Niantic’s engineering chief explains why a gaming company is building a 3D map of the world

Niantic bought a company that was crowdsourcing a 3D map of the world, and now it’s looking to leverage its network of gamers to help it create an AR platform that will outmaneuver Apple and Facebook’s parallel efforts.

Niantic’s Real World Platform is only in preview, while Apple, Facebook and Google have launched dozens of updates to their respective development platforms. At the same time, for all of the announcements these massive companies have had regarding these platforms, AR has yet to deliver a convincing real-world use case.

In light of Niantic’s recent acquisition, I hopped on a Zoom call with Head of Engineering Yuji Higaki, who joined the company a few months ago after more than nine years at Facebook. Our chat has been edited for length and clarity.

TechCrunch: My main question is, how do you compete with Apple and Facebook? A few years ago a lot of startups sprung up trying to beat them to the punch in the augmented reality space, but it’s just so hard to build out these ecosystems. Now, there aren’t too many startups building AR platforms — most of them have died — and I’m curious what you think of that challenge.

Yuji Higaki: I had a direct hand working for one of them for a long time. There are definitely challenges in a new space. We’ve been talking about it for years, but AR is really in its infancy still. The whole idea of creating a platform like this is new and we don’t have a lot of the baggage and legacy here. This is the sole thing we’re focused on.