(Image by Augmented.City)

Recently, blogger Antony Vitillo (Skarred Ghost) wrote about an interview he conducted with two entrepreneurs working on the Open AR CloudVladimir Ufnarovskii and Julia C. Beabout

The video of this interview (and his quick summary) act as a useful primer on this potentially important platform, which aims to offer an open, user-centric alternative to the private AR clouds being built by companies like Facebook. The blog also covers a number of strong arguments in favor of this initiative and highlights one or two potential stumbling blocks.

Here are some of the highlights.

What is the Open AR Cloud?

The Open AR Cloud defines itself as follows:

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.

That means it is an open, distributed platform for providing access to an AR cloud. (The AR cloud is the persistent, up-to-date spatial data set that enables augmented reality applications to place the 3D holograms in a real-world context, and share those holograms among multiple users.)

Why is it necessary?

As we’ve covered in the past, a number of companies like Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, and Niantic are working to build their own private AR clouds. A tech company that owns the dominant AR cloud would be able to keep your AR experiences within their “walled garden,” gather data, and gain a significant amount of power. Think of Google’s near-monopoly on web searches, and how they exploit their user’s search data to create ad revenue.

Another problem: The company who owns the AR cloud will also control access to that data. If you want to use Apple’s AR cloud, for instance, you will need to submit your application for their approval process. And companies like Apple are known to use approval processes to quash competition.

The Open AR cloud (or OARC), is in direct opposition to this model. As the blog explains, it is user-oriented rather than business-oriented. It is defined by “a big focus on the privacy of the users, with a distributed architecture, and a system built for interoperability.”

Why should you care?

The AR professionals interviewed for the blog highlight the benefits of the Open AR cloud for users and companies. Here are a few. The Open AR Cloud is:

  • Already available— Where big tech companies are building their AR clouds, we don’t have access yet. Open AR Cloud already exists, so developers can build persistent AR experiences right now.
  • Open and flexible — Developers have more options for how they use the data in the Open AR Cloud. No waiting for a company like Facebook to gather the necessary data, and then wait for them to approve your application for use on the Facebook AR Cloud.
  • Built for privacy — The Open AR Cloud claims high privacy standards. It does not monetize user data or share information with third parties. Users with concerns about privacy can ban real-world locations like military bases or private residences, even retroactively.
  • A different business model — Revenue sharing is built in. If you scan a place, you will get a share of revenue for all calls to that data. This model also offers incentives for keeping the data up to date, since you only receive that share of revenue if your data is current.

The scan problem

From our point of view, there are one or two challenges related to the scanning itself. For now, the Open AR Cloud relies on its own scanning app, which Skarred Ghost calls “a bit complicated,” which means you’ll need to develop skills to get good data. It also requires active attention during capture. This makes it more cumbersome than the capture process for other AR Clouds—Niantic, for instance, has managed to enlist tens of millions of users to capture data by gamifying the experience.

The usability of the app will likely improve with time, and someday the Open AR Cloud could allow capture with a wider variety of apps (it is open, after all). But the limitation of active capture could be a sticking point. Can the Open AR Cloud compete with the data gathered by a company like Niantic? Can it reach the critical mass and rate of refresh it needs to offer a meaningful alternative?

To find out more about the Open AR Cloud, check out the original blog post, or the video below.