Amazon Sumerian: A Brief Introduction

I have mentioned Amazon Sumerian in passing on this blog, but I thought it was time to look at the product a little more closely.

Sumerian is a tool for creating 3D experiences, built on top of WebXR. Amazon says that developers do not need any specialized programming or 3D graphics expertise to create VR, AR, and 3D applications. One advantage of Sumerian is that developers can use the software to build a scene once, that can be published and viewed on laptops, mobile phones, VR headsets, and digital signage. You can also integrate AI-based hosts with whom you can talk and interact (basically a high-end chatbot):

The following overview of Amazon Sumerian is presented by Kyle Roche, the General Manager of the Amazon Sumerian project:

Among the use cases that Amazon is promoting for Sumerian are:

  • Employee Education: Build scenes that let you on-board or train employees remotely. Employees can learn in a virtual classroom setting that is led by a Host, or walk through an environment that mimics their actual working environment. This can help employees retain information better while allowing you to train more employees at lower cost. 
  • Training Simulations: Build scenes that train skilled employees by simulating real world scenarios. Employees can get hands-on training in specialized fields such as healthcare, aviation, law enforcement, or industrial machinery. For example, you can create a simulation to train surgeons to use a new kind of surgical equipment. 
  • Field Service Productivity: Build scenes that improve the productivity of field and service workers in areas like repair, engineering, oil & gas, manufacturing, and more. For example, you can build an AR app that helps technicians troubleshoot and repair machinery. Looking through a mobile device screen, a user could see diagnostic metrics or animations of how to perform a repair on top of the machine.
  • Virtual Concierge: Build scenes with a Host that acts as a concierge to your end users for almost any industry. The concierge can greet users, answer common questions, and guide users through your company’s services and offerings. Users could see and engage with the concierge through a mobile device or kiosk on-site at your company, or they could interact with the concierge in a completely virtual portal using a head-mounted display.
  • Design and Creative: Build scenes that aid in the creation of new products or creative assets. Designers, creative professionals, and business professionals can use VR/AR to visualize and review mock-ups of a design as though it were real, helping to improve the efficiency of the product design cycle.
  • Retail and Sales: Build scenes that help you market and sell your product. For example, a retailer could create a mobile AR app that lets users see how furniture would look in their homes before buying. You could also create a scene that uses a Host as a virtual sales person who sells products and answers questions. 

The pricing for Amazon Sumerian consists of two components: charges for scene traffic (at a rate of $0.38 per gigabyte per month) and, if you decide to use them, additional charges for Amazon Lex or Amazon Polly hosting.

Now, I do not believe that Amazon Sumerian allows for true social VR (that is, the ability to create a scene which more than one avatar can experience at the same time), so therefore, I am not including it in my list of social VR/virtual worlds. But it is very interesting to see the direction that Amazon is going with this.

Like the rest of what I like to call the “Big Five” (Facebook, Google, Apple, and Microsoft), Amazon has deep pockets to fund the future development and promotion of Sumerian (Amazon earned US$10 billion dollars in net income in 2018). The company has the potential to become a major disrupter in the social VR marketplace if (or when) they decide to include support for avatars representing the users, as opposed to just having virtual beings as hosts.


Thanks to NyushaZoryAna for the heads up!

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My Predictions For The Next Two Years

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Photo by Wyron A on Unsplash

I’ve been hanging around virtual worlds of one kind or another for over a decade now. I’ve seen them come and go. Some were spectacular failures that provided lessons for other companies. Others just kind of meander along, not attracting very many users or ever becoming very big (like the multitude of OpenSim-based grids).

What usually happens in today’s hyper-competitive computer applications marketplace, is that one or two players in a particular market segment get big (e.g. Microsoft, MySpace, Facebook, and yes, in its own way, Second Life), and then continue to grow like a juggernaut, based on the network effect, while the smaller players in the marketplace fight each other over the leftovers. The ones who get big are usually, but not always, the early entrants into the field (Second Life is a prime example of that, although there were notable virtual worlds which were founded before it, like ActiveWorlds).

But social VR and virtual worlds are not a zero-sum game. Many consumers are frequent visitors to a number of different metaverse platforms, and many creators build and sell products in various virtual worlds. Right now, success in one VR-capable virtual world (e.g. VRChat) generates interest in other social VR spaces. As they say, “A rising tide lifts all boats”.

It’s still not clear where all this is going, but I’m willing to polish my crystal ball and make a few predictions of what will happen over the next two year period, from now until April 2020.

What I predict will happen, over the next two years, is that one of the Big Five computer companies:

  • Alphabet/Google
  • Amazon
  • Apple
  • Facebook/Oculus*
  • Microsoft

Is either going to launch their own social VR/virtual world/metaverse product, OR is going to buy one of the Big Four metaverse-building companies:

  • High Fidelity
  • Linden Lab (Second Life and Sansar)
  • Sine Wave Entertainment (Sinespace)
  • VRChat

(We’ve already seen this happen with Microsoft’s purchase of AltspaceVR.) We could also see a company buy out a virtual world, just to grab the programming talent, and then shut the world down completely (as Yahoo! did with the promising Cloud Party).

Now, there’s no guarantee that any of the Big Four companies WANT to be bought out by the Big Five. Perhaps instead of a buyout, a strategic partnership deal will be inked. But I bet you anything that it’s tempting for the bigger companies to buy their way into the evolving metaverse marketplace, rather than design something from scratch.

I also predict that a LOT of the new virtual world/social VR startups we see popping up are going to fail over the next two years. There’s a lot of virtual-reality-related (and especially blockchain-related) hype taking place, and some people are investing in startups that are risky. Some smaller companies have jumped into grand virtual-world-building projects without realizing the sheer magnitude of the work involved in creating a fully-featured, viable metaverse. I’m afraid that some investors are going to get burned.

I also predict that Sinespace and VRChat are going to pull ahead in terms of features, simply because they decided to build on top of the popular Unity game engine, and they can use all the cool Unity development tools that are popping up. By comparison, feature development on Sansar and High Fidelity will be slower, as they continue work in-house on their own engines.

And finally, I expect that Second Life’s 15th anniversary celebrations will entice some former users to dust off their old accounts and revisit the platform to see what’s new. It may well herald a renaissance for SL! At the very least, it will help stave off a slow decline in SL’s user concurrency figures.

*Sorry, but as I have said before, Facebook Spaces is not a palatable social VR/virtual world product. It can’t even come close to competing against what High Fidelity, Second Life, Sinespace and VRChat are currently doing. But I bet you anything that Facebook has other plans up their sleeve. They can still try to leverage off their 2-billion-plus Facebook network (not to mention 800 million Instagram users) to become a potential major disruptor in the evolving metaverse marketplace. I’m not counting them out yet!