Snap Acquires 3D Mapping Developer Pixel8Earth
In March this year, Snap acquired the fitting technology startup Fit Analytics for $124 million. In the same quarter, Snap also made another acquisition that can it confirmed this week. This is its $7.6 million acquisition of Pixel8Earth which develops 3D mapping technology, specifically based on crowdsourced data. The Pixel8Earth technology speeds up the 3D mapping of the world.
Pixel8Earth is based in Boulder, Colorado, and is developing a platform where users can upload images of an area. Algorithms automatically create a 3D image of the world from the crowdsourced data.
Pixel8Earth has four employees who will now join the Snap team to implement the technology in the app’s own map service Snap Map. Apart from the map product development, the team of four will also develop tools that benefit Snapchat’s location-based AR experiences such as Local Lenses which digitally expands sights.
Local Lenses was launched during last year’s Partner Summit developer event. According to TechCrunch, this year’s Partner Summit will likely also see some launches linked to Snap’s wider e-commerce strategy There will also be some news regarding AR mapping.
It is still not apparent whether Snap or Snapchat plans to keep Pixel8Earth going or whether the company plans to roll selected technology as well as further development work into products such as Snap Map. However, considering the size of the deal, this is more likely an ‘acqui-hiring’ or talent acquisition.
Pixel8Earth was co-founded by Sean Gorman and Pramukta Kumar. The two repeat founders and mapping PHDs developed a platform where users (dubbed “ambassadors”) were encouraged to join the platform and to use their cameras (including 360 cameras) to record and contribute information to Pixel8Earth’s global mapping database. The technology was pretty much like that was developed by Mapillary (since acquired by Facebook).
Snap has been developing its mapping experiences based on the concept of using maps to ramp up and also improve user engagement on its platform. Its biggest deal so far on this front was its acquisition of the Paris-based startup Zenly in 2017. Zenly is an app that users can opt into and which lets them be discovered by their friends on a map. Other recent mapping acquisitions by major tech companies include StreetCred that Snap acquired in January this year. The StreetCred service was shut down after the acquisition but the product was also based on crowdsourcing points-of-interest as well as other mapping data and paid contributors in crypto tokens as well as putting information “on the blockchain.”
Based in New York, StreetCred developed a blockchain-based card service that also serves as a marketplace where individual users who collect and maintain location-based data receive tokens that can be sold to the companies interested in this data.
These two acquisitions show that Snap and its flagship app Snapchat are keen on expanding the Snap Map. The Snap Map now has more than 250 million monthly users and unlike Google Maps, it is highly personalized and can save and highlight people, places as well as activities that are important to users. Snap wants to later monetize the map service by advertising for local businesses like in Niantic’s Pokémon Go.
Snap’s mapping projects have seen good traction as well as differentiation as a map that is more “personalized” in contrast to mapping experiences such as Google Maps which is built around universal accuracy and in providing the highest degree of accuracy and which does not particularly provide a personalized experience unless the user logs in and have their locations saved. Still, even while logged in, Google Maps still doesn‘t provide strong social features.
On its investor day in February this year, Snap said that its Snap Map was used by at least 250 million Snapchatters every month. Snap’s VP for product Jacob Andreou had stated that the company was building “the world’s most personal Map”. According to Andreou, a Snap Map would reflect a user’s world, feature the people, places as well as activities that they care about, and that no two will be the same. The Snap Map is built to enable users to quickly and easily see where their friends are and what they are doing. This kind of intimate sharing will be best for close friends and would be a great fit for a best friends’ network that is very unique to the Snapchat platform. According to Andreou, the version of the map in the Snapchat app has been “relentlessly improved” via a conversation with its community over the past two years by leveraging a data-informed approach.
Over the past year, some of the growth and usage saw a dip following the pandemic-enforced lockdowns and the subsequent reduction in travel. However, in an earnings report, Snap CEO and co-founder Evan Spiegel implied the company might be turning a corner after the dip. Spiegel stated that Snap is optimistic about engagement trends happening on the platform as the world starts to open up. The company saw “inflection points in key behaviors” such as story posting and engagement with the Map as the US began opening up.
Snap has done an impressive job building engagement on the app but it appears the app is now also looking at monetization.
Snap’s senior director of product Peter Sellis said that the company is confident local digital advertising will constitute an important part of the company’s business in the future and it is intent on doing it right.
Snap has been gradually testing out some of the more commercial features such as Promote Local Place that promotes local businesses, specifically retailers. It represented the first time that Snap added businesses on the Snap Map.
Sellis has stated that Snap wants to expand these products and make them work for the largest multi-location enterprises in 2021 but since they have been reactive to the pandemic, the company feels that it is yet to truly exploit the potential of the Map.
Pixel8Earth, perhaps, signals how Snap and Snapchat plan to implement this.
AR Cloud Expertise in High Demand
The 3D mapping expertise should also flow into the development o0f Snap’s own AR cloud, an important basic technology for advanced augmented reality. Because every major tech company is currently working on an AR cloud, the corresponding expertise is currently in high demand. Facebook acquired the startup Scape while Niantic recently acquired the startup 6D.ai. Ubiquity6’s AR cloud specialists could also have moved to a major tech company. There have also been rumors that Snap is working on its own Augmented Reality glasses.