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Amazon Unveils Web-Based Tools for Creating VR and AR Apps, Characters and Scenes

Amazon has launched a suite of tools promising to make it quick — and affordable — for any business to create slick-looking 3D virtual reality and augmented reality apps.

The company’s Amazon Web Services unit announced Amazon Sumerian, a new service for building VR, AR, and 3D applications that can be viewed on mobile devices, head-mounted displays, digital signage, and web browsers. The Sumerian tools let customers create 3D characters, called “Hosts” (which, by the way, also is what the AI robots in HBO’s “Westworld” are called), to narrate and guide users through immersive scenes.

AWS is aiming Sumerian at businesses across a range of industries for applications including training simulations, virtual concierge services, enhanced ecommerce experiences, and virtual real-estate tours.

Amazon Sumerian will let any developer create “a realistic, interactive VR or AP application” in just a few hours, according to Marco Argenti, VP of technology at AWS.

It’s designed to eliminate the need for specialized tools for tasks like 3D modeling, environmental design, animation, lighting effects, and audio editing, as well as the additional step of adapting AR and VR applications for different hardware platforms. According to Amazon, the VR and AR apps created in Amazon Sumerian will run in any browser that supports WebGL or WebVR graphics rendering. Supported devices include Google’s Daydream, HTC Vive, Facebook’s Oculus Rift, and iOS mobile devices.

Given previous requirements to launch AR or VR apps, businesses have been “daunted and overwhelmed by the up-front investment in specialized skills and tools required to even get started building a VR or AR application,” said Argenti.

Amazon Sumerian uses a web-based editor that developers can use to create “professional-quality scenes,” and a visual scripting tool to build the logic that controls how the objects and characters in the scenes interact and respond to actions.

Amazon Web Services doesn’t charge a fee for designing and editing AR and VR applications. As with other AWS offerings, customers are charged based on the amount of storage used for the 3D assets and the volume of traffic generated by their apps. Storage pricing for Sumerian 3D assets is 6 cents per gigabyte monthly, and the fees for the total volume of traffic generated by each scene is 38 cents per GB per month. (More info on Amazon Sumerian pricing is available here.)

Amazon Sumerian’s editor lets developers drag and drop 3D characters and objects (like furniture or buildings) into “scenes” (e.g. rooms, office environments, and landscapes). The suite includes a library of prebuilt objects and templates with pre-populated scenes; users can also download and import objects from third-party asset repositories such as Sketchfab or Turbosquid or create and import their own objects.

The Sumerian tools are integrated with Amazon Lex and Amazon Polly, which provide automatic speech recognition, natural-language processing, and text-to-speech capabilities. That’s supposed to let customers create 3D characters that can understand and respond to end users in virtual conversations.

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