Harry Potter, the Platform, and the Future of Niantic
After deep dives into the story of Niantic’s spinout from Google and its creation and development of Pokémon GO, TechCrunch editor Greg Kumparak turns his attention to Niantic’s future, looking at how Harry Potter: Wizards Unite is not just uniting wand-wielders, but also the company’s ambitions in areas as diverse as 5G, China, 3D mapping, and the next-generation of augmented reality.
There’s one more piece to this grander AR vision, and it’s perhaps the biggest and most challenging one.
Your phone knows your location, but current GPS tech is really only accurate within a few feet. Even when it’s at its most accurate, it doesn’t always stay there for long. Ever use Google Maps in a big city and had your marker hop around all over the map? That’s probably from the signals bouncing off buildings, vehicles, and all of the myriad metal things around you.
That’s good enough for basic augmented reality functionality seen in Pokémon GO today. But Niantic wants to get closer and closer to the vision of GO’s original trailer, where hundreds of people can look up to see the same Zapdos flying overhead, synchronized in time and space across all of their devices. Where you can gather in a park with friends to watch massive Pokémon battles play out in real time, or leave a virtual gift on a bench for a friend to walk up to and discover. For this, Niantic will need something more precise and more consistent. Like pretty much everything with Niantic, it all goes back to maps.
More specifically, they’ll need to build a 3D map of the environments where people are playing. It’s easy enough to get relatively accurate 3D data about huge things like buildings, but what about everything around those buildings? The statues, the planters, the trees, the bus stops. John [Hanke, Niantic’s CEO], and others in the space, refer to this map as the “AR Cloud.”
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