NextNav unveils Unity plugin for fixing vertical positions in mobile location-based games

When you play location-based games like Pokémon Go, you can’t hunt for creatures on vertical levels in a skyscraper. You can only hunt for creatures on the ground floor. But that could change, as 3D geolocation service NextNav announces a plugin for vertical positioning in the Unity game engine.

Sunnyvale, California-based NextNav said the move will enable millions of game and app developers to easily access its Pinnacle service. This would enable games to fix the position of a player in vertical environments, such as skyscrapers, apartment buildings, or malls. NextNav makes it so the game will know what floor you’re on, as well as your coordinates.

That’s probably not going to happen right away, since some of those places are empty now due to the pandemic, and it takes some time for developers to work this into their games. But NextNav commercial gaming business head Chris Gates said in an interview with GamesBeat that the integration is simple, as developers just need to integrate a single line of code into their games.

Pinnacle delivers precise altitude data to unlock 3D experiences for geolocation applications. To date, location-based applications have been limited to open spaces or one-story buildings, where a simple X and Y-axis location will suffice. Yet approximately 84% of the U.S. population lives in urban areas where multistory buildings make up most of the landscape. Trick Gaming plans to use Pinnacle to deliver vertical location in an upcoming game.

NextNav will showcase its Unity plugin at the upcoming Global Game Jam event in January, where developers from around the world come together to compete and create cutting edge gaming experiences. NextNav will host a webinar on December 15 in partnership with the Global Game Jam to introduce Pinnacle to the developer community.

Above: NextNav brings the Z-axis to navigation.

The NextNav Unity plugin is available on the Unity Asset Store. The company also offers software development kit (SDK) and application programming interface (API) options through its website.

NextNav is optimistic about the use of vertical locations. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently voted 5-0 in favor of adding a requirement that smartphones mark the location within three meters of altitude for all 911 calls. NextNav hopes its solution can help smartphone makers meet that mandate.

NextNav raised $120 million in January, and after 13 years of development it’s finally ready to bring the technology into the market. Global positioning system (GPS) navigation has been possible since the 1990s, thanks to satellite networks, but that only allowed people to figure out where they are on a two-dimensional grid. The third dimension — the “missing Z-axis” — is where that person is vertically.

Above: NextNav pinpoints where someone is in an Embassy Suites hotel.

NextNav has built a network of wireless long-range beacons that are kilometers apart. Dubbed Metropolitan Beacon Systems (MBS), the beacons work with the cellular system to determine where someone is in a three-dimensional space. This does not require NextNav’s beacons to be inside buildings. The company also taps barometer sensors that are built into smartphones to detect barometric pressure, which changes with altitude and can help fix where a person is located.

As you go up in an elevator, for example, the barometric pressure goes down. A storm could affect that barometric pressure, but NextNav is looking at minute changes in pressure, together with the calibration network it has set up with the beacons. The company says it can get vertical accuracy within one to two meters.

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