Niantic held its first developer conference, the Lightship Summit, on May 24-25 2022, in San Francisco.
The company primarily focused on presenting their new developer product Lightship VPS, and a new Niantic Wayfarer app that developers can use to create private scans as well as submit public scans of existing Niantic Wayspots.
John Hanke, Niantic CEO, held a down-to-earth, honest keynote explaining their vision for AR, the new technology Niantic is developing, and most interesting to us – the new community app called Campfire.
Niantic Lightship VPS
Niantic’s Lightship VPS stands for Visual Positioning System, and it allows developers to accurately determine player position and orientation, going far beyond the usual constrains of GPS and similar geo-positioning systems.
Lightship VPS allows developers to know where their users are standing, what they are looking and how is their device oriented towards a specific AR object. Its essential infrastructure to building convincing AR, as the model doesn’t face the user at all times.
Lightship VPS works by combining two strong mechanisms to achieve this:
- Niantic’s in-house algorithms for determining the device’s orientation and
- A comprehensive AR map of the world, created by scanning IRL objects with a smartphone camera and later processed by computer vision
These scans are collected from developers, Niantic’s first party surveyors and players – mostly Pokémon GO and Ingress players. Players submit short video recordings of real-world locations for in-game rewards. Niantic then uses machine learning to generate 3D scans, and tries to create a 3D model of the real-world location.
Once there are enough scans, Niantic activates the location on Lightship VPS, and developers can use this data to figure out where their users are, in which direction they are facing and how far or how near to an AR object they actually are.
The company also shared a video that shows how the scanning actually works, and how the 3D mesh is created on top of the video recordings:
Niantic says that they are building a new map of the world, one aimed at usage in 3D and AR applications, and judging by the company’s official commentary they are heavily invested in this effort:
Building this new map of the world is one of the grand challenges of AR, but we’re not doing it alone – Niantic’s AR map is powered by scans of real-world locations from developers, surveyors, and players. For years, Niantic has invited dedicated players to join us in our pursuit of building an AR map of the world. Our community has contributed millions of locations, photos, and scans, essential data that make it possible to serve localization with Lightship VPS.
VPS-activated locations are much more than single points on a map. They are comprised of multiple scans, creating localizable spaces that are roughly 10 meters in diameter.
The accuracy of Lightship VPS is such that a device can be localized to within centimeters of its true location, enabling the persistence of intricately crafted, real-world AR experiences.
Both the size and the quantity of these VPS-activated locations will increase over time; Lightship VPS will be available in over 100 global cities by the end of 2022.
Lightship VPS is available at over 30,000 locations globally today, with especially dense coverage in six cities: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, New York, London, and Tokyo.
The new Niantic Wayfarer app
In addition to the announcements concerning Lightship VPS, Niantic also shared a lot about the new Niantic Wayfarer app that developers can use to create meshes and private scans.
The app is intended for developer usage, and as such it doesn’t have the social features you’d expect from something like Niantic Campfire, the upcoming community map, built by Niantic.
Of course, we registered for the app and made a recording to see it in action. Do note that the app is in private beta, but accessible by everyone. You need to allow Testflight on iOS to download the app and to use it.
The app allows devs to scan objects they plan to use, and to help Niantic activate them in Lightship VPS. Unsurprisingly, rural areas don’t have many activated locations in VPS, but Niantic assured the audience this is poised to change.
It seems like the company is angling to push 3D scanning across all verticals: players, developers and in-house surveyors. We are not sure how far along Niantic is, but it does seem like they are on the right path to actually build a 3D map of the world, or at the very least of areas around PokéStops and Gyms.
Campfire is Niantic’s new community app
John Hanke, Niantic CEO, spent a couple of minutes on stage explaining the motivation, vision and the goals of Niantic’s upcoming community app. The app is tentatively called Campfire, and it features built-in messaging, event coordination and a map of local communities.
Niantic Campfire currently in beta and Ingress now, and it’s coming to Pokémon GO and the rest of Niantic games this summer. Hanke reiterated that the app “fosters the kind of real human-to-human social interaction that has always underpinned what Niantic has been about.”
Campfire will initially only support communities in Ingress, Pokémon GO, Pikmin Bloom and Peridot. However, Hanke shared that apps made by third party developers will be featured as well, with the functionality coming later this year.
Essentially, Niantic is aiming to position Campfire as social infrastructure for all developers using their Niantic Lightship and Lightship VPS products.