The real-world game giant Niantic, which is behind the billion-dollar franchise Pokemon Go and Warner’s Harry Potter, has acquired high-profile spatial mapping startup 6D.ai. Founded in 2018 by Samsung vet Matt Miesnieks (CEO) and Victor Prisacariu (Chief Scientist), 6D.ai spun out of Oxford University’s Computer Vision Lab with the goal of creating a persistent, invisible world mesh that would be anchored precisely to its real-world counterpart. 6D.ai had raised a total of 7M but neither company would comment on the purchase price. In its last round of financing in 2019, privately held Niantic raised $245 million at a $4 billion dollar valuation. News of the deal was announced on the Niantic site this morning in blog posts by Niantic CEO John Hanke and 6D’s Miesnieks.
The deal with 6D.ai was months, or years, in the making, as the companies have always enjoyed a close relationship. “ Funnily enough, just as we were starting 6D.ai,” said Miesnieks in his post. “Victor and I were introduced to John and his team to discuss potentially working together towards goals we realized we both shared. It’s incredible how much similarity there is between both companies’ visions for the AR Cloud, values around data privacy and culture as well as our technical approach toward building the 3D map of the world.”
Since launching in early 2018, 6D has shared that thousands of developers, including Fortune 500 companies, global consulting firms like Accenture, and top AR/VR custom developer shops such as Nexus Studios, are testing out ways to build new experiences across consumer and enterprise apps to take advantage of this new machine-readable mesh of the world. Some use cases the company has shared include more accurate location awareness to aid in finding your ride or scooter; large-scale mapping for smart cities used for wayfinding, marketing, and gaming; sharing 3D space within minutes for faster and more accurate remote assistance and for field services connecting people between both HMDs and phones within this digital copy of the world.
“From the beginning, we set out to infuse our daily lives and routines with a bit of fun and adventure by building an augmented world that parallels the physical. This bold pursuit requires significant advancements in AR technology that can only be made possible with an accurate and constantly updated 3D map of the real world.” Said Hanke in his blog post this morning.
“The 6D.ai API generates a 3D mesh of the world where AR content assets are persistent, responsive to occlusion, and efficiently synced between multiple users to help developers create engaging, useful and exciting apps that truly interact with the physical world,” Miesnieks explained to Forbes in 2018. “For example, instead of an object limited to a tabletop indoors, characters can interact with the outside world by hiding behind a city building and popping out for someone or sitting at a bus stop and moving into the map when someone needs travel information. Since they can be seen by multiple phones at the same time, people could surround characters and catch them together as a group. With these new features, digital content starts to behave as if it is really part of the three-dimensional real world.”
If 6D.ai were incorporated into a popular smartphone app like PokemonGo, it would exponentially increase the scale of the world map the company is building. The movements of Pokemon Go are controlled through the game, so Niantic could theoretically send them to map areas not yet covered. “A machine-readable world mesh would be the most valuable asset in computing,” explained Ori Inbar, partner in Super Ventures, which invested in 6D.ai along with General Catalyst.
This follows Niantic’s 2018 acquisition of Escher Reality, which was working on similar computer vision and mapping technology. Yuji Higaki, Niantic’s head of engineering, told us “the Escher team is making incredible contributions to Niantic and the 6D.ai team brings additional expertise and technology into the fold. These leading teams are now working together under the same AR group to tightly integrate their work into the Niantic Real World Platform.”
6D.ai had 16 employees, which includes full-time staff and consultants. The vast majority of the technical team is joining Niantic — 6D.ai’s two employees in the UK at Oxford, which includes co-founder Victor Prisacariu, are joining the Niantic research group based in London and the technical teams based in SF are joining the AR team in San Francisco, where their technology will be fully integrated into Niantic’s Real World Platform.