Niantic Labs is offering everyone the chance to get their hands on the tech behind Pokémon Go and Pikmin Bloom so they can build their own augmented reality and "real-world metaverse" apps. Developers can start using the Niantic Lightship platform today. The company also announced a $20 million investment fund to back developers that "share our vision for the real-world metaverse and contribute to the global ecosystem we are building."
Developers can use Ninatic's toolkit to create real-time 3D mesh maps so apps can understand the surfaces and topography of the world surrounding a device. Other APIs will help apps know the difference between different aspects of an environment, such as the ground, sky, water and buildings. The toolkit also enables developers to make apps that allow up to five players to take part in the same AR multiplayer session, keeping all of their content and interactions in sync.
The tools are mostly free. The multiplayer APIs will be available at no cost for the first six months no matter how many users an app has. After that, Niantic will charge a fee if the APIs are used in an app with more than 50,000 monthly active users.
Several notable brands have taken part in a private beta of the development kit, including Universal Pictures, PGA of America and Warner Music Group. Coachella has created an AR experience that its festival attendees will be able to check out next year. They'll be able to see a large version of Coachella's butterfly landing on the seven-story Spectra rainbow walkway tower.
Meanwhile, Shueisha is working with developer T&S to bring characters from One Piece and other manga into the real world with AR. That app will be available in 2022.
Niantic's vision of the metaverse is very much different from the virtual reality-centered future Facebook's parent company Meta has in mind. In a blog post in August, CEO John Hanke suggested that the "real-world metaverse" is about connecting the physical and digital worlds, rather than existing purely as a virtual experience. With that in mind, his company has been working on AR glasses with Qualcomm over the last couple of years.