As software development company Niantic experiments with increasingly immersive augmented reality activations, the Pokémon Go developer is girding itself for a potential wave of unprecedented legal challenges.
At the moment, the augmented reality space is a bit of a wild west, with creators using Niantic’s technology to virtually modify privately owned locations in the physical world or experiment with brands’ intellectual properties in funky ways. For years, the nascent medium of AR was too small to attract the attention of these rights holders — but as Niantic’s AR technology grows more complex and all-encompassing, the situation could reach a tipping point.
In March, Niantic acquired the AR development network 8th Wall, significantly expanding the enterprise and branding capabilities of its augmented reality services. “The Dentsus of the world are going to work with us, as of now, to do that next-level AR marketing campaign that isn’t just a one-off, but is actually built around a permanently anchored place or places,” said Niantic director of developer relations Dan Morris.
One such example of an expanded AR activation is the digital art exhibition put on in New York City’s Times Square by Ukrainian artist Artem “Giant” Humilevskiy, which launched on October 14. The experience lets users superimpose Humilevskiy’s self portraits over Times Square’s usual billboards and digital screens, with some of the art available for sale as non-fungible tokens.
The Times Square exhibition is an eye-catching example of how AR technologies can transform public spaces, but it was also a source of consternation for Niantic’s communications team, which worried that the activation could draw legal challenges from the owners and administrators of the physical billboards that were painted over in augmented reality.
“What was really funny about that is, I see that clip and I say to our legal team, ‘can he do that?’” said Niantic head of tech and platform communications Greg Chiemingo. “Can he monetize these public buildings?”
This is a valid question, according to legal experts who believe there could be merit to a potential lawsuit by the owners of the painted-over real estate, as well as the brands that paid top dollar for marquee ad space in prominent locations.
“I think it’s ripe for legal challenge,” said Jordan Rose, the president and founder of Rose Law Group, a legal firm that practices in land use, zoning, Web3 and the metaverse. “The actual landlord of the building, who has the rights to put displays on their building — they may have a legal challenge, because someone can’t come onto your property and just build something physical, right? It’s the same thing with this digital display.”
Rose said that moving forward, she would advise any landlord or building owner to modify their leases to more explicitly assert their rights to the digital or virtual space surrounding their property. “It’s a preemptive defense, right?” Rose said. “We have to defend against this eventuality of weird stuff happening, which is only in your imagination right now — but tomorrow, it may be reality.”
Property rights are not the only legal gray areas surrounding AR technology at the moment.
In May, for example, Meta had to turn off its augmented reality effects for users in Illinois and Texas following an ACLU lawsuit regarding facial recognition technology. Meta claimed that the move was done preemptively to head off potential legal issues related to the ruling, not because Meta’s AR functions actually use facial recognition.
“Meta didn’t try to counter-litigate and say, ‘no, it doesn’t do this,’” said Alexis Zerafa, a professional AR creator. “They just took their licks.”
Intellectual property and copyright challenges are another potential risk area for AR developers. Many AR users and developers openly toy with popular pre-existing intellectual properties without fear of brands cracking down on their use; as the technology becomes more widespread, Zerafa anticipates that companies might stop turning a blind eye to uses of their IP inside augmented reality.
“People are making Pikachu heads and stuff,” she said, “so I’m wondering when that shoe is going to drop.”
As Niantic continues to expand the capabilities of its AR platform, it is fully aware of the potential for legal challenges to arise — but the company has not yet allowed these risks derail its goal of building a real-world metaverse inside augmented reality.
“I think there’s lots we’re working on that the Supreme Court is going to have to settle eventually,” Morris said.
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Author: Ashley Biancuzzo, Associate Editor
Ashley is a professional writer and editor with a strong background in tech and pop culture. She has written for high traffic websites such as Polygon, Kotaku, StarWars.com, and Nerdist. In her off time, she enjoys playing video games, reading science fiction novels, and hanging out with her rescue greyhound.
Tesla finally delivers its first production Semi
Five years after CEO Elon Musk officially unveiled his Semi, Tesla’s electrified tractor trailer, the company delivered its first official production vehicle to Pepsi on Thursday during its “Semi Delivery Event” held at Tesla’s Nevada Gigafactory. The beverage maker has ordered 100 of the vehicles in total.
First shown off in 2017, the Tesla Semi originally was set to retail for $150,000 and $180,000 for the 300- and 500-mile versions, respectively. Those prices are significantly higher than the $60k a standard diesel cab runs but Tesla estimates that its vehicles can operate 20 percent more efficiently (2kWh per mile, Musk revealed Thursday), and save up to $250,000 over the million-mile life of the Semi.
Each rig is “designed like a bullet,” Musk said at the vehicle’s unveiling, and would come equipped with a massive 1MW battery pack. This reportedly offers a 20-second 0-60, which is impressive given that these vehicles are towing up to 80,000 pounds at a time, and a spent-to-80 percent charge time of just 30 minutes. The Semis are also outfitted with Enhanced Autopilot capabilities, as well as jackknife-mitigation systems, blind-spot sensors and data-logging for fleet management.
As reservations opened in 2017, Musk said at the time, deliveries would begin two short years later, in 2019. By April 2020, Tesla had officially pushed that delivery date back to 2021, citing production delays and supply chain issues brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, just two months after that, in May of 2020, Musk sent a company-wide email reading, “It’s time to go all out and bring the Tesla Semi to volume production. It’s been in limited production so far, which has allowed us to improve many aspects of the design,” as seen by CNBC. In the same email he confirmed that production would take place in Tesla’s Nevada Gigafactory.
Cut to July, 2021, and the new delivery date has been pushed again, this time to 2022, citing both the ongoing global processor shortage and its own pandemic-limited battery production capability for the new 4680 style cells as contributing factors.
“We believe we remain on track to build our first Model Y vehicles in Berlin and Austin in 2021,” Musk said during the company’s Q2, 2021 investor call. “The pace of the respective production ramps will be influenced by the successful introduction of many new product and manufacturing technologies, ongoing supply-chain-related challenges and regional permitting.”
“To better focus on these factories, and due to the limited availability of battery cells and global supply chain challenges, we have shifted the launch of the Semi truck program to 2022,” he continued. Beginning in May of this year, Tesla started actively taking reservations again for a $20,000 deposit. “And first deliveries are now,” Musk said on Thursday before welcoming Kirk Tanner, CEO PepsiCo Beverages North America, and Steven Williams, CEO PepsiCo Foods North America, on stage for high fives and handshakes.
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