The world of augmented and virtual reality is moving fast. As the technologies underpinning these new platforms are ever evolving, there are constantly new tools and concepts to keep up with.Recently, I began experimenting with one of these new concepts in augmented reality (which has also become a core focus of my research in building out a new SU curriculum) for use in Singularity University’s education programs.The concept, referred to as the AR Cloud (a term first coined by venture capitalists Ori Inbar and Matt Miesnieks), is potentially one of the most pivotal developments in all of computing today. I first learned about the AR Cloud by reading this Medium article by Inbar in late 2017, and in it, he writes that:“the AR Cloud, will be the single most important software infrastructure in computing, far more valuable than Facebook's Social graph or Google’s page rank index.”That certainly grabbed my attention! What is this technology asset that could potentially be more valuable than Google’s search index and why will it be worth so much? This has become a core research question driving my work at Singularity University in recent months.In its simplest explanation form, the AR Cloud is a digital copy of planet earth. It’s a living, breathing digital map of everything happening in the real world which will enable AR developers to attach digital AR content in very precise locations in the physical world.
Given that this map will have to keep up with the constant movement of human, animal, and machine activity, and it’s expected to be accurate down to the detail of a single grain of sand - it’s a stunningly complex and remarkable technological endeavor. Companies like Google and Apple, along with a collection of startups around the world are each working on the various technological challenges in building this infrastructure.While working on addressing the question of “So What?”—why should we care about the AR Cloud?—I’ve been experimenting with leveraging an early prototype of an AR Cloud-like tool in SU programs.At a recent “Test Kitchen”—a sort of internal crash-test for new SU curriculum—I presented some research on the AR Cloud to a collection of SU colleagues and experimented with a hands-on demonstration of the tech.I chose to use an app developed by a team of AR creators in San Francisco. It’s called Blue Sky Paint, and it allows users to share augmented reality drawings created in the sky above you. See their press kit for a great summary of how it works.The idea is to use the sky above Singularity University’s campus as a collaborative shared AR canvas for students to get a hands-on understanding of the AR Cloud and what you can do with it. It’s, of course, early days, and the demo wasn’t without its flaws. But at a basic level, the app did its intended work of demonstrating how shared augmented reality that exists across multiple devices can work.And at the core, the AR Cloud is a big deal because it will allow augmented reality to persist across multiple devices over extended periods of time. And why is that a big deal? Well, that’s the right question.One answer from Inbar is that ”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.” That means we’ll organize the world’s information in an entirely new spatial way.Technologist and entrepreneur Edward Miller notes that “A.R. will do for skills & understanding, what the internet browser did for information.” Meaning instruction manuals for how to use objects will exist right on the object itself and not on some far-away 2D webpage or clunky physical booklet.My colleague Jody Medich has significantly influenced my thinking around this topic—and she loves to describe this idea as giving us superpowers.These are just some of the potential answers to the question of what makes the AR Cloud significant, and I’m still learning more every day. Going forward, expect shared augmented reality experiences to change the way we live, work, and play—and soon at Singularity University—also how we learn.