‘Pokémon Go’ maker Niantic buys 3D mapping startup 6D.ai

Pokémon Go developer Niantic acquires AR startup 6D.ai.
Image: 6D.ai

Pokémon Go” developer Niantic announced it acquired 3D mapping startup 6D.ai on Tuesday. Neither firm revealed financial details behind the transaction, but the games company noted it would integrate its new subsidiary’s technology into its augmented reality (AR) platform.

In a press release, Niantic mentioned it would work with 6D.ai to create “planet-scale” AR experiences.

Why Niantic Bought 6D.ai

In 2016, Niantic made a big splash when it released an AR-based mobile game built around Nintendo’s “Pokémon” property. The game, which allows users to capture and train pocket monsters in the real world using their smartphones, became an instant global smash upon release. Three years on, “Pokémon Go” is still remarkably popular, generating $900 million in revenue for Niantic in 2019.

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The games company is now pouring its resources into a developer platform that could support a slew of mobile AR applications. 6D.ai’s innovative software will help the company bring its next big idea to life. Founded in 2017, the San Francisco-based startup developed a robust system capable of doing some truly remarkable things.

The startup’s platform allows its clients to create persistent AR objects, mesh of AR components and a physical environment in real-time, and map real-world locations using a mobile device.

Two years ago, 6D.ai released an app intended to crowdsource a cloud-based 3D model of the world using passively captured smartphone camera data.

Niantic said the startup’s technology would enable it to push AR technology forward. The company wants to help developers build games where users can witness dragons landing on skyscrapers. The firm also suggested designers use 6D.ai-enhanced technology to build tour guide apps that layer local hotspots with informational pop-ups.

The Emerging AR Hardware Sector

Although Niantic’s latest acquisition is a software company, the firm has been hard at work on its hardware offerings.

Last December, the firm announced a new partnership with Qualcomm to develop a smart glasses product. The unnamed offering will utilize the semiconductor company’s Snapdragon XR chip to support 360° 8K video at 60 fps. Besides, the components built-in graphics processor gives it over 1 ½ times the power of the Oculus Quest headset.

Several Big Tech firms have also taken an interest in developing AR hardware. Last November, Microsoft debuted its $3,500 HoloLens 2 headgear. The second-generation of the Windows maker’s wearable featured an enhanced viewing range and a relatively light form factor.

Apple is also trying to break into the market with a pair of connected headgear products. The firm is developing a VR/AR device codenamed N301 that will boast powerful area mapping and 3D meshing capability. The company is also working a smart glasses product, the N421, that will function as stylish eyewear normally, but its lenses will darken when users engage in AR interactions.

Social media giant Facebook believes smart glasses will be the product that replaces the smartphone in public life. The firm’s building a 775,000 ft.² campus that will be explicitly dedicated to AR headset development.

Earlier this week, Facebook also bought a microLED company called Plessey to facilitate further AR hardware development.

Ostensibly, Niantic is overmatched by more established corporations with deeper pockets and larger headcounts. However, the company isn’t looking to start a fight it probably wouldn’t win; instead it wants to license its Qualcomm-power gear and 6D.ai-enabled platform to other firms. Given its prior success with AR technology, it could play a key role in mainstreaming the smart glasses version of the iPhone.


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