Niantic has launched a platform to build "real-world metaverse apps." Lightship is a platform that allows users to "stitch together the digital world and the real world," John Hanke, CEO of Niantic tells me.
Hanke claims that Lightship will allow mobile apps to identify whether the user is looking at the sky or the water, and map the surface and depth of the environment in real-time. It can also place virtual objects behind physical objects.
Niantic is most well-known for its creation of Pokemon Go, one of the most popular mobile games ever. Hanke said that Lightship is "opening up the vault of tech we've used to build our products" in order to help other companies build "planet scale AR apps."
Lightship has been in the works for some time. It's now open to all developers. The majority of the software toolkit can be downloaded for free. However, Niantic will charge a fee to enable multiple devices to access AR experiences together. The company has also committed $20 million to help fund startups that create AR apps.
Niantic has already begun to plan a major update of Lightship for next-year, and Hanke describes it as a "visual positioning platform" for AR glasses.
The new system will allow glasses equipped with displays to be able to see exactly where they are located in the real world. This will enable virtual objects, such as Pikachu, to stay persistently anchored to real-world locations. It is a crucial component to make AR glasses such as those Niantic has developed with Qualcomm useful.
Niantic hopes to "set an example for what AR could be"
Hanke, who was previously the Google Maps manager before founding Niantic, said that Lightship will "basically set an example for what AR could be." Tech giants like Meta, Apple, and Meta are creating similar tools. However, Lightship's support of iOS and Android will appeal to developers.
He says that the current state of the world is 50/50 between iOS and Android. "And I believe it will be more diverse in the world AR glasses. It's crucial to find a solution that solves the problem of developers being able write code and create software that works across multiple platforms.
Hanke posted a blog in August calling the metaverse idea a "dystopian nightmare." Hanke is against technology taking people out of the real-world. He opposes the VR metaverse promoted by Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Instead, he wants Niantic developers to create AR apps that keep people connected with the physical.
He says, "There's an intersection." "One path leads to apps that don't connect to the world and aren't helping us connect to the people around us." Hanke says the other path Niantic is following with Lightship is encouraging people to work together with others who are alive.