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Niantic’s AR Developer Toolkit Hits Closed Beta

Niantic the company behind the phenomenon which is Pokemon Go, has opened access to its Niantic Lightship Augmented Reality Developer Kit (ARDK), enabling developers to build their own immersive, imaginative and unique AR applications.

Niantic Lightship, the new name for the Niantic Real World Platform, encompasses the full suite of Niantic tools to enable developers to create multiplayer experiences and bring them to life with depth, physics, occlusions, and semantic segmentation.and services that power the company’s games, including Ingress and Pokémon GO, as well as the company’s forthcoming Pikmin game being created in partnership with Nintendo.

Advancing AR

Niantic is promising the ARDK private beta incorporates advanced tools, including key enhancements in three areas:

  • Real-time Mapping through advanced Meshing combines smartphone camera technology with a neural network, to map an environment in real time into a mesh of repeating tessellated triangles, resulting in a machine-readable representation of the physical world. In the Niantic Lightship ARDK, meshing makes “physics” possible for virtual objects.
  • Semantic Segmentation improvements in the beta distinguish between varied characteristics of a space — ground, sky, a building, etc. — so that virtual objects can look, feel and move in that space in realistic ways. Lightship can automatically segment different natural outdoor objects in a scene, enabling AR content to interact with specific surfaces.
  • More robust Multiplayer functionality allows developers to benefit from colocalization, networking and synchronization improvements, enabling immersive multiplayer experiences where up to eight players can share the same AR experience in the same real world space at the same time. Peer-to-peer messaging and back-end server features are built in, so developers can focus on sculpting the shared experience players will have. While this kind of content anchoring is currently ephemeral, in the longer-term virtual content anchoring will enable developers to build persistent AR experiences.

Niantic is building the 3D map of the world hand-in-hand with its player base to power new kinds of immersive AR experiences. With the Niantic Lightship Platform and ARDK, we want to provide the richest selection of development tools and technologies, so any developer can create their own unique experiences.”

Kei Kawai, Vice President of Product Management, Ninatic

Making AR Accessible

Niantic claims that it enables ‘meshing’ – a fundamental part of creating AR environments – on more devices than any other company by leveraging common smartphone cameras. Niantic’s approach creates meshes using the RGB color sensors found in most cameras, rather than requiring LiDAR scanners which are still confined to a small number of high ends devices. The meshing technology scans the environment around a player, creating in real time a 3D map that allows virtual content to be placed in the space, combining context from the real world environment with the developer’s environment.

Niantic is also working on a Virtual Positioning System (VPS) and tools to allow AR experiences to leverage geolocation and persistent content anchoring, while also supporting global scale.

Developers can sign up at to join the private beta of the Niantic Lightship ARDK.

Written By

Brian has been working in the games industry since the mid-1990s, when he joined the legendary studio DMA Design, as a writer on the original Grand Theft Auto. Since then he's worked with major publishers, founded his own digital agency, and the Scottish Games Network. At various times he's worked as a journalist, editor, narrative designer, lecturer, executive producer, and director.

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