Amazon is many things: online retailer, grocery store owner, provider of cloud computing services. And this week it added another title to its list: helper for companies that want to make virtual- and augmented-reality apps. In Las Vegas at its annual Amazon Web Services conference, the company unveiled Sumerian, a Web-based service that makes it easier to create VR and AR experiences without special expertise in things like 3-D graphics. Available in an invite-only preview version for now, Sumerian includes lots of 3-D spaces and objects (such as furniture from Amazon’s own catalogue of stuff) that developers can drag and drop into various scenes, along with 3-D characters that can be customized and will interact with users (Sumerian is able to use Amazon’s voice recognition technology, widely popularized with its Alexa digital assistant). The kinds of experiences people make with Sumerian can then be viewed on headsets like Google’s Daydream View, HTC’s Vive, and Oculus’s Rift, as well as Apple’s iPhone and iPad. The move makes Amazon the latest big tech company to jump on the AR and VR bandwagon, joining Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and others that have already introduced various tools for developers—and, in some cases, headsets, too—in hopes of capitalizing on these nascent technologies. Why is Amazon doing it? According to Marco Argenti, vice president of technology for AWS, it’s reacting to a desire from companies that want to try out AR and VR for everything from training to virtual concierge services but don’t have the technical capabilities to make, say, a VR app from scratch. Read more here…

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