Snap Is Bringing AR Experiences To Local Landmarks

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

​Snapchap Landmarkers
Image courtesy of Snap Inc.

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Social media giant Snap is taking a step toward its goal of overlaying the physical world with digital objects, launching a new feature that lets creators turn local landmarks into augmented reality (AR) experiences.

On Wednesday, the Santa Monica-based company unveiled Custom Landmarkers, a software tool that lets users build 3D models of physical locations and design AR creations for those structures. The new feature enables individuals and businesses to attach AR experiences to a broad array of locations, from statues to storefronts, that could be seen by Snapchat’s 319 million daily users.

Snap already allows third-party creators to build AR experiences (called lenses) for the app through its Lens Studio software. The company previously let artists design AR lenses for a limited number of iconic structures, such as the Eiffel Tower or the U.S. Capitol Building, using templates that it provided.

Snap Landmarker

Now, Snap is giving creators the tools to map locations themselves with their smartphones, then upload the data to Lens Studio to design immersive experiences anchored to those places. Hypothetically, a user could build an AR creation that teaches the history of a local landmark, or a business could pay a developer to turn a bakery into a gingerbread house and display a code allowing customers to redeem a discount.

“We're excited about how creators, developers and businesses can use Custom Landmarkers to enhance the way we explore, learn and shop locally,” Sophia Dominguez, Snap's head of AR platform partnerships, said in a statement. “This new capability weaves AR naturally into our surroundings and the places we love, positively impacting our daily lives.”

Many tech firms are betting on the much-hyped metaverse, a vision for the internet where users work, shop and socialize inside 3D digital worlds, possibly through virtual reality. Snap is taking a slightly different approach by focusing on computing that’s overlain on the real world—instead of trying to transport people somewhere else, as social media rival Meta envisions.

Letting external creators build Custom Landmarker lenses could help Snap more quickly scale AR on top of physical locations. But Snap is still proceeding cautiously to prevent users from uploading lenses that could be offensive or incite violence. Other location-based AR experiences, such as Pokemon Go, have faced issues with users trespassing on private property and Russian trolls meddling in U.S. politics.

A company spokesperson said Snap recognizes that certain locations may be sensitive, such as memorials and private homes, and will evaluate each lens in context. Snap’s moderation team approves all lenses before they’re publicly accessible, according to the company.

In addition, the location-based AR experiences won’t be discoverable by default. The main way users can find them are through physical “Snapcodes”—the company’s version of QR codes—that can be scanned with smartphones at the landmark. (Users could also access them through the lens creator’s profile).

One creator who got early access to Snap’s new software is Michael Nicoll, the CEO of Marina del Rey-based startup BLNK (pronounced “blink”), which builds AR experiences for musicians. BLNK, which has a partnership with Snap, recently designed a Custom Landmarker promoting the new Megan Thee Stallion and Dua Lipa single “Sweetest Pie,” by transforming the iconic Pink Wall on Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood into a 3D cherry pie.

Until now, Snap’s AR experiences have largely focused on a user’s face or body, Nicoll noted. Soon, creators will be able to design experiences that essentially flip the smartphone camera toward the rest of the world. For Nicoll, that could mean adding AR experiences to concerts.

“It's gonna open up so many opportunities, especially from the music industry,” he said. “This new tech is really going to give us this whole new canvas to work off of.”

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Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

The Marina del Rey-based unicorn, which makes cartoon-like avatars for celebrities and aims to “build an avatar for every single person on Earth,” didn’t go under. Rather, Genies announced it would stay quiet for a while to focus on building avatar-creation products.

Genies representatives told dot.LA that the firm is now seeking more creators to try its creation tools for 3D avatars, digital fashion items and virtual experiences. On Thursday, the startup launched a three-week program called DIY Collective, which will mentor and financially support up-and-coming creatives.

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Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

LA Tech Week—a weeklong showcase of the region’s growing startup ecosystem—is coming this August.

The seven-day series of events, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21, is a chance for the Los Angeles startup community to network, share insights and pitch themselves to investors. It comes a year after hundreds of people gathered for a similar event that allowed the L.A. tech community—often in the shadow of Silicon Valley—to flex its muscles.

From fireside chats with prominent founders to a panel on aerospace, here are some highlights from the roughly 30 events happening during LA Tech Week, including one hosted by dot.LA.

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PCH Driven: Director Jason Wise Talks Wine, Documentaries, and His New Indie Streaming Service SOMMTV

Jamie Williams
­Jamie Williams is the host of the “PCH Driven” podcast, a show about Southern California entrepreneurs, innovators and its driven leaders on their road to success. The series celebrates and reveals the wonders of the human spirit and explores the motivations behind what drives us.
Jason Wise holding wine glass
Image courtesy of Jason Wise

Jason Wise may still consider himself a little kid, but the 33-year-old filmmaker is building an IMDB page that rivals colleagues twice his age.

As the director behind SOMM, SOMM2, SOMM3, and the upcoming SOMM4, Wise has made a career producing award-winning documentary films that peer deep into the wine industry in Southern California and around the world.

On this episode of the PCH Driven podcast, he talks about life growing up in Cleveland as a horrible student, filmmaking, Los Angeles and his latest entrepreneurial endeavor: A streaming service called SOMMTV that features–what else?–documentaries about wine.

The conversation covers some serious ground, but the themes of wine and film work to anchor the discussion, and Wise dispenses bits of sage filmmaking advice.

“With a documentary you can just start filming right now,” he says. “That’s how SOMM came about. I got tossed into that world during the frustration of trying to make a different film, and I just started filming it, because no one could stop me because I was paying for it myself. That’s the thing with docs,” or “The good thing about SOMM is that you can explain it in one sentence: ‘The hardest test in the world is about wine, and you’ve never heard about it.’”

…Or at least maybe you hadn’t before he made his first film. Now with three SOMM documentaries under his belt, Wise is nearing completion of “SOMM4: Cup of Salvation,” which examines the history of wine’s relationship with religion. Wise says it’s “a wild film,” that spans multiple countries, the Vatican and even an active warzone. As he puts it, the idea is to show that “wine is about every subject,” rather than “every subject is about wine.”

For Wise, the transition to launching his own streaming service came out of his frustration with existing platforms holding too much power over the value of the content he produces.

“Do we want Netflix to tell us what our projects are worth or do we want the audience to do that?” he asks.

But unlike giants in the space, SOMMTV has adopted a gradual approach of just adding small bits of content as they develop. Without the need to license 500 or 1,000 hours of programming, Wise has been able to basically bootstrap SOMMTV and provide short form content and other more experimental offerings that typically get passed over by the Hulus and Disneys of the world.

So far, he says, the experiment is working, and now Wise is looking to raise some serious capital to keep up with the voracious appetites of his subscribers.

“Send those VCs my way,” Wise jokes.

Subscribe to PCH Driven on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, iHeart, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.

dot.LA reporter David Shultz contributed to this report.