Unity: Come for the AR, Stay for the AI

If you want to develop something for augmented reality (AR), these days there’s a pretty good chance you’re using the gaming engine called Unity. Unity is the closest we’ve got to cross-platform AR; if you build something in Unity, it’ll work on Apple, Google, and Microsoft Hololens. This week, Unity added a new twist: Unity machine learning agents

Machine Learning is changing the way we expect to get intelligent behavior out of autonomous agents. Whereas in the past the behavior was coded by hand, it is increasingly taught to the agent (either a robot or virtual avatar) through interaction in a training environment. This method is used to learn behavior for everything from industrial robots, drones, and autonomous vehicles, to game characters and opponents…

At Unity, we wanted to design a system that provide greater flexibility and ease-of-use to the growing groups interested in applying machine learning to developing intelligent agents…
* Academic researchers interested in studying complex multi-agent behavior in realistic competitive and cooperative scenarios.
* Industry researchers interested in large-scale parallel training regimes for robotics, autonomous vehicle, and other industrial applications.
* Game developers interested in filling virtual worlds with intelligent agents each acting with dynamic and engaging behavior.

Unity’s machine learning agents are a long way from being finished. Unity is releasing their work as a beta (including, interestingly enough, open sourcing the software). But it should have some very interesting implications for Makers All down the line. As I discussed in On Augmented Reality and Not Sitting at the Back of the Bus and Why Augmented Reality Instead of Robots, given the very limited things robots that are ridiculously expensive can do today, I think augmented reality is a better place for working on the issue of community access right now. I’d assumed that at some point the lessons learned from community groups working together around augmented reality would be useful when robots and AI got interesting enough to start to do real work on them in the community. But given Unity’s announcement, there may be a lot more overlap than I expected.

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