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Are We Ready for the XR Cloud?

What is the XR Cloud?

To answer this question, I have to define XR. XR is extended reality. It’s actually a term that encompasses Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and Mixed Reality. These are all technologies that alter our perception of reality in one way or another. Most people associate these technologies with bulky headsets and memes of people punching their televisions because they think they’re in a real fight with a virtual character.

I believe I’m using the term correctly when I state that XR is the portal to spatial computing. Ok, so what is spatial computing?

As complex as it sounds, spatial computing is a relatively simple concept. In fact, if you’ve ever used Google Maps or played Pokémon Go on your mobile device, you’ve already started using spatial computing. Let’s get the definition from the person who coined the phrase.

human interaction with a machine in which the machine retains and manipulates referents to real objects and spaces

Simon Greenwold

I’m defining an XR Cloud as a platform as a service that helps developers make XR possible with minimal effort. To me, this looks a lot like the IoT Edge development loop, with the exception that we’re sending out real-time changes to the XR devices. Or are we? I think we can probably learn a lot from the gaming development world here. Do we choose to create a fat client? A large executable that resides on the device and only sends small bits of telemetry to the cloud would allow for faster execution at the device. However, there are cloud streaming services that stream games. The clients on these are smaller and can often provide similar execution speed as the fat client. Many of these problems have been solved, so building out a XR cloud doesn’t seem outside the realm of possibility.

Is it Already Here?

Sort of. There are a few groups working to make this happen.

Open AR Cloud’s mission is to drive the development of open and interoperable spatial computing technology, data and standards to connect the physical and digital worlds for the benefit of all.

Open AR Cloud

Though it’s focused on AR, this could still be a good solution for an overall XR platform. Personally, I like the open-source approach for a platform like this. It will likely allow us developers to avoid vendor lock in, as well as participate in the development of the platform. At the moment, there are eleven different working groups tackling the challenges that come with an AR cloud.

Pretia has created a platform meant to make AR development easy. This looks a lot like gaming development, which will probably make up the backbone of early XR development. Gaming has tackled the issues around multiple people sharing space, both physically and virtually. And libraries like Unity have editors that work well with 3D objects and real spaces.

Augmented.City is an augmented reality cloud & platform ecosystem that allows you to capture, enrich with data, and visualize it on location in basically any device.

Augmented city

This is an interesting approach that seems to take full advantage of the Digital Twins concept. This platform takes your city (if it has been mapped) and allows you to add content to the map. This feels more like a testbed, at the moment, but I can see the potential. Mapping physical objects in real spaces will be a challenge, for a while. There’s probably some sort of NFT angle that could be played here to get people to be the first to scan a thing. But from a data asset side, this creates all sorts of interesting opportunities.

At the Start of a Thing

It’s fun to be at the start of a movement or technology. Especially when you can see the potential. You can call this the Metaverse, MX, or just client/server with extra steps, but there is definitely a confluence of technology here to help with digital transformation. It’s definitely a journey I’m interested in exploring, and I’ll probably do more of it in this space over the next couple of years.