native, A-Frame etc. Subscribe via email at the bottom of my blog to get alerted once they are live!

The AR cloud aims to reinvent interaction with the world as we know it. As the next computing revolution, now is the time for engineers, creators and innovators to deep dive in and deliver the magic of AR’s full potential to people everywhere!