Spatial computing – including AR, VR, and other immersive tech – continues to alter the ways that we work, play, and live. But there have been ups and downs, characteristic of hype cycles. The pendulum has swung towards over-investment, then towards market correction.

That leaves us now in a sort of middle ground of reset expectations and moderate growth. Among XR subsectors, those seeing the most traction include AR brand marketing and consumer VR. Meta continues to advance the latter with massive investments and loss-leader pricing.

Beyond user-facing products, a spatial tech stack lies beneath. This involves a cast of supporting parts. We’re talking processing muscle (Qualcomm), experience creation (Adobe), and developer platforms (Snap). These picks and shovels are the engines of AR and VR growth.

So how is all of this coming together? Where are we in XR’s lifecycle? And where are there gaps in the value chain that signal opportunities? This is the topic of ARtillery Intelligence’s recent report Reality Check: the State of Spatial Computing, which we’ve excerpted below.

Reality Check: The State of Spatial Computing

Digital Dimension

In a previous installation of this series, we examined the opportunity around geo-spatial AR. The thought is that AR’s promise is to unlock digital dimension in the physical world. And that vision is closely tied to geo-relevance. It’s all about enlivening the world in place-specific ways.

One of the few companies leading that charge today is Niantic. Beyond Pokémon Go, its Lightship platform (now in v.3.0) lets developers build Pokémon Go-like geospatial experiences. The idea is to package up Niantic’s architecture and spatial mapping capabilities into a developer kit.

Specifically, the AR development kit (ARDK) builds on the concept of a visual positioning system. Rather than GPS data, it uses visual signals in the world around us to localize a given device. Once that device knows where it is and what it’s looking at, it can infuse the right content.

Niantic isn’t the only one developing this principle. Google’s Live View 3D navigation (and related geospatial API) localizes devices using Google’s unique data. For example, object recognition from its Street View database can inform a device/camera where it is and what it’s looking at.

That gives Google a meaningful edge in developing VPS-based navigation. So how will Niantic gain that level of visual data in its VPS system? The answer is its players. For a few years, it’s been crowdsourcing the development of spatial maps as Pokémon Go players do their thing.

With Lightship, it hopes to scale up these efforts and gain more comprehensive spatial maps through several apps. This works towards what Niantic calls “planet-scale AR.” And it’s well on its way, given more than 30,000 VPS-activated locations globally, with centimeter-level precision.

Has Niantic Found AR’s Peanut Butter & Chocolate Moment?

Activation Energy

The idea in all the above is to unlock location-relevant digital interactions in the real world. And that starts with computational understanding of a device’s surroundings. This includes geometric as well as semantic understanding (knowing that a tree is a tree and a lake is a lake).

All these efforts are further amplified by the fact that Niantic is reducing app activation energy. With its recent 8th Wall acquisition, it brings all the above to easier-to-launch web AR. That could engender greater participation, thus scaling up its ongoing spatial map construction.

The other big evolution is multiplayer support. With more robust spatial maps, several users can interact with the same digital elements. Precise spatial maps are needed for those interactions to work and for content to be geo-anchored for synchronous multiplayer action.

To that end, these developments bring Niantic something it didn’t have before: network effect. Pokémon Go is a social experience in that people play it in hordes. But the actual heads-down gameplay is a one-player endeavor. Multiplayer support unlocks new possibilities.

This social angle was further amplified through Niantic’s other big recent development: Campfire. This network formalizes and federates player social activity that was already happening in places like Discord. It’s a logical step for Niantic and a good business move.

We’ll pause there and circle back in the next report excerpt with more insights from the spatial spectrum. Meanwhile, check out the full report here… 

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