Facebook buys the AR startup by building a 1: 1 digital map of the physical world


Facebook has it reports acquired Scape Technologies, a start of augmented reality (AR) in the UK. TechCrunch estimated that the purchase price could be around $ 40 million. If Scape were just another AR company, the news wouldn't be that interesting or potentially significant – but it isn't.

3D mapping of the physical world. Scape technology is about creating a 1: 1 digital representation of the physical world – it's just as much a mapping company as an AR startup. It seeks to build infrastructure for the next generation of "space computing devices", including wearables, autonomous vehicles and other devices.

Scape wants to make any physical place or place capable of displaying AR content. The challenge was the accuracy of the location. Therefore, Scape has created 3D renderings of the world with a location accuracy that is not based on current location technologies such as cell tower triangulation, GPS or reverse IP addressing. The company claims that its visual positioning system "offers centimeter-level location recognition on an unprecedented scale."

Playing AR persistent in the world

Source: Scape Technologies

Partially inspired by Pokemon Go. Scape was partly inspired by the Pokemon Go game, created by Niantic Labs, which was launched from Google. The founder and CEO of Niantic is John Hanke, who has been mapping Google and local products for years. Hanke was previously the CEO of Keyhole, which Google bought and became Google Earth.

Google has been practically engaged in a similar project: digital mapping of the entire globe. However, Scape says it does not require the huge resources and data processing capabilities that Google has put on Earth, Street View and Maps, and points to the agglomeration of Waze traffic as another inspiration. The company says it has already created 3D renderings or over 100 cities globally (which was in mid-2019).

Numerous applications for Scape technology. The ultimate goal is to be able to triangulate the user's precise location anywhere in the world, in centimeters. (I have not seen a demonstration, so I do not know how reliable these statements are.) This allows AR content to be "fixed" to a specific location, building or object.

There are numerous applications for Scape's visual positioning technology, if fully realized. The types of AR news and digital games we've seen so far are only a small part of that bigger vision. Architecture, urbanism, education, tourism and entertainment are some of the areas that could benefit. However, the ability to locate users with extreme accuracy has many applications – targeting, attribution, competitive intelligence – separate from AR content. (Once people get on Facebook they may face some questions or queries about using Scape.)

Why we care. Facebook is likely to use the team and technology to help it develop more AR experiences for Facebook.com and, to some extent, expand Facebook into the "real world". They could also use Scape for offline assignment in places where Scape has built its mapping infrastructure. But the technology could also allow Facebook to create new local mapping and search applications it has not been able to build so far (the company once tried unsuccessfully to buy Waze). And there is much more to it than that.

It will be interesting to see how bold the vision is that Facebook allows Scape founders to follow.


About the author

Greg Sterling is a contributing editor at Search Engine Land, a member of the SMX and VP Event Programming Team, Market Insights at Uberall.



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