Niantic today launched its Lightship Visual Positioning System at its first developer summit. The system aims to form an underlying 3D map of the world so that AR devices can share the same frame of reference even on massive scales.

Update (May 24th, 2022): Today during the company’s Lightship Summit event, Niantic launched its Lightship VPS system which is designed to allow developers to localize the position of AR devices with centimeter precision (in enabled areas). With a shared understanding of where devices are, Niantic says its platform will enable developers to build location-based, persistent, and multi-user AR experiences using the underlying VPS map which will hopefully one day span the globe.

Today the company is enabling its VPS system in select cities—San Francisco, London, Tokyo, Los Angeles, New York City, and Seattle—comprising some 30,000 VPS localization points which represent 10 × 10 meter playspaces in which developers can build AR experiences. Niantic expects VPS will be active in over 100 cities by the end of the year.

In partnership with developer Liquid City, Niantic launched Reality Browser on iOS and Android devices to function as a demo of the VPS system for attendees of the conference.

Niantic says its VPS map will expand over time thanks to scan data pulled in from players of the company’s existing games, like Ingress and Pokémon GO, as well as data from dedicated ‘surveyors’.

The original article, which overviews the usefulness of a system like VPS for AR, continues below.

Original Article (May 5th, 2022): Many AR devices today are capable of localizing themselves within an arbitrary environment. An AR headset, for instance, looks at the room around you and uses that information to understand how the headset itself is moving through the space.

But if you want to enable multiple devices to interact in a shared space, both need to be able to localize themselves not just to the environment, but with regards to one another. Essentially, you need both devices to share the same map so that both users see the same thing happening in the same place in the real world.

That’s the goal of Niantic’s Lightship Visual Positioning system, which the company says will allow AR devices to tap into a shared digital map to establish their real-world position with “centimeter precision.” While GPS would be far too inaccurate for the job, such a system would allow devices to understand if they’re in a shared space together, allowing for content to be synchronized between the two for multiplayer and persistent content.

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Niantic has been talking about its Visual Positioning System for some time now, but the company says it will first launch the feature as part of its Lightship AR development platform at the end of the month. That will coincide with the company’s first developer event, Lightship Summit, which is happening May 24th & 25th in San Francisco.

Although Niantic has been pitching is Visual Positioning System as a ‘world-scale’ solution for syncing AR content between devices, out of the gate it will be much more limited. For now the system is only approaching ‘city-scale’ as the company says it will initially function only “at certain Niantic Wayspots in select cities.” The company plans to expand coverage of the Visual Positioning System by crowdsourcing mapping data from the devices that use it, though it’s not clear how quickly that data can be transformed in the way needed to expand the map.

In theory, the system could enable persistent AR content at large scales, which could allow anyone in the area to see the same things (if they’re using the same app), like the concept above that the company has shown previously.

It will surely be some time yet because the Lightship Visual Positioning System achieves anything close to being truly ‘world-scale’. However, the company has one major potential advantage; it could tap into data from its existing games—like Pokémon Go and the upcoming Peridot—to move at a greater mapping pace than almost any other company could. As far as we know, that’s not happening at the moment, but could be in the works.

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Ben is the world's most senior professional analyst solely dedicated to the XR industry, having founded Road to VR in 2011—a year before the Oculus Kickstarter sparked a resurgence that led to the modern XR landscape. He has authored more than 3,000 articles chronicling the evolution of the XR industry over more than a decade. With that unique perspective, Ben has been consistently recognized as one of the most influential voices in XR, giving keynotes and joining panel and podcast discussions at key industry events. He is a self-described "journalist and analyst, not evangelist."
  • Anonymous

    AR devices don’t even exist yet so I bet “AR devices” = phone crapware from these narcissists.

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  • Max-Dmg

    Finally :D I thought Google would have already jumped on this chance by now. It will be great to use AR services throughout the world when consumer AR glasses are available.

    • Lulu Vi Britannia

      I wonder if Niantic is planning a worldwide development by themselves. I mean, they’re still a growing company. Unlike Google, are they able to pull it off without ruining themselves?
      But it’s an exciting start. AR software has gone so far already! People bash on smartphones because they’re not immersive devices, and that’s true, they’re not immersive, but they work for experimental purposes. Once we have proper 6DoF AR glasses, this will all come together as one wonderful tech. This will make Ordinal Scale come true.

      • Max-Dmg

        I just want an AR toilet so i can pee outside.