Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore may have multi-million-user installed bases, but so does Niantic’s Pokémon Go, the first hit augmented reality game. Now Niantic plans to offer its custom AR software to other developers as the Real World Platform, and is teasing advanced features that go beyond the capabilities of Apple’s and Google’s development kits.
Already used in Pokémon GO, Ingress, and Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, the Real World Platform is an evolving software engine that adds digital characters and shared social experiences to real-world map data. Niantic has recently bolstered the AR platform’s development team by acquiring computer vision specialist companies Escher Reality and Matrix Mill (which also has machine learning expertise).
Matrix Mill’s machine learning will power one of the Real World Platform’s upcoming tricks — a realtime AR occlusion engine. As demonstrated, the feature enables 3D versions of Pikachu and Eevee to disappear behind real world objects and people, even as both the camera and people move. Niantic is using a machine-trained neural network to determine which objects should be considered “foreground” or “background” versus the AR characters.
On current AR platforms, AR characters are merely superimposed on top of live camera video, so they cannot hide behind real-world objects. The reason for that is the amount of processing power necessary to make occlusion work in real time may be prohibitive on at least some current devices. The demo’s frame rate is not high enough to be fully smooth, and Niantic hasn’t said when the feature will actually come to the Real World Platform.
Another AI-assisted feature will be object recognition. By training the platform to recognize certain items, objects in the environment could automatically trigger AR events. For instance, if the AI spots flowers in a video, an AR bee could appear.
Last but not least, Niantic addressed shared AR spaces, which Google and Apple have recently updated their platforms to support. Niantic says that it has developed new “proprietary, low-latency AR networking techniques” to help multiple people enjoy a shared AR experience across different platforms using a single code base.
Developers interested in applying for access to the Real World Platform can do so at this sign-up page. Niantic says it will select a handful of developers to gain access to the tools later this year.