Even as the pandemic forces Niantic to shift the way its outdoor-friendly titles are played, the gaming company is charging ahead with its efforts to build out an augmented reality platform which allows users to interact with the real world.
Today, the studio behind Pokémon Go announced that it has acquired 6D.ai, a promising SF-based augmented reality startup focused on building software that allowed smartphone cameras to rapidly detect the 3D layouts of spaces around them.
The companies didn’t share terms of the deal.
Niantic’s bread-and-butter is mobile games, specifically Pokémon Go, but the company has raised nearly a half-billion dollars to do something more, building out a developer platform for augmented reality meant to rival what has been created by Facebook and Apple. Acquiring 6D.ai is an interesting step further there.
Niantic is a consumer games company and 6D.ai was primarily working with enterprise clients. While Niantic will be shutting down 6D.ai’s existing developer tools over the next month, a spokesperson tells TechCrunch that the tech will soon be integrated with the company’s Niantic Real World Platform to help developers “build AR experiences for all types of consumer and business applications, including enterprise.”
We profiled 6D.ai back in 2018 when they were fresh out of Oxford University’s Active Vision Lab. CEO Matt Miesnieks told us at the time how he hoped his startup could one day crowdsource 3D models of cities.
“One of the big things holding back engaging AR is for content to feel like it’s actually physically part of the world,” Miesnieks told TechCrunch. “To really make that effect possible, you need to have a 3D model of at least your room, if not the whole world.”
Both Apple and Facebook have made considerable investments in their augmented reality platforms, hoping to bring developers aboard and mount an early lead. Even cursory adoption of the technology has been slower than many in the tech industry have expected, and has, if anything, further isolated Apple and Facebook’s early advantages.
Niantic does host AR’s most popular consumer success story with Pokémon Go, a title which Niantic is still reportedly raking in cash from. Analytics firm SensorTower estimated that the 2016 title had its best year ever in 2019, pulling in some $900 million in revenue. The breakout success of “Go” has not been mirrored as dramatically in the early reception of the studio’s major launch of 2019, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite.
The ultimate question for Niantic is whether it’s in their best interest to aggressively compete on the tech platform side with acquisitions like these when the timeline of returns is so uncertain and their competitors can likely afford much longer bouts of uncertainty.
Following the acquisition, 6D.ai co-founder Victor Prisacariu will be joining Niantic’s London office with Miesnieks opting for an advisory role going forward. The startup had not fully disclosed its funding. Its seed round was led by Niko Bonatsos at General Catalyst and the startup also received funding from Oxford. Angel investors in 6D included Amitt Mahajan, Jacob Mullins and Greg Castle, among others.