Location-based gaming pioneer Niantic has offered a preview of its augmented reality cloud platform that could change the immersive content game yet again.
Previously disclosed by Niantic CEO John Hanke in an interview, the Niantic Real World Platform for mobile apps enables not only multiplayer, cross-platform augmented reality experiences, but also facilitates environmental understanding for occlusion, or the ability for AR content to appear in front of or disappear behind objects in the real world.
Using a smartphone's camera and computer vision, the Niantic Real World Platform can recognize landmarks and objects in the environment and track changes over time, and uses machine learning to classify objects. This enables apps to present content that blends naturally and logically into the environment.
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For multiplayer, the platform utilizes low-latency networking between users, regardless of mobile OS, to ensure that experiences are in sync.
The platform is built on computer vision technology from Escher Reality, which Niantic acquired in February, and Matrix Mill, whose acquisition Niantic announced on Thursday. Escher Reality takes care of the multiplayer aspect of the platform, while Matrix Mill, whose computer vision technology can interpret a user's immediate surroundings through one or more cameras, supplies the environmental understanding.
"We think of the Niantic Real World Platform as an operating system that bridges the digital and the physical worlds," wrote John Hanke, CEO of Niantic, in a blog post. "Building on our collective experience to date, we are pushing the boundaries of geospatial technology, and creating a complementary, interactive real-world layer that consistently brings an engaging experience to users."
And it turns out that Niantic won't limit the platform to its own apps, such as Ingress, Pokemon Go, and the forthcoming Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, as the company plans to open up the technology to other developers.
For now, Niantic will work with a select group of partners as it irons out the kinks. Interested developers can sign up through Niantic's website to get in line.
Over the course of the last year, the concept of the "AR cloud" has become seen as the next step in enhancing mobile augmented reality, and companies large and small are racing to enable developers to bring shared, persistent experiences with environmental understanding to their apps.
Google, Niantic's former parent company, recently unleashed its own cross-player multiplayer platform, Cloud Anchors for ARCore, which is available to developers now. At WWDC 2018, Apple announced that it will bring multiuser support, persistent content, and object recognition to ARKit 2.0 this fall.
And while Niantic's platform offers more than either ARCore or ARKit, there are a number of startups offering similar features sets. For instance, 6D.ai checks off the boxes for multiplayer, cross-platform compatibility, persistence, and occlusion meshing and is currently in its closed beta phase. Google backs another pair of companies, Blue Vision and Ubiquity6, which are knocking on the same AR cloud door. So while the AR cloud field is definitely getting crowded, Niantic has the financial backing and enough experience in scaling infrastructure to fuel its platform to meet the competition.
It will also be interesting to see how Niantic's move into the AR cloud arena will play versus its former parent company. The search giant has been stoking competition in the location-based gaming world with its Google Maps API, creating a horde of imitators to go up against Niantic's AR apps.
So it's only fitting that Niantic take Google head-on with its own mobile AR toolkit, allowing us to see if that separation of powers back in 2015 leads to Niantic truly becoming a stronger, more nimble company versus the lumbering moves of the corporate behemoth that once gave it shelter.
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