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The AR cloud has turned three. This traces back to the principle’s origin in a 2017 landmark editorial by AR veteran and thought leader Ori Inbar. To celebrate its birthday, Inbar gathered and moderated a panel of leading thinkers at a recent AWE Nite NYC (video below).

Before diving in, what is the AR cloud? For those unfamiliar, it’s a foundational principle that helps contextualize the future of augmented reality. It’s all about data that’s anchored to places and things, which AR devices can ingest and process into meaningful content.

In order for AR to work in the ways we all envision, it first must understand its surroundings. Before placing graphics in a room, an AR device has to understand that room. And because the world’s spatial mapping data is too extensive to fit on one device, it must tap the cloud.

Inherent Conflict

Picking up where we left off in Part I of our panel breakdown, one of the key factors that will determine the AR cloud’s value is the establishment of a privacy framework. If we’ve learned anything from social media over the past five years, it’s that better guardrails are needed.

Moreover, matters of privacy and data security will jump into hyperdrive in spatial computing because of the level of sensory immersion. That will create several more trackable signals and inputs that reveal consumer intent — everything from biometrics to spatial maps of your bedroom.

XRSI’s Kavya Pearlman believes that regulation will go a certain distance — analogous to what we now see in the legislation like GDPR and CCPA — but it’s not enough. The spatial computing-focused privacy expert believes that industry self-governance will be more impactful.

For an example of what not to do, Facebook practices lots of lip service about policies and self-regulation. But real change will be measured in action, says Pearlman. There’s also an inherent conflict with advertising-centric businesses, which could determine outcomes in the AR Cloud.

XR Talks: Defining the AR Cloud, Part I

The URL of the Spatial Web

Related to privacy is the matter of the AR Cloud’s openness. Will it be open like the web, with common languages (HTML) and protocols (HTTPS) that anyone can use to plant their flag? Or will the spatial web be a constellation of walled gardens that don’t talk to each other?

The answer is probably “both” just like we have today. There’s the open web, unlocked and accessed through the browser. And then there are apps — everything from Snapchat to Salesforce — that connect in some ways to the web but are otherwise self-contained.

Niantic’s Matt Meisneiks believes the latter is inevitable because of tech giants’ incentive to build moats around monetizable assets. They can achieve enough scale that even closed networks are big enough — today’s exemplars being large-but-closed platforms like iOS and Facebook.

Google’s Justin Quimby says this is okay as long as there are common languages — again like HTML today. We have that for spatial positioning given GPS and altitude. Combine these with directional heading to get geopose, says Jan Erik Vinje — a prospective URL for the spatial web.

XR Talks: Follow the Money for AR’s Trajectory

Inherently Immersive

One question is who will rule the spatial web? A fairly common sentiment is that no one company will do so, and it will be more of a “plurality.” Google could be the knowledge layer, Facebook the social layer, Microsoft the enterprise productivity layer, and Amazon the commerce layer.

Speaking of which, Pearlman says to watch Amazon’s subtle but potentially impactful moves in spatial computing. It’s been the quietest of the “big 5,” but its conquests are often tactfully subtle, and its sensor-laden IoT initiatives (smart devices, etc.) could plant seeds for its own AR cloud.

Matt Meisneiks meanwhile believes in the power of the killer app. When discovered in AR, answers will follow including the who, what and when of the AR cloud. Historical examples are Google search dictating web architecture and Facebook’s News Feed guiding the social graph.

But the companies that will find the most success on the spatial web will be those that build trust says Pearlman. Given the level of personal data revealed through such inherently-immersive technology, strategic positioning and technical aptitude will mean nothing without user trust.

Check out the full panel discussion below, including more depth from the panelists. And stay tuned for more XR Talks every Friday, including a subsequent AWE Nite NYC event that explored the strategic implications for Apple’s new LiDAR integration.   

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