Amazon sumerian general release brings vr experiences to life – siliconangle database logo

AWS announced Sumerian at its re:Invent conference in November as an upcoming tool for graphics designers and developers to produce professional quality VR, AR and 3-D content for a wide variety of platforms, including VR headsets, digital signs and web browsers.

With Amazon Sumerian, anyone with a web browser can launch the platform and gain access to a large number of professional 3-D development tools. These tools are designed so that even a layman can produce 3-D content without needing expertise in modeling, animation, audio engineering, lighting or programming.

In order to reveal the potential power of Sumerian, Amazon provided the tool to a small number of developers during a preview period before the general release today. One such proof-of-concept is a VR host, a chatbot given virtual form named Cora, developed by Fidelity Labs , the internal research and development unit of Fidelity Investments .

Cora is what is known as a Sumerian host, or a chatbot dressed as a virtual person who lives in her own virtual reality room. Her interactions are governed by Amazon Lex, which provides the framework for a conversational tree, and Polly, which produces “lifelike” speech audio from text. When users open a 3-D browser window or don a VR headset, Cora and a room materialize around them and can they then speak directly to Cora who reacts to their questions like a host would.

“Hey Cora,” a customer says. “What’s up?” Cora asks. The customer then requests that Cora show him a graph of Amazon’s stock. After a moment of computation, a candlestick graph appears on one of the screens in the virtual room behind Cora’s avatar. Her mouth also moves realistically in combination with her speech and her body animates in a lifelike fashion, shifting her head and moving her shoulders as she speaks. No mere virtual doll, Cora is designed to put people interacting with her at ease. She even gestures when greeted.

This feature from Fidelity Labs is a prototype, so although its interaction feels a little bit stilted and the reactions are less “human” than a system such as Alexa, it shows where such a system could go. All of these elements together — the humanizing expressions, use of Lex and Polly and interconnectivity to financial databases and graphics — show the power that Sumerian has to create experiences that integrate multiple systems into one VR experience.

For example, employees could be transported into a virtual classroom with a host to act as a lecturer, or perhaps as an avatar for an actual lecture. The same classroom could transform seamlessly into another experience that places employees into a virtual simulation of their everyday work: equipment with levers and knobs, a space with safety equipment or the model of a dismantled engine. The “classroom” would still be with the students — only a scene shift away — but with a VR headset there is no physical difference between simulated work and a classroom learning environment.

Enterprise businesses such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and United Parcel Service of America Inc. have sought VR for similar uses, for example STRIVR Labs training for store employees and package delivery VR simulations for drivers, respectively. Although designed for general use, educational scenarios such as these could also be built with Sumerian.

For customer-facing parts of companies, Sumerian is intended to make building VR kiosks or stores simple. The company could make a host, import 3-D model assets for a virtual store and then allow customers to “walk” around that store and view virtual products, the host could then assist with questions or purchases.

Sumerian’s capabilities do not stop at VR, extending into augmented reality to enable developers to build apps rapidly that can overlay 3-D models on what people can see. This part of the platform uses compatible mobile devices to allow an app to “look” at the world and add objects. Although the most popular use of AR to date has been the game “Pokemon Go” — projecting collectible monsters onto the world — startups and AR companies such as Upskill and Scope AR have sought also to use it for remote support and collaboration .

Sumerian is compatible with many VR platforms, including Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, HTC Vive Pro and AR-compatible iOS and Android mobile devices. It will also run in browsers that support WebGL or WebVR. Since Sumerian hosts 3-D VR scenes in the Amazon cloud, it can render the scene and execute the logic external to any device and therefore enable users to interact with the VR environment from anywhere.

Amazon Sumerian is part of the AWS suite of tools and accessible through the AWS dashboard. Pricing follows usage fees based on storage and bandwidth usage needs — and, of course, the use of other AWS services would incur additional charges. Sumerian is free to use and edit VR scenes and there is no licensing fee for its use.

It’s possible to use Sumerian as part of the AWS free tier and customers can publish scenes up to 50 megabytes and use up to 100 views per month for 12 months for free. Outside the AWS free tier, Sumerian’s pricing begins at 6 cents per gigabyte per month for storage and 38 cents per gigabyte transferred per month for traffic generated.