A new world is about to be born, thanks to Pokémon

An American company wants to map in 3D the whole world, to create another parallel one: virtual and augmented reality.

Niantic Labs has bought Scaniverse. These two names will be unknown to most, but what could be born from this acquisition is really very big: a new world, virtual and augmented reality, as big as the whole world, the real one in which we live.

Niantic Labs, for those who do not know, is the software house that developed the famous video game Pokémon Go. A video game different from all others, because you play in the real world, looking (with your smartphone in hand) in the streets and parks for the virtual characters. Scaniverse is a 3D scanning app for the Apple iPhone and iPad iOS operating system. This app uses the LiDAR sensor on Apple's high-end models to map objects in 3D and then make them available for augmented reality applications. Basically, you take a picture of an object via the app and then a three-dimensional model of the object is calculated. Then the virtual version of the object can be placed anywhere else in the world, obviously within the phone's screen.

Map the world in 3D

Niantic Labs' intention is to use the newly acquired technology to 3D map the entire world. A sort of three-dimensional Google Maps, but made of geometric models and not photos.

Kjell Bronder, Group Product Manager at Niantic Labs, explains exactly what his company plans to do: "Imagine everyone being able to visit Pokémon habitats in the real world at the same time, or digital characters taking us on a walking tour of hidden gems in the city, or friends leaving us personal notes in real-world locations to find later. This is what large-scale mapping can enable, and we're excited to continue building this future.

It may seem like a joke or an impossible feat, but Niantic is serious: in March 2020, it acquired another real-world 3D scanning company, startup 6D.ai born in 2017 as a spin-off of Oxford University's Active Vision Lab.

Niantic itself, let's remember, was a startup born within Google in 2010, but has been autonomous since 2015.

It starts with video games

Niantic Labs, then, isn't kidding at all when it says it wants to 3D map the entire world. But it's still a video game developer, so we can expect that the first practical applications of its huge project will be right within its games: new scenarios to play, new objects to use.

In addition to Pokémon Go Niantic also develops other titles, more or less famous, such as Harry Potter Wizards Unite and Ingress Prime.