Niantic to Build 3D World Map via Data Collected From Users

Niantic, the developer of “Pokémon Go,” raised $470 million to evolve the mobile game into a full-featured augmented reality platform. The company, valued at $4 billion, will rely on “Pokémon Go” players to build its 3D data collection by sharing videos of real-world PokéStop and Gym locations. By crowdsourcing such assets, Niantic plans to build 3D maps with “a better understanding of the depth and the complexities of the real world.” The 3D data collection will debut in June to “Pokémon Go” players ranked above Level 40.

TechCrunch reports that, although privacy is a potential issue, “data uploaded to Niantic’s servers will also be anonymized and visual data, including faces and license plates, will be blurred automatically.” Two months ago, Niantic purchased 6D.ai, an AR startup that “professed to be building out a crowdsourced 3D map of the world.”

Since “Pokémon Go” debuted in 2016, “the title has continued to be a cash cow,” earning nearly $900 million in 2019, its “best-ever revenues.”

Niantic has also “slowly been building out its Niantic Real World Platform, which allows augmented reality developers to leverage its AR tech to create their own games and software.” In the AR platform space, the company’s chief rivals are Apple’s ARKit platform and Facebook’s Spark AR. Its “key advantage,” however, could be offering developers a network of 3D data maps, “which would allow them to create larger, more ambitious AR projects, while likely allowing users of those projects to also send visual data back to Niantic.”

VentureBeat reports that the AR features to be released in June will roll out to “Samsung Galaxy S9, Samsung Galaxy S10, Google Pixel 3, and Pixel 4 phones, with more devices being added in the near future.” According to Niantic senior product manager Kjell Bronder, one new feature is reality blending, by which “Pokémon will be able to hide behind a real object or be blocked by a tree or table blocking its path, just like you would see a Pokémon in the physical world.”

PokéStop Scanning will allow Pokémon Trainers to contribute to the map by “walking around their favorite public places and recording a stream of images with their phone.” Bronder noted that, “turning these people-generated points of interest from 2D images into a dynamic, 3D digital map of the world sparks the evolution of mapping from utilities traditionally oriented around transit (streets and walkways) to more meaningful and valuable location-based information oriented around people’s interests.”