Niantic’s view: Metaverse driven by AR
Niantic, developer of Pokemon Go, which was originally spun out of Google, published a blog in August 2021 building its vision for the metaverse around AR rather than VR.
It views the world in science fiction novels such as Snow Crash and Ready Player One as a dystopian future of technology gone wrong where users need to escape a terrible real world with VR glasses to go into the virtual world. The company views VR as a sedentary process slipping into a virtual world and being cut off from everyone around you with an avatar as a poor substitute for the real human-to-human interaction. The company believes VR glasses remove the realistic interactions from the presence that you can sense being with people that are difficult to replicate staring into OLED display goggles.
Niantic is leaning into AR in order to be able to be outside and connect with the physical world with AR as an overlay to enhance those experiences and interactions, and get people back outside and active by learning about their city and community.
The company’s view of the metaverse is a world infused with “reality channels”, where data, information, services and interactive creations can be overlaid on the real world. The company incorporated these into its products Field Trip, Ingress and Pokemon Go as games that can make the world more interesting. The capability, though, can stretch beyond games and entertainment, as the AR can allow education, guidance, and assistance anywhere from work sites to knowledge work.
Niantic is also developing a visual positioning system (VPS) that can place virtual objects in a specific location so those objects can persist to be discovered by other people using the same application. With a live production code it has mapped thousands of locations. Niantic is attempting to build a much more in-depth digital map beyond Google Maps which can recognise location and orientation anywhere in the world leveraging on computer vision and deep-learning algorithms, and the leverage of the millions of users playing its games such as Pokemon Go.
The company’s vision follows Alan Kay’s 1972 Dynabook paper that discussed the trend of continuing to shrink compute (from mainframes now down to smartphones/ wearables) and eventually to compute devices disappearing into the world. Niantic views shifting the primary compute surface from the smartphone to AR glass to remove the demands on hands to make it easier to access data and services, and view overlays on the real world. Niantic has partnered with Qualcomm to invest in a reference design for outdoor-capable AR glasses that can orient themselves using Niantic’s map, and render information and virtual worlds on top of the physical world with open platforms allowing many partners to distribute compatible glasses.