TL; DR: 6D.ai is an augmented reality (AR) platform that uses real-world depth information to generate a dense 3D mesh. Developers can use the technology to easily build life-like AR apps with persistent assets that are responsive to occlusion and can be synced between multiple platforms and users. With custom UX solutions and future plans to make the technology more accessible, 6D is helping bring AR technology into the mainstream for enterprises small and large.
Apps in the fledgling artificial reality (AR) space have struggled to take off during the last decade. Anyone who has tried an AR app without a virtual reality (VR) headset, such as the Microsoft HoloLens and Oculus VR, knows the pitfalls all too well — from low-quality content to frustrating load times.
“In the recent past, AR apps were mostly novelties, gimmicks, and marketing stunts — and they weren’t delivering much utility, particularly to enterprises,” said Matt Miesnieks, Co-Founder and CEO of 6D.ai. “Large companies built custom headset-based solutions for which they saw a clear ROI, but developers didn’t have the same ability to create widely available apps on mobile devices.”
Achieving similar success in the mobile app world would require a significant breakthrough in 3D computer vision. Realizing this, Matt began to work with Professor Victor Prisacariu, Co-Leader of the Oxford University Active Vision Lab, whose research on computer vision methods had laid the foundation for enabling real-time AR and VR on mobile platforms and IoT devices.
Together, Matt and Victor then founded 6D.ai to build APIs that help mass-market developers and enterprises leverage AR in meaningful new ways.
“We saw a real opportunity to enable ARCore and ARKit smartphones to support the types of ROI-boosting applications that were previously only accessible to big businesses with expensive head-mounted displays,” Matt said.
Today, the 6D API uses a standard built-in smartphone camera, rather than a costly depth camera, to build real-time, crowd-sourced 3D maps of the world. It then generates a 3D mesh that developers can use to construct spatial computing apps with powerful feature sets.
In the future, the company plans to leverage 3D spatial data to form a baseline for artificial intelligence (AI) neural networks, which will help applications understand the world to a greater extent. It will also implement cloud services to increase performance, helping bring AR technology to the mainstream for enterprises of all sizes.
Cross-Platform Functionality, Real-Time Meshing, and Spatial Awareness
Matt told us that 6D’s real-time, on-device meshing allows AI objects to interact with our complex physical world beyond the rudimentary and limited planes defined by earlier technology.
“We needed the smartphone to be able to build a digital replica, or mirror world, of the 3D environment, so you could then put AI content on top of it,” he said. “By making this possible, we cracked open all sorts of use cases, such as spatial computing apps for hands-free business process automation, all without the need for high-end depth cameras.”
For example, the technology could be used to inspect large properties by capturing real-time 3D scans of the space, which could then be used for insurance purposes, to create floor plans, or to plan for accessibility requirements.
Designers, film producers, and real estate professionals could capture entire buildings or rooms to virtually collaborate on layouts, whether constructing virtual decor models or movie sets. The technology could also be used to provide GPS-free navigation tools that help attendees find conference rooms, companies track workers for safety purposes, and museums virtually guide guests through tours.
Overall, the technology’s ability to unlock the full potential of AR has been well-received, with Fortune 500 companies and more than 6,000 developers already leveraging 6D for their business solutions.
“Attracting interest was the easy bit: We made something possible that had never been possible before,” Matt said. “The challenge we’ve had is focus — we’re a small company, and big customers come to us with a very diverse set of use cases that our technology could support. We can’t chase all of them at the same time, so we have to carefully qualify our opportunities.”
Persistent, Responsive Assets Synced Between Multiple Users
With 6D, the virtual content that a developer creates within an app behaves as if it’s real, Matt said.
“If you put something in place, it stays there,” he said. “If I put something in place, then both of us can see it. If I put something on the couch and walk around the back, then it’s occluded and hidden. Or, if I throw a bit of content at a physical object, it’ll bounce off.”
These qualities, technically defined as persistence, multiplayer functionality, occlusion, and physics, add up to form a virtual experience that’s more realistic than ever before — and in a faster period of time than previously possible.
“Traditionally, capturing a scene took a lot of time and involved carefully moving around a space, scanning information in, or taking thousands of photos for offline photogrammetry or hand modeling,” Matt said. “Customers either couldn’t to it, or the user experience would be too clunky.”
6D’s technology runs lightning-fast in real-time, meaning you can wave your phone around and quickly capture all of the surroundings and contextual information needed to use the app. To that end, Matt said the company’s most significant value proposition is its ability to make AR, well, work. “AR is the opportunity, and 6D is giving enterprises access to it in a real, valuable way that no one else can,” he said.
Setting Trends and Creating Secure, Tailored UX Solutions
When it comes to ongoing development, 6D doesn’t have to look to the market for trends — because they’re the ones setting them. For example, the company introduced the AR Cloud, a shared library of maps that are accessible on connected devices through the 6D SDK.
“We invented the term that Gartner has now created as a category on their hype cycle, and since then, Microsoft has come around to backing their AR solution with Azure, Google now has AI cloud anchors, and Facebook just announced live maps, which are the same thing,” Matt said. “We’re certainly defining where AR is going long-term.”
Matt said the company’s product development process is focused entirely on customers, whether they’re sophisticated AR developers or product managers and business owners.
“We shape our product by meeting with customers from different verticals, showing them demos, and gaining clarity on the way they need things to work,” he said. “We can then tailor the solution around the specific user experience that they’re trying to create.”
6D also takes data privacy very seriously, keeping security top of mind when determining how data is gained, accessed, and stored through the platform. The 3D mesh generated by the 6D API lacks texture and is therefore not photo-realistic, which obscures the imagery to some degree. The company expects that certain use cases will demand unique approaches to security and privacy, and has several programs underway for the responsible management of 3D data.
Future Plans: Making AR Technology More Accessible
In August of 2019, 6D announced its commercial availability while unveiling its transactional pricing model, allowing app developers to begin shipping applications publicly. However, a new billing model with pay-as-you-go pricing will kick off on January 1, 2020.
Apart from pricing considerations, 6D’s future plans include making the company’s technology even more accessible to product managers and business owners, who don’t typically possess advanced knowledge when it comes to AR.
“The next step we’re taking is to package up our technology into a straightforward app that clearly demonstrates what 6D and AR can do for the enterprise without understanding the technology from a developer’s perspective,” Matt said.
In this way, 6D will come even further in achieving its original goal: to bring AR technology into the mainstream for enterprises small and large.