The future of cloud-based 3D content distribution is becoming an increasingly popular topic, especially as AR and VR platforms have finally started to see some early growth. In the enterprise sector, practical use-cases abound for leveraging 3D models, maps and other content to become more effective and efficient on the job. For consumers, applications are already delivering basic 3D assets to mobile and XR devices, with significant growth expected in the next 3-5 years.
I’ve written in the past about how the quality of cloud-based 3D content and its delivery to both the enterprise and consumer markets will continue to improve rapidly, just as it has in more mature industries like video gaming and film. My company, Umbra feel that solutions like our cloud-based 3D optimization platform will be key to unlocking the potential for photorealistic 3D to reach massive populations of mobile and mixed reality users. To date, much of the conversation around 3D content has been focused on delivery and consumption and hasn’t really addressed the other half of this vast ecosystem – content creation.
The truth is that today, the vast majority of 3D content is either scanned or designed by industry professionals, not consumers. But all of this is poised to change quickly. Now that there are cloud-based delivery solutions that make it easy to publish and share 3D content, and platforms that make it accessible to generate 3D datasets by simply using your phone’s camera, we could be on the cusp of a complete democratization of 3D content creation.
Just as the internet changed the face of publishing by allowing anyone, anywhere to publish anything to millions of consumers at once, mobile 3D creation applications will soon allow consumers to scan, mesh, render, and share 3D they create right from their mobile devices.
Scanning technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace. A number of companies are working on technology that will enable scanning of local environments that create dense point cloud 3D data sets in near real-time, that can then easily be converted into geometry-based 3D models. Okay, that may be a few too many technical buzzwords, so let’s talk about this from a practical use case perspective.
Instead of waiting for a handful of technology giants to create a 3D digital twin of the world, consumers will soon have the power to crowdsource this effort on a worldwide scale. Imagine millions of people scanning their environments, sharing the most up to date, super-detailed 3D datasets with billions of users every day. In the same way that users can easily add new information about traffic conditions in application like Waze, they’ll be able to quickly scan their surroundings and share that information in a 3D format that other users, regardless of their location can step into and experience.
With augmented and virtual reality, it will soon be possible for consumers anywhere to be immersed in a photorealistic visualization of any location on earth. And those visualizations will be captured by consumers, every day, in the same way that Instagram users take photos today. And 3D, especially in a mixed reality environment has the potential to be far more immersive than photography. Instead of getting that picture of an amazing sunset on the beach from you friend, you instead get a 3D virtual copy of the beach itself and step right into it with your extended reality device.
My own opinion is that VR and AR have been slow to take off in part because the use cases presented to consumers to date have been almost exclusively focused on content consumption. Looking at the communication and entertainment platforms that have experienced the largest growth in the past three decades, they are all platforms that give consumers new way to create and publish content. More passive mediums such as television, film, and music, have all experienced significant declines. This should be a sign that today’s consumer, far more than past generations of consumers are embracing the ability to create incredible content themselves.
Of course, with massive amounts of crowd-sourced content come the challenges of providing the infrastructure required to upload, store, compute and deliver it all to billions of users. That’s where companies who develop platforms that can automate the process of converting huge 3D assets so they can be delivered and easily viewed on mobile devices are placing their bets. If these challenges can be overcome, the 3D industry will quickly move past a consumption-first model and enable billions of users to start creating and sharing 3D content in volumes that will make today’s entire internet pale in comparison.