AR technology company Niantic, best known for Pokémon GO, announced today that it will launch Lightship, an AR Developer Kit (ARDK) that will make building augmented reality experiences more accessible. This free, openly available technology will help Niantic lay the foundation for its vision of the "real-world metaverse."
In the program's launch livestream, Niantic CEO John Hanke referenced his blog post where he called the metaverse a "dystopian nightmare." But even as Facebook changes its name to Meta and advertises a future dominated by VR headsets, Niantic is imagining an alternative: a metaverse that brings people together in person, rather than in a virtual world.
Niantic's existing games emphasize outdoor activity and meeting new people. Before making pandemic-era adjustments to play remotely, certain aspects of Pokémon GO -- such as legendary raid battles -- were only playable if enough players worked together simultaneously. Local Discord communities sprung up around the release of legendary raid battles in 2017, helping people coordinate real-world meet-ups to try to catch a Lugia or an Articuno together.
"At Niantic, we believe humans are the happiest when their virtual world leads them to a physical one," Hanke said. "Unlike a sci-fi metaverse, a real-world metaverse will use technology to improve our experience of the world as we've known it for thousands of years."
By releasing the Lightship ARDK, developers can use the foundation of games like Ingress, Pokémon GO, and Pikmin Bloom to create new projects. The company is also opening a $20 million Niantic Ventures fund, which will invest in companies that align with Niantic's vision. At launch, Niantic has already partnered with brands like Coachella, Historic Royal Palaces, Universal Pictures, the PGA of America and more, which have used its ARDK.
The software development kit will help developers build experiences for iOS and Android by integrating with Unity, a software that is used to make 3D, 2D, VR and AR experiences. It offers Niantic's top three AR features -- real-time mapping, semantic segmentation and multiplayer capability -- making tools that Niantic has developed for years available to any budding creative.
"You just need a little bit of Unity experience, and it is actually easy to pick up," said Amanda Whitt, a product manager at Niantic, in a Q&A today.
The new Lightship ARDK is live today for any interested developers from the Niantic Lightship website.